How Hard is Persian Farsi to Learn for English Speakers?

There are few languages as interestingly complex as Persian Farsi.

Be it because of the hybrid Arabic script, the beautiful poetic traditions of the language or how the language has evolved after contact with other languages.

The polyglots amongst us will truly enjoy taking on this language. With that in mind, a substantive number of you will be wondering, how hard is Persian Farsi to learn?

The basic answer is that it is pretty hard.

  • Vocabulary – Persian Farsi forms vocabulary in a logical manner and once you get the hang of it you can quickly build new words. There are a number of loan words from English to use, but if you have a background in French or Arabic you will truly have an advantage with learning vocabulary.
  • Grammar – The grammar is usually subject-object-verb and this combined with a noun case system can take some time to overcome. The suffix on verbs denoting subject and tense is also a bit tricky.
  • Speaking/Listening – The language is tonal and the use of stress is straight forward. The sounds are not too difficult for native English speakers.
  • Writing/Reading – The writing system uses an Arabic script which is read right to left and there are some 32 letters in the alphabet. To someone who is unfamiliar with this style of script you really have to put in the hours to learn and then recognise letters to then form the words. Your brain will take some real training to achieve this skill.

if you haven’t been too demoralised then read on to find out more!

So, how hard is Persian Farsi to learn really?

— Vocabulary

Persian Farsi vocabulary is formed through either derivation or compounding of existing nouns, verbs and adjectives. Using the example of the base verbal stem of dān which means to know.

  1. Scientist – دانشمند –  dān eš mand
  2. University – دانشگاه – dān eš gāh
  3. Ignorance – نادانی – nā dān i

You can form countless different related vocabulary in this way.

Persian Farsi has taken loans words from a number of key languages including Arabic, French and Turkic languages. In more recent years English loan words become more and more popular too.

There are a large number of English loan words across a wide ranging number of vocabulary topics.

Basic English Loan Words

  1. Barcode – bārkod
  2. T-shirt – tišert
  3. Irish coffee – āyriš-kofi
  4. Cheese burger – čiz-berger
  5. Computer -kāmpyuter
  6. Silicon – silikān
  7. Cool – kul

— Grammar

In order to understand the grammar of a language it is necessary to deconstruct the basic sentences to observe how the language functions.

  1. The apple is red seeb ghermez ee particle is used to denote the adjective which describes the noun
  2. It is John’s appleenn seeb-e john-e — the particle e is used to denote possession also subject-object-verb word order, but not fixed, can also be subject-verb-object
  3. I give John the appleman be John seeb midam — be particle to denote indirect object, also am suffix on the verb denotes present tense and I subject
  4. We give him the applemaa be oo seeb midim im particle on the verb denotes we subject
  5. He gives it to Johnoo aan raa be John mide — word order is subject-direct object-indirect object-verb, raa particle to denote direct object
  6. He doesn’t give it to Johnoo aan raa be john nemide — ne prefix to show negative
  7. She gives it to himoo aan raa be oo mide — he and she subject and verb subject prefix are the same
  8. I gave John the appleman be John seeb daadam — change of verb form to denote past action
  9. I must give it to himman baayad aan raa be oo bedam — auxilliary verb and main verb split, also the main verb form subjunctive form
  10. I want to give it to her man mikhaaham aan raa be oo bedam — the verb for want functions similar to must form above

The language deconstruction method is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good base for understanding Persian Farsi. It operates under the 80:20 Pareto principle, in that 80% of your languages needs are covered by 20% of the functional language.

Key Features

  • Word Order – Persian Farsi grammar has a subject-verb-object word order.
  • Articles – In Persian Farsi you can either place the word yek before a noun or the sound after to make the noun indefinite. If you do neither then the noun is definite.
  • Pronouns – The subject pronouns are explained in the suffix of the verb and are therefore not necessary. When included though, you should note that there are impolite and polite versions for you.
  • Nouns – Nouns are made plural by adding the a suffix of ha but the complications with nouns come when taking about the cases. The case shows the listener the function of a noun in a sentence. In Persian there are 5 cases. Nominative (subject), accusative (directly affected by the subject), dative (receive an action), locative (where) and ablative (from where). These cases can be spoken before or after the noun.
  • Adjectives – the adjective comes after the noun and often has the particle e between.
  • Verbs – Verbs change depending on subject and tense. So a base verb like to see – didan. To make this verb the continuous past for example with I as the subject, we change the form to mididandam which has the prefix mi and the suffix dam. Dam is the pronoun for past tense subject I, combined with the prefix mi, we get the continuous past.
  • Auxiliary verbs – are split up in the word order of the sentence and the form of the main verb changes to subjunctive.
  • Be – The be verb is hast in the present and bud for the past. The verb also takes a suffix dependent on the subject. The be verb can be used with nouns, adverbs and adjectives.
  • Have – We use the word dar to mean have and it will also have a subject suffix.
  • Negatives – Negatives are expressed with prefix word na before the verb.
  • Questions – To form a question you need an upward intonation at the end of the sentence.
  • Direct and Indirect Objects – They have a varying order which depends on whether the objects are specific or non specific.

— Speaking/Listening

Persian Farsi has 30 phonemes made up of 24 consonant sounds and 6 vowel sounds. Persian isn’t also a tonal language, but is a syllable-timed language. The stress is usually placed on the last syllable of the word.

Consonants

  • Consonants – m, j, w, n, l, s, b, ɡ, h, d, r, f, t̠ʃ, ʔ, ʃ, z, d̠ʒ, v, kʰ, pʰ, ʒ, tʰ, χ, ɢ

Vowels

  • Vowels – i, u, e, o, ɑ, a̟

— Writing/Reading

Persian Farsi was originally written in a Pahlavi script. This changed with the introduction of Arabic in the 7th century. Arabic and Persian however don’t share similar grammar. Also, the sound and grammar of the written Persian and the spoken Persian differ significantly. There are 32 letters in the modern Persian alphabet. The script is usually cursive which means the letters are linked together.

My hovercraft is full of eels – هاورکرافت من پر مارماهى است  – havercrafte man pore mārmāhi ast

The red and green script denotes the consonant symbols and the blue script denotes the vowel symbols.

In the first word, we have the word sabz = green, and the second word is âbi = blue. When vowels occur inside a word they are not shown in Persian Arabic. This can be seen in the first word.

Key Features

  • The script is written from right to left.
  • There are 32 letters, 31 consonants symbols and 1 vowel symbol. This 1 vowel symbol is used to represent the 6 vowel sounds.
  • The script is cursive.

Why Learn Persian Farsi?

If you are thinking about learning Persian Farsi then in my opinion there are three key reasons to drive your motivation.

  1. Persian is spoken in so many countries in the Middle East and Central Asia and so it is one of the more practical language to have a go at.
  2. The country of Iran has a rich history and literary tradition with poetry and epic stories. You would be able to take deep dive into a less well studied and politically removed piece of world culture.
  3. The language itself isn’t too difficult and many people think it is beautiful language to learn.

But, lets dive in further.

Language Classification

Persian Farsi is an Indo-European language. It is the official language of Iran along with some parts of Afghanistan and Tajikistan.It is spoken by 70 million people as a 1st language and 40 million as a 2nd language. It is regulated by the Academy of Persian Language and Literature in Iran.

Travel, Culture, History and Economy

Iran is a large country located in the Middle East. It has a borders with Iraq to the west, Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Azerbaijan to the northwest, Turkmenistan to the northeast and Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east. The northern part of Iran is covered in forests while the east is mainly deserts. The populated west is where you also find many of the mountainous regions of Iran.

Iran is famed for its ornate Persian carpets, the beautiful calligraphy and the detailed paintings. There are countless travel destinations across the country. From the ruined but glorious Persepolis to the hustle and bustle of modern Tehran. There are also various world heritage sites scattered across the country.

Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest continuous major civilisations dating as far back as 7000 BC. Throughout much of history Iran has been a major stopping off point along the ancient Silk Road trading route. In the modern era, since the islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has been ruled by the Islamic Republic. The country has had quite a tumultuous time of it since the revolution, surviving a war with neighbouring Iraq and sanctions imposed by the west.

Iran’s economy is a mixture of large scale central planning and a heavy reliance on the state oil sector and mining. The country has a $20,000 PPP per capita GDP and is classed as an upper-middle income economy. The service sector makes up the largest percentage of the GDP, followed by industry and then agriculture.

Language ROI

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has put together a relative comparison of world languages including Persian Farsi.

They rate Persian Farsi as a category 4 language along with languages like Greek, Hindi and Zulu. They believe it would take 44 weeks (1100 hours) to achieve a L3 proficiency in speaking and reading.

Resources

In attempting to learn anything it is best to first deconstruct the problem and then break down the learning task into manageable chunks. It is with this in mind that I recommend the following resources to help you in learning Persian Farsi.

  • Fluent Forever or Anki – The Fluent Forever method details exactly how to use spaced repetition to quickly build functional vocabulary and learn common grammar rules.
  • italki.com – Italki gives you access to very cheap video chat lesson with teachers from around the world, dive straight in.
  • lang-8.com – Lang 8 allows you to input writing and have it corrected for free in a matter of hours. This community is very helpful and is a great way to practice online.

Sample of Persian Farsi

Sources

  1. https://phoible.org/
  2. https://www.omniglot.com/
  3. https://glottolog.org/
  4. https://wikitongues.org/

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