Farsi at Six Months

goal (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Around July 1 I passed the six-month mark for my study of Farsi. I wanted to write about my experiences so far in this task. Some methods didn’t help, others I outgrew, but talking to native speakers and learning vocabulary keep me learning.

I began with a strict schedule that I was not able to keep up. The plan included

  1. on-line work with Livemocha,
  2. listening to Pimsleur,
  3. learning vocabulary,
  4. working through a grammar book,
  5. blogging,
  6. and meeting native speakers.

The most helpful tasks—and the ones that lasted to the present—were Pimsleur (I finished them), vocabulary, and blogging. The next most helpful were Livemocha and the grammar book. I stopped them a while ago. I never found more than a few native speakers, and I only bumped into them for a moment; I didn’t form any helpful, lasting relationships. I tried Rosetta Stone for a little while, but couldn’t take more introductory material. The software wasn’t offering me anything I didn’t already get from Pimsleur and my grammar book.

Currently, my study includes listening to Farsi, a little reading, and vocabulary. I have probably 80% of the grammar; Farsi is mercifully Indo-European in its grammar. Now I listen to podcasts, mostly of news. (If anyone knows of non-news podcasts in Farsi, please let me know. Age zahmat nist, man mikham bishtar-e farsi-ye podcast gush konam ke khabar nist.) I also read a little of the news. When I learn new words, I write them down on 3×5 cards and memorize them. I’m making good progress on the long slog of vocabulary, always my downfall in learning languages.

GMZ Sentence Vocabulary (first version)
GMZ Sentence Vocabulary (first version) (Photo credit: newdavich)

My lack of connections with native speakers severely limits my ability to learn. Conversing cements in my vocabulary and corrects my wonky grammar. If I had used Livemocha more—and I may do so in the near future—I could meet scads of on-line people who want to help me; I met a few without even trying. Skype and Google Chat will certainly lie in my future. Every time I spoke with a native speaker—at the pool, at my kids’ concert, etc.—I always left with new vocabulary. I’m hoping to find soon a face-to-face language exchange partner who wants to work on his English.

Learning a language on my own has been surprisingly simple: a little grammar and a lot of vocabulary. Once I learned the basics (3-4 months), I worked on vocabulary and comprehension. I will need to work on vocabulary and production. The common element between these two tasks stands out: vocabulary. Memorizing vocabulary stands at the crux between success and failure: am I working on vocabulary constantly? If I’m progressing on vocabulary, I’m progressing in my language. So I’ll keep working on vocabulary—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I’ve been looking for materials to help intermediate language-learning. Maybe I made it too complicated.

My experience with kids learning language reflects this lesson, too. Kids constantly learn words. They use the wrong word, they ask what words mean, they aggravate us with new slang. The grammar is worked out early on, and glitches are corrected along the way (e.g., irregular verbs made regular like “swimmed”). For example, I was at a family reunion with many nieces and nephews. I observed the following: At age two, they repeat words back; at age three, they form simple phrases; at age four, they form full sentences; from five on, they talk like little adults. From age four, the main task seems to be vocabulary building. (I adore seeing my niece and—previously—my own kids work on figuring out family-relation terms. My 11-year-old loves to talk about meeting her first cousin, three times removed [my grandfather’s cousin], as much as I loved learning about old Russian terms for different uncles and various in-laws.)

What ways have you found to learn vocabulary? What do you focus on in your intermediate language-learning?

9 thoughts on “Farsi at Six Months

  1. Sounds like a productive six months! I liked your initial plan. Farsi is a language I hope to learn at some point in the future, too. It can be hard to find materials once you are past the basics can’t it. Re vocab learning, I’m lucky in that having synaesthesia enables me to commit vocab to memory very quickly – it provides an extra association to hang on the word, helping it to stick. That aside, I definitely agree that talking cements vocab. I had an idea while driving home yesterday about vocab learning. I was sat at the traffic lights, and I thought if I were to take a photo of the view in front of me now, would I be able to point to everything in the picture and say it in Chinese and Bulgarian. The answer was of course, no. So I’m going to start doing that – taking pics and looking up the words – at least I’ll learn the words for things around me, things I can shout out as I go past them every day!


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  3. Thank you for this update. It provides a real insight into your progress and methods. You seem to be very systematic and thorough. Thank you. One idea I would like to share is using a Kindle to learn a language. There is a particular in-built advantage in Kindle that allows you to quickly build your vocab and grammar. It is now one of the main ways I learn Italian. I put a link here to my blog. Just so you know I have no commercial interest in Kindle – but it seems that it is accidentally a terrific language learning resource. If you can get books in Farsi on Kindle (or actually any e-reader) then this could be a useful addition to your language toolkit. For me it works. Keep it up and please continue to share. http://languagepie.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/how-to-use-kindle-to-learn-a-language/


    1. Thanks, Andrew. I like low-tech language methods, but you are about the third to recommend Kindle. So I’m definitely thinking about it now. I like how easily it does define words.

      Do you know what languages Kindle is compatible with?


  4. I often see Iranians on SharedTalk.com and have even spoken to a few of them. I don’t know if you are aware of this site but it’s the best one I’ve come across for language exchange. Meetup.com also might have an Iranian group in your area. Good luck!


  5. Alex L.

    Thanks for the post, Rich! I’m thinking of picking Latin study back up on my own and will keep your advice about vocab in mind.


  6. Pingback: What I learned about language-learning: 2012 « Loving Language

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