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Learning Farsi
Internet Resorces and Language Material

This is a kind of online diary of my journey into the fascinating Persian language. It started when on June 3, 2016, I attended a gathering of Farsi speaking people in my refugee work and decided for myself to finally have a go at this language. Now, instead of presenting a useful link list the way I did many times before, this time I decided to document the learning procedure in a narrative form. Because next to good sources the learner needs a lively atmosphere, or, how can I describe this ... a trigger. Everybody has an individual learning approach; maybe this diary can provide you with some insight about how you learn languages best. For often we don't really know how we learn best and fast. At least I made this experience. Suddenly you go: Ah, so that's how I learn!

About my languages: German is my mother tongue, English is my second and Arabic my third language. I studied the latter two at the university, taught Arabic for all levels at the university for three years, and continued using English. Language number four is French, I had several phases and still want to bring it onto a fluent level. I could count Turkish into the list, having studied it for two years on a low scale, and I still know a lot of the grammar. Now, while learning Persian, many Turkish words pop up in my brain, as there are several parralels, be it vocabulary or compound verbs or other phenomena. Latin I took from school year 5 to 10, but I did not like it then, and so I did not learn much. I also scratched the surface of Hebrew, Kurdish and ancient Greek. When I am on a good level in Farsi I would like to learn Italian. I love languages because every new language is like a new identity. So rich. Also, I don't think it is a big deal to know such an amount of languages. I'll tell you why when you read on.


At first I took a look around on the internet and found Persian Online. Grammar and Resources. Austin University Texas and for audio vocabulary and sentences Learn Persian Online (Engl./Ger.) as well as learn101.org/farsi_audio. Then I discovered short texts with audios without translation at Virtual Persian. Then two dictionaries: aryanpour.com and farsidic.

Before starting to learn one needs to collect some material like this, also audios. So I downloaded the 100 free audio lessons of www.goethe-verlag.com/book2 for my mp3 player. As a refugee aid I have often advised people to learn German with this free course, now I would be able to test it myself. I chose the German -> Farsi version. On YouTube I discovered 36 episodes of Talk Like a Persian: Conversation. This was exactly what I was looking for: short dialogues from Iranian movies, played twice, then analyzed in slo-mo, then a third time quick. Much too quick, actually, as in real life. With a freeware I transformed the YouTube videos into mp3s and copied the dialogues out of the text under the video into a word document. Online I also found the sympathetic podcast Chai and Conversation with 55 laid-back episodes. Very interesting was also the playlist with Iranian YouTube films with English subs. I kept the link for a later stage.

Now the only thing left to find was a grammar, and googling "Persian Grammar PDF" there was the book "Persian Grammar (for reference and revision)", John Mace 2010, London, N.Y., 227 pp. I remember having traced dozens of other websites, but I only chose those I found immediately useful. Right, now the journey could begin. What would happen next? Did I really want to learn this language? This time? The answer was yes.

I don't know why I started like this, but I wrote down all the 36 dialogues from the YouTube Conversation and the 100 lessons from the Goethe Book 2 in three ways, as shown above, and it took ages. I loved it, though. In the end, I had a fair sense of the sentence melody, sentence structure, many many words and my own systematic transcription method. I went through the transcription of the Goethe lessons over and over again and always checked it with the audio version. I put strésses where I héard them, so that I could réprodúce the íntonátion. In the left text the transcription is not yet matured, but in the right one I used some of the extra signs I am used to from Arabic.

You will most probably take a different approach with a given language. Maybe in my case it was because I am already familiar with the letters and just need to get the melody right. On 23 June 2016 I had finished writing all this down. By then I also had about four large papers with handwritten vocabulary, grammar and sentences and had watched some dozens of the YouTube playlists below. Finishing this writing work above was a landmark, despite the fact that I would have to listen to the audios several times again before I really understand all of it.

Talk like a Persian (36)

Five College LangMedia:
Persian Grammar Playlist (45)

Persian Online Academy

Reza Nazari: Farsi Fast (126)

al-Kauthar: Rihla ila l-Farisiye (40)

Pejman Habibi Channel


Mawuood Academy (57)

Persisch lernen (43)

Café Denj (14)

Above there are ten YouTube channels and playlists for the cause. Let's go through them one by one. About the first playlist I already wrote, it corresponds to the word document on the left above. The second one is a 45-lesson grammar course with a man and a blackboard. Good teacher, I watched most of it twice and am not finished with it. No. 3 is the Persian Online Academy with very useful vocab lists and grammar and a lot of good stuff. No playlists, you have to hop from one video to the next. I watched about 15 so far. No. 4 is Reza's playlist. I like it. It may be a bit monotonous, but I can learn well with that. Sometimes I switch it on, maybe I saw 10 so far. No. 5 is "Rihla ma'a l-Faarisiye", my absolute favorite, and I need an extra paragraph for it after the counting.

No. 6 is Pejman Habibi's channel, I saw about 10 videos and liked most of them. I will return to the advanced programs of it later. No. 7 is PersianPod101, and it is good, but I did not yet get into it. No. 8 the same, it has lots of vocabulary for professions and jobs, I will need that for my refugee work. No. 9 is in German. It only uses Latin transcription and audio, but seems good. I did not try it yet. No. 10 is the Café Denj series, and this is for advanced learners, without any translation. It corresponds with the free textbook "Persian of Iran Today" which I downloaded for later. The page also has valuable audios. I read the first of the two textbooks, and it was too easy, so I turned to the second. Seems to be brandnew, the audios for the final chapter are not online yet. This book has great things in it, only my personal learning method is a bit different, especially concerning tasks. I need to give the tasks myself and only reluctantly and without fun do stuff other people tell me to do. Great book still! Highly recommendable. One of the best free internet resources on the matter.

Now for the series "Rihla ma'a l-Faarisiye" which is Arabic and means: Journey with the Persian Language. To me it is such a gem! It is about a Lebanese student, Hasan, who visits his friend Mohsen in Teheran for language studies. The forty episodes are about 25 minutes each. Hasan gets a nice room in the house of Mohsen`s family with learning materials and a lot of space. Looks a bit like a dollhouse, but it is a generous gesture, anyhow. Some of the lessons take place here, but the two friends also go places and talk with other people in the restaurant, the museum, at the counter and in the gym. Mohsen studies film-making, and he knows Arabic. So the main language is Arabic. When they speak Farsi, the text appears in Farsi and Arabic as subtitles.

A running gag is that words magically appear on the wall, in the mirror and in several other places. People and things can also appear and disappear. Whenever Hasan asks how this can be, his friend answers: "This is not important. Important is that you learn Farsi." There are also ironic self-references to the program, for example when the father says: "There is a language program on Al-Kawthar which you may find useful." Al-Kawthar is the Iranian TV program that broadcast the series; the whole content of the channel is in Arabic. Each episode has a grammar part where a teacher stands at a desk talking to six students about grammatical phenomena. They look a little like a gospel choir, but the lessons are useful, and the teacher has a good (Arabic) language.

Of course, this whole thing is in Arabic and for Arabs, but it is something else I want to say here: Having watched 24 episodes I started to identify with this language via Hasan. The way he repeats things, the way he stutters his first words, the way he really wants to know ... all this captivated me, and I am starting to live in this language for short spells of time. So what I am saying is: No matter which language you are learning, find this thing that captivates you!

OK, now I have my material together. If I work on this sufficiently, the next step will be deep water: Iranian television, people and books. Today is June 29. I just had a ten-day vacation that I intensely used for the things above. In the coming days I won't have so much time, but I want to get at least a little further until the first month is over and the monthly Farsi speaking meeting will reoccur. That's after tomorrow.

Almost Three Months

(August 27, 2016) Every working day I have an opportunity to speak a little Persian with clients from Afghanistan and Iran. The communication thus changed a lot, and it is much easier to get in touch. Most Farsi speaking people are amazed when they realize how serious I am about it. It motivates them to learn my language when they see how I learn theirs. When I register Farsi-speaking people for the work agency I get along by myself about 70% of the questionnaire. I still haven't mastered verbs, so I routinely drop out at the end of a sentence, but it's getting better every week. I do about two hours a day on average, although in August there only was little time for my new passion, so I will catch up during vacation. The material above is still enough for me, and I saw dozens of hours of tutorials and films.

In order to get a handwriting routine I am writing down the TV series "Rihla" and got to episode 29 out of 40. I put pics from the films all over the envelope of the notebook and felt like a happy schoolboy when I did. One secret of learning certainly is having fun. As soon as I am through with the series, there are some bilingual texts from my work I want to start on, refugees & work. And there is a lot of advanced material on PersianPod101 I want to have a go at.

When I learn languages I usually develop a matching identity, or even more than one, e.g. British and American. When I had intense French phases I completely lived in this language, listened to French TV all the time and pretended not to know any other language. But for this one really needs an undisturbed time. With Arabic it was the same. I have a distinct Arab identity: My Arab humor, for example, is different from my German or English humor. Because every language entails the history of its speakers and a culture that sprang from this language. There is so much life in languages; when you come to understand it you will want to protect it and work for peace between the societies.

Words are like jigsaw pieces. Turkish and Persian share words, too, and when I saw an Indian menu last week I found many words familiar from Farsi vocabulary. When you know Arabic, Farsi is especially easy, as you will already know the letters and about 50 per cent of the vocabulary. But there are many "false friends": "kaseef", for example, in Farsi means "dirty", in Arabic it means "intense".

Five Months and a Half

(November 17, 2016) After almost half a year I am using Farsi on a daily basis at work with the refugees. When I fill in the form with them about educational and work experience, I do that in Farsi without a translator mostly. Once another man translated for me, despite the fact that he also only knew Farsi! But it was helpful, anyway. Strange, but true. Apart from that: Greetings work OK, my vocabulary is quite good already, some phrases, and I regularly lose the sentence like a hot potato as soon as the verb is looming. Dialogues are still far away, I cannot say yet that I speak or understand Farsi. Of course, in a 39-hour working week time is limited, even if I can sometimes practise in my job, especially since most of the Syrian migrants got their residence, while many Afghan people are still waiting.

For a bit more than three months I had dedicated almost every weekend and many evenings to Farsi. I watched tens of hours of documentaries and movies with English subtitles. YouTube has a lot in this respect. The memoirs 'From Tehran to Cairo' with Queen Farah Pahlavi talking, for example. Or some speeches of Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei for contrast. The texts are on his website. Both are in high audio quality and long. Sometimes I just listen to Farsi programs like Manoto or BBC Farsi without focusing, while tidying up, for example. For ten euros I bought an excellent pictorial dictionary with 12.500 words and concepts Farsi-German (PONS) and study it page by page. I also got me the (small) German/Farsi - Farsi/German Langenscheidt dictionary with an extra section for phrases. The links above still are enough for me, there was no need to look for more sources. I have some bilingual texts from/for my work that I can study. Reza Nazari uploaded 200 verb conjugation videos, I study with them, too.

After this busy phase I made a stop. Firstly, because other things had been neglected. Secondly, because I think it is important to step back once in a while and forget about everything, until the brain is ready for another layer, so to speak. So, after some weeks of pausing I went on in a comfortable gear, not as intense as before, in order to remain open for inspirations and not to concentrate too much on this issue. My love for languages reappeared, and I was very curious. So two weeks ago I started with Somali. This will absorb me for a while, so I will end this mini-blog and start a new one about languages in general. The first post will be underneath in the beginning to get the blog on the track. With the second post I will separate the pages.

04.11.2016 - Somali

(November 17, 2016) This is a free-time language blog, successor of the Farsi blog. It turned out that my interest in languages is or has become more general and more intense. The main reason for that, I guess, is the fact that I have not worked as an artist for more than a year now after 17 years of action, and I need something to fill the void. Language actually is a good substitute. There are many parallels and a similar complexity in languages and art. Besides, people usually look at voluntary language learners with some respect, and, if they are natives, mostly with benevolence and joy. Not to mention the practical value and the personal challenge.

From time to time I will post something here, not too often. The blog serves two purposes: to document my development and some sources, similar to the way one documents the records in sports (and we will get back to this metaphor in a special post), and to write down some potential points of inspiration for you people. There are incredible, fascinating and truly amazing stories out there from the world of language. Did I say 'world'? Pah! If every single of the more than 7000 languages is a universe, what kind of word do we need to describe the sum of it? Let me start by telling you about my first Somali experience, as long as the memories of the very beginnings are still fresh and at hand.

Friday before last I launched my rocket into the Somali language universe and returned unharmed on Sunday night. I met
Sam, a man from Cornwell, who explained some basics to me. His wife is from Somalia, and he is acquainted with Arabic. Generally, the YouTube harvest was meagre, not like Farsi. Enough for a weekend, though. This language is different from everything I learned before, a real challenge. It needs a different approach from Farsi. I wrote words and expressions in a word document, some grammar. Quickly I came to music and discovered Nimcaan Hilaac iyo Heestii Qalbi (2.3 million clicks today), found the lyrics, and, after digging deep into the comments of the video, also a usable translation.

After that weekend I came across Mitsurugi's blog 'Nabad iyo Caano' and found that he gave a very useful overview with grammar, vocabulary and texts for beginners, and with the spirit of a student who is able to think as a linguist. Most of the 229 entries date back to 2011/2012. I copied and pasted everything into one word document and at first reduced it from 150 pages to 50. Then I had some extra time due to a one-week vacation. I thoroughly worked on Mitsurugi's paper and printed out a new version every day for five consecutive days, until everything was perfectly formatted, all Somali words in red color, similar parts fused, reduced to the substantial, ordered. The focused occupation with this text gave me a fundament for learning the language. In the end - that was yesterday - I got the whole text on nine sheets of paper, duplex print with two pages on one, 36 pages total. Total working time was something around 40 hours. I kept the previous versions as a souvenir. Tidying up and making order is my life-theme, this is why I can learn so well while doing it. I love it.

Also yesterday I expanded my vocabulary page from half a page to three pages with a total of about 1000 words and English translation. A mini-dictionary in one paragraph: Somali word in red + hyphen + English word + semicolon; Somali word in red + hyphen + English word + semicolon etc. Then I changed the colors of the verbs to blue, adjectives to green, colors to light green and linguistic technical terms in brown.

There is a good grammar out in German, I ordered it, although it is 60 euros. Online I found the complete amazing 'Qaamuuska Af Soomaaliga' (Puglielli/Mansuur, Rome 2012, PDF), a modern Somali-Somali dictionary with 970 pages (!) and a fine grammar section in the end with charts and tables. I am working on that right now, until Jörg Berchem's grammar arrives. I still have some days vacation, today is only Thursday.

I found four online dictionaries: translate.google.com, freelang.net/online/somali.php, glosbe.com/en/so and lexilogos.com/english/somali_dictionary.htm, but I cannot yet say how good they are. I did not need them much yet. Good is learnsomali.com. Then for audios, there is a zip file on mylanguages.org with about 700 mp3s, each with one word or expression or sentence spoken in American and twice in Somali. Seems to be a manual for US soldiers, the choice of sentences leaves no doubt ('Stop, or I will shoot!', Follow our orders!', 'We are Americans, you are safe' etc., but also normal stuff.) There is no written text to go with it, but I don't miss it. I know many of the words from my recent hours of private editing. Yesterday night I listened through it, I think it was more than an hour.

OK, this is where I stand right now. So why Somali to begin with? Well, the next larger refugee nationalities in my surroundings are Somali and Eritrean. Somali is spoken by about 17 million people, Tigrinya (the main language in Eritrea) has less than half that amount of speakers. It also has a complicated script of its own, while Somali today is written in Latin characters. That was basically enough for the choice. Many Somalis speak Arabic, and there are many loan words from Arabic, too. But not a quarter as many as in Farsi.

There are some peculiarities in Somali, like two 'we's, one is 'we without you', one is 'we including you'. There are so-called focus words and classifyers 'baa', 'waa' etc. which put the focus on a specific part of the sentence to highlight it. Grammar is full of small words like prepositions, suffixes and pronouns that fuse with each other and with other words, often with shifting consonants and vowels. For me, this language is far out. It is not similar to any language I learned before. It is not related to Arabic, but shares some significant phonemes like emphatic q, 'ain and emphatic h, all produced deep in the throat. The d sound is close to r sometimes like in India and Pakistan, some other times it sounds like a usual d sound, then again like a voiced th sound as in 'the'. The tone and melody of the words and sentences are much different from what I know. All in all, I am - you can see it - fascinated with this language in a new way. And I can relate to the music, this is important. I don't go much for Arabic music, you see, and this here is close to blues, reggae and other styles that I know from US music. The language is very musical, very oral. The throat sounds and occasional staccatos give it a rough, Klingon touch, but then there is this tender and almost sung overall discourse that embeds it.