Launching Persian

Photo by alazaat

So I've embarked on the study of a new language: Persian, a.k.a. Farsi. I intend henceforth to report on my progress at intervals.

In once sense, I am starting from zero, since I know not a single word of Persian. In other senses, not quite. Having studied Arabic, I am already familiar with the alphabet (although Persian adds a few letters). Although Persian is fundamentally more closely related to English than Arabic, I would not be surprised to see some Arabic loanwords appear.

The language most closely related to Persian that I have previously studied is Sanskrit. I don't know how much to expect in the way of similarity.

To get the ball rolling, I am starting with the Pimsleur Persian program. If you are interested in studying a language, you owe it to yourself to try out a Pimsleur program, if one is available for your particular language. Even if I had a class to take, I would try to supplement it with Pimsleur.

With the Pimsleur method, you just listen to the recording and just follow the instructions. An example might go like this:

Tell her your son is a high-school student.

[You respond.]

How would she say her daughter is a college student?

[You respond.]

Ask her where the college is located.

[And so on...]

All the vocabulary, etc. is introduced gradually, in context. There are no explanations of grammar as such (not that I don't like grammar).

A "complete" course consists of 30 half-hour lessons. The most popular languages (French, Mandarin, etc.) have volumes I, II, III--90 lessons in all. You'd be amazed how much you can pick up in those 45 hours. Less popular languages (like Persian) only have Volume I (so far, that is). They are still working on new courses.

Advantages of the Pimsleur program:

(1) You get a lot of speaking practice. In a classroom, you spend most of your time listening, maybe reading and writing, and you speak only when it's your turn. With Pimsleur, it's all you. And dealing with an inanimate object frees you from self-consciousness (although this is not an issue for everyone). The extensive practice really lets you wrap your mouth around the language. Speaking a language is a physical activity, just like dancing or skiing, and just so, practice helps you avoid stumbling.

(2) If you spend a fair amount of time driving alone, as I do, it lets you make good use of otherwise dead time.

(3) You don't have to plan, or make many decisions. Just follow the program.

(4) The program is designed to reintroduce previous terms at a rate to keep you from forgetting them. Paul Pimsleur actually authored several articles on this approach, referring to research on the rate at which new terms are forgotten.

Disadvantages of the Pimsleur approach:

(1) Since it's strictly audio, you don't learn to read and write. (However, many courses include perfunctory "reading lessons." Since these can't be done while driving, I usually don't get around to them.

(2) Your accent may be so good that people will expect you to understand better than you actually do. I'm not kidding. I've heard several people report this.

(3) They don't come cheap. A full course runs more than $300. You can find abbreviated courses of 8 or 10 lessons cheaper, if you just want to try it out. You can also find the full courses cheaper if you search the Web, or rent them, or (best of all) maybe borrow them for free from a library.

Some people that I have introduced to the Pimsleur method are so enthusiastic after completing the first lesson that they immediately go on to the second lesson. This is a bad idea. It's like a second piece of cheesecake--just too much. As a matter of policy I won't go faster than one lesson per day. If I have extra driving time, I use it to go over the same lesson a second time.

Within somewhere between one and two months, I should have finished the Pimsleur Persian course--at which point I'll need to find something else to make progress with. Reports to follow.