Persian Grammar

I have had a copy of Persian Grammar, by John Mace, but hadn’t spent much time with it. Over the weekend, I pulled it out to explain a concept to someone and realized there was a lot of useful material in there — and I could understand it. I finally know enough basic Farsi to follow the material in this book.

I’m especially excited because I have been stalling with my Farsi studies lately. I don’t learn vocabulary as quickly as I learn grammar. (I need so much more practice with vocabulary to retain it.) And my lessons move so slowly through grammar. So I’m planning to read through Persian Grammar in hopes of building out my grammatical knowledge and then filling in the vocabulary I really need to have conversations.

Double Consonants in Farsi

Some words in Farsi include long or double consonants (called gemination). In writing, these consonants are marked with a tashdid — a small squiggly symbol that appears above the elongated letter:

ّ

This isn’t a new concept to me, as I’ve come across it in Japanese (for example, the word 日本 or nippon meaning “Japan”) and in Catalan (for example, the word paraŀlel meaning “parallel” and also the name of the prominent street Avinguda del Paraŀlel in Barcelona). In each case, you sort of hold the consonant out longer or say it twice, and if you don’t you run the risk of changing the word’s meaning.

So I wasn’t too surprised when a double consonant popped up in my Farsi study. I was, however, surprised by how difficult it was for me. While learning some new food words, I came across this:

گوشت بره / goosht-e barre = lamb

First, I’ll note that the Farsi word above doesn’t even include a tashdid. The only clue is in the transliteration barre (note the double r there). I started talking to my husband about it — not because of the pronunciation, but to ask him about the difference between barre and the word goosfand I already knew — and he suggested that if you want to be accurate, it should probably be written like this:

گوشت برّه

Like other diacritics, the tashdid is often omitted in everyday writing. (In writing this blog post, I discovered that my Persian keyboard doesn’t even have a way to type it!) Yet another challenge for language learners. 😉 But now that I know, I’m all set, right?

Well … it turns out I’m not particularly good at pronouncing this double r. As far as I can tell, the Farsi r resides at the same point on the roof of my mouth as the Spanish r, which is fine when it stands alone. But that means the Farsi rr gets mixed up in my mouth with the Spanish rr — whenever I try to geminate it, I just start rolling the r. My husband assures me that it’s understandable but it still sounds funny, like the r is getting away from me and multiplying as I speak!

After practicing over and over, I can almost get it right. (Basically, I can now stop the rolling just in time to say r three times, so only one r too many.) I’m going to call that good enough for now. Hopefully it will come to me over time!

Reading Practice

My sister-in-law recently gave me a gift: a book titled مسل ماه شب چهارده (Like the Full Moon), by Houshang Moradi Kermani. It’s a kid’s book, about 70 pages long with illustrations. It turns out that’s perfect for me: I’m stretching my vocabulary but the ideas aren’t so hard to grasp once I decipher the words.

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I’ll admit, I’m still only on the first page. But so far it’s a pretty entertaining description of aging!

Listening Practice: Podcasts

In addition to my active speaking/writing skills, I want to improve my listening skills, too. My husband and I speak a little bit together, but I don’t want to subject him to even more of me asking, “Can you repeat that?” and “Can you say that a little more slowly?” and “What was that last word you said?” So I started looking for other ways to practice listening to Farsi.

I love artists like Dariush, Googoosh, and Faramarz Aslani — I certainly listen to their music (and others) and it’s fun to look up the lyrics. But that’s not really the same as listening to someone speaking, and trying to understand them that way.

It’s pretty hard to find good resources for listening. I found a couple podcasts like Learn Persian with Chai and Conversation and PersianPod101, and I’d recommend them if you’re interesting in audio learning. But they aren’t really designed for immersive listening practice. What I wanted was something like the Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten I listened to while learning German, to allow me to practice my listening skills but not get overwhelmed by fast speakers.

Today a lightbulb went off in my head, and I found a great combination:

  1. The BBC Persian Radio podcast, which has a new episode daily with relevant world news
  2. The Overcast iOS app, a podcast player with premium features that include changing the playback speed without distorting the sound

Playback speed features for the BBC Persian podcast in the Overcast app

I had tried listening to the BBC Persian podcast before, but they talk too fast for me to really pick up what they are saying. And I’ve used the free features on the Overcast app for ages now. But today I had the bright idea to try out their premium features, and using the playback speed option to slow down the BBC Persian podcast is perfect. Now I can listen to the news every day at a slow enough speed that I can pick out the individual words and start to understand what they are saying. (The £3.99 price tag for those premium features was totally worth it to me.)

So now I’m on the lookout for other Persian podcasts to add to my playlist. Do you have any recommendations?

The Internet is not made for Persian

My plan was to practice what I’ve learned so far by writing a short essay. (And I will finish and share that soon!) I used to have a cat, and so far I mostly just know the past tense in Farsi, so I was going to write about my memories of this cat. But I only got two sentences into my essay before I came across a problem: How do I type “my cat” in Farsi?

Most of the time, you can form the possessive with the noun + “e” + pronoun. For example, the word book is “ketab” and the pronoun I is “man,” so my book is “ketab-e man.” (In writing, though, you leave out the “e” and just write “ketab man.”) If a noun ends in a vowel or a “heh” (h sound), however, you add “ye” instead of just “e.” The word cat is “gorbeh” so you end up with “gorbeh-ye man” (although you drop the “h” when you pronounce it, so it becomes “gorbe-ye man”).

I asked my husband how to write “gorbeh-ye.” I didn’t think the “ye” was dropped in writing, but typing ی (“ye”) at the end of the word changed the “heh” character from ـه to ـهـ, so I was fairly certain I was missing something — and indeed, I was missing the hamza. The hamza is a little character that comes from Arabic, but the combination of heh and hamza is unique to Farsi. Here’s how it looks (heh+hamza on the right, and “gorbeh-ye” on the left):

heh-hamzeh

Unfortunately, most of what you see on the internet or in operating systems is made for Arabic, not Farsi/Persian. So a Farsi character combination like this is largely unsupported by keyboard layouts, fonts, etc. We went on a search to find out how to type this, and we ended up on a page all about The Persian Heh+Hamzeh. I searched around, and there seems to be a pretty even split between writing out the ی separately and just leaving it out, like this:

گربه من
گربه ی من

It’s annoying to have to adjust my writing because of the limitations of my keyboard and web fonts, but I’ve decided to just leave out the ی for now. My husband says the extra ی just looks strange to him, and since the “e” is left out of other possessives it seems the most reasonable solution to me. I’d love to hear how other people deal with this!

Keeping Track of New Vocabulary

I started creating a personal glossary when I was learning German and desperately trying to memorize long lists of vocabulary. It worked so well I decided to try it again.

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I draw a line down the center of each page, and as I go through each lesson Farsi goes on the left and English on the right. I transliterate each new word in case I forget its pronunciation. I’m  careful to add even words that I already know, to cement the spelling in my head. Having it written out in columns also makes it easy to cover one half of the page to practice recalling the words in one language or the other.

Vocabulary is my weakest point when learning a new language, so it helps me to put that little bit of extra time and energy into it. Any other tips for keeping track of new words and studying them?