June 29, 2014 | Persian

More Persian Books!

I am simultaneously studying a book for kids and a book for grownups.

Now that the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin is over, I am full swing back into Persian. Besides redoing the Pimsleur Persian lessons (I had to; my head is a sieve), I am reading an oldie but goodie from 1953: Ann Lambton’s Persian Grammar, published by Cambridge University Press. I am also making my way through a few products from Bahar Books, which is a local publisher of children’s Persian books in White Plains.

Persian Grammar from Cambridge University Press

Persian Grammar from Cambridge University Press

Let's Learn Persian Words, from Bahar Books

Let’s Learn Persian Words, from Bahar Books

Bahar Books’ books are brightly colored and cheerful. I really enjoyed one called Let’s Learn Persian Words: A Farsi Activity Book by Nazanin Mirsadeghi (see photo above right). I am now working on a verbs book from them, although I have stalled temporarily because I need some more vocabulary in order to proceed.

Just as I enjoy reading old grammar books about English, I am similarly enjoying the now somewhat quaint-feeling approach of Lambton’s Persian Grammar. It is old-school, hardcore, with intensive and detailed explanations of the grammatical features of the Persian language.

I must say, I wouldn’t be keeping up in it if I hadn’t already done some studying beforehand. It ain’t basic! But so far, so good.

In Lambton’s book and elsewhere, I continue to discover overlaps between Persian and English that would, I think, surprise many people who don’t realize that Persian is actually an Indo-European language. The use of the Arabic writing system tends to throw would-be learners off, and they mistakenly expect something much harder and more alien.

Some Persian Words

Some Persian Words

Native speakers of English or other Western European languages can find lots of similarities and familiar features, though. Consider the picture at left.

There you will see the (transliterated) Persian word for “young”—javan—which reminds me of jeune (French), joven (Spanish), giovane (Italian)…and hey, wait a minute…Jovin!

(Hm, I wrote javan in the picture, but that’s not great transliteration, as the two vowels in that word sound quite different. Let’s go with javân instead, with the â indicating a long vowel sound as in “caught.”)

Back to grammar! You generally form Persian comparatives by adding tar to the base adjective.

Not so unlike English, in other words. Bozorg, which means “big” and which I find to be a very cute word, becomes bozorgtar for “bigger.”

And the word for “better” is a very familiar-sounding behtar!

I must apologize for any violations of Persian writing aesthetics in the picture. I am still working that whole writing thing out.

But I feel closer and closer to the Arabic alphabet, which is used across multiple languages of interest to me. It is a writing system that has felt a thing apart for my entire life, so this is such a nice change, intellectually and emotionally, and one that helps other parts of the world feel closer.

Comments (7)

Ali Soleimani • Posted on Thu, July 03, 2014 - 4:38 am EST

Such a charming approach on language learning! It fascinates me to see how non-native Persian speakers perceive the language. I never thought about the word “bozorg” as being cute, but now I sure do enjoy thinking about it like that. Bravo, Ellen!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, July 03, 2014 - 12:39 pm EST

Thank you, Ali. :)

Shana Thompson • Posted on Thu, July 03, 2014 - 4:29 pm EST

Hi Ellen,

I recently discovered your blog and very impressed by all of the languages you’ve worked on in the past few years! You keep it really entertaining as a reader and I can really imagine coming back to your articles once I take on my next language (still trying to figure out what it’ll be!). Maybe I’ll join you on the Swahili undertaking; would be nice considering my solid foundation with hakuna matata and rafiki!:)

You mentioned in the post above that your ‘head is a sieve’ and am curious how the two-three month study frames followed by review sessions are working for you? I apologize if you’ve written about this before. Do you ever feel like your memory has reached a limit?

Like you I’m a New Yorker from California with a love for languages:)
Hope to hear from you,
Shana Thompson

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Thu, July 03, 2014 - 4:46 pm EST

Shana, what nice compliments—thank you! In answer to your question, my memory reached a limit long ago. But I am still having fun taking this trip, and as long as I enjoy the exploration, that’s good enough for me.

One thing that does stick around, no matter how much I forget, is a broader understanding of how languages can and do work. That means a great deal to me. So does learning what is out there product-wise for all those teach-yourself types; I really truly enjoy testing different products and writing them up for the Reviews section of this site.

A Californian in NY? I don’t meet so many of those! ;)

Shana Thompson • Posted on Fri, July 04, 2014 - 6:23 pm EST

Hi Ellen-

Thanks for the response and Happy 4th! What a relief it is to hear I’m not the only one with a language limit! I’ve recently felt that every time a new Lithuanian vocab word goes in, a word in French comes out. It’s like watching a bucket overflow, except with my language skills?! ah.

You’ve found a creative way to help people in a field your passionate about. There’s nothing better than that! Had I known about the German and French posts previously, I probably would have made better use of my time scavenging through the NYPL language sections. (Love the Goethe Institute and FIAF btw)

So excited to to see what how you’re engaging with polyglots around the world and with NYC language learning opportunities!


(Side note, Memrise for Chinese is also extremely addicting. If you haven’t seen the lessons already, be warned. You can learn all of the characters in about one hour to order lunch in Chinatown!)

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, July 04, 2014 - 6:54 pm EST

Shana, the bucket is an excellent metaphor. Unfortunately. ;)

Yes, I am aware of the addictive quality of Memrise for Chinese. I haven’t used Memrise THAT much for Chinese yet, because that nascent addiction is competing with other more advanced addictions, but I think it is a wonderful way to become familiar with Chinese characters, and I wish I’d been using it when I studied Chinese.

mohammad • Posted on Wed, March 02, 2016 - 2:43 pm EST

I’m Mohammad from Iran and at the first of being a polyglot with 3 language.
Its good that you’ve learned Persian. i should admit your hand writing as a non-Persian person is very well ! 
and at the end : you have great website!

موفق باشی

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