"Persian: difficult but loveable": Perpetuating the myth of Persian / Farsi as a difficult language

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Image:Persian Language Location Map1.png
Here's another article that seems to accept as a given that Persian is somehow a super difficult language to learn. The only difficult part of Persian is the writing system; besides that it's the easiest Indo-European language I've seen, except perhaps for Afrikaans. The other thing that makes it not so easy to study of course is the lack of opportunity to use it, but that has nothing to do with the ease of learning the language itself, simply a lack of outside impetus to learn it.

So what makes it easier than the rest? Here are a few:

  • Every single verb conjugates regularly in the past tense. Absolutely no exceptions. The only irregularity you find in verbs is an irregular present tense stem sometimes, but once you know the stem you conjugate it like any other verb, again with no exceptions.
  • No articles. Sure English uses articles too, but not every language uses them in the same way which is why you say "Ich bin Portier"(I'm a doorman) in German without the article, and la philosophie perse (Persian philosophy) in French, with the article where English has none. Persian has none of this.
  • No grammatical gender. German, French, Italian, Spanish etc. all have this.
The way to make Persian an easier language to learn is to avoid all Arabic letters through the first year. Just like people first learn languages without having to write them in a foreign script (to a baby any script is just as foreign as the Arabic script is to an English speaker, but to an English speaker the Latin alphabet is so natural that it doesn't count) Persian should be learned during the first year without it. After that, go slowly into the Perso-Arabic script and learn how to write all the grammar the students have been working on over the past year.

Just to give an example of how ridiculously easy verbs are in Persian:
  • All verbs end with -dan or -tan. The verb 'to be' is budan.
  • Remove the -an part of the ending and you have the past tense stem. For 3rd person nothing is added to this. That means that bud is he/she/it was.
  • Now put a word in front of that. Let's go with garm, which means warm. Garm bud. It was warm. Done!
  • How about I? The stem for I is -am. Garm budam. I was warm. Done!

So where's a good place to learn Persian without the Perso-Arabic script? Here's a pdf that's quite good, and also as HTML (edit a few months later: this link doesn't work anymore. I have the document still though so contact me if you'd like it. This book here is also not too bad and has audio files as well) if you don't like downloading pdf files. People learning Persian would probably be best off starting with something like this, if only to get the point across that this isn't some language of Herculean difficulty that only savants can master. It's perfectly doable for anyone that wants to put the effort in.

(And no I don't speak Persian yet but through doing just 10 minutes a day before my regular studies for the past few months I have no trouble with deciphering simple sentences, even in the Perso-Arabic script.)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this really interesting article.

Anonymous said...

That is encouraging. Maybe I'll have a go.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mithridates, I'm really interested in learning Persian. I know you posted this blog entry a while ago now, but do you still have the PDF for learning Persian without the script? If you do, I would love to get it! My e-mail address is chalissa at gmail dot com. Thanks so much!

Brian said...

Hi Mithridates,
Really enjoying the blog! Been reading for a while now. As a young language learner, I really look up to your knowledge and passion for languages -- of all types, too (contrary to the usual). Being in middle school in a suburban neighborhood isn't the greatest place to find resources and practice, so thank goodness for the Internet. I've worked already on Turkish (my favorite<3), Papiamentu (my other fave<3), Esperanto, Glosa, Norwegian, Volapük, Chinese (<3), and am starting Dutch, Persian, Uzbek, Estonian, Albanian and Yiddish.
It's so refreshing to hear about different languages, and it's kind of funny that you happen to write a lot about and encourage so many languages that I love and thought no one else had heard of.
Anyway, about this post. I was wondering if you could send me the PDF as I am hoping to get started with Persian.
My email address is "emailbriangreco" at "gmail". dot com.
Thank you so much, and look forward to more articles!

Anonymous said...

i am interested in your pdf as well. if you still have it could you please send to lastexit2houston "at" gmail.com?

i am just beginning to learn persian ...

thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Your article has been very inspiring to me.
Please, send me a copy of above mentioned pdf-file to zhan1999 [at] yahoo [dot] com

Thanks in advance,

Unknown said...


I would also like the PDF mentioned. dodraugen2k [at] hotmail [dot] com


Anonymous said...


Thank you for the helpful article. Could you please send me the PDF-file. It sounds very interesting.
I'm going backpacking through Iran next year so I can use all the help I can get.

Thank you so much!

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