Here are my eight golden rules to help you speak Farsi / Persian like a native Iranian. Both newbies and advanced Farsi learners can find these helpful:
Replace the American with the Italian:
- In order to speak Farsi like a native Iranian, avoid producing the sound “r” with the sides of your tongue as Americans do. Farsi / Persian “r” sounds like a watered-down version of Italian or Spanish “r”. That means we use the tip of the tongue and roll our “r” a little bit (but not that much).
Practice Some Opera Skills:
- Open your mouth wide when producing the sound “aa” (as in the English word “car”). This is like when you go to the doctor to get your throat checked… yes, your mouth has to be that wide open!
Make Sure You Sound Monotonous:
- As a general rule, Farsi / Persian vowels are longer than their equivalents in English. This is why it is soothing to listen to someone reciting poetry in Farsi, and you may even fall asleep after a while. Persian speakers take their time with their vowels and do not rush through their words.
Understand the Differences:
- The Persian language has a variety of dialects: Farsi, Dari, and Tajiki are the important ones. Do not expect to understand all dialects perfectly, because there are subtle differences, and in some cases, the words are just different. For example, in Farsi spoken in Iran, “potato” is “sib zamini” (which is a direct translation from the French “pomme de terre”), whereas in Dari spoken in Afghanistan, “potato” is “kachaaloo”, meaning “crooked plum”.
Learn A Couple of Common Expressions:
- Learn a few expressions that are very common among speakers of Persian. Native speakers use a lot of idioms and expressions, rather than sticking to the literal meaning of words. There are two great examples in Farsi: “ghorbaan-e shomaa” which means “May I sacrifice myself for you”, and “be-farmaa-yin” which has many possible meanings depending on the context. You cannot speak like a native speaker if you avoid learning these expressions and limit yourself to grammar, vocabulary, and dictionary consultation. This is why it is vital to have access to a native tutor who can teach you this type of “insider information”. You just can’t find it in a dictionary.
Speak Farsi or Write Farsi?
- Conversational Farsi is NOT the same as written Farsi. Decide which one you want to learn, and inform your tutor accordingly. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to learn almost two languages, with lots of confusion and frustration in between. If you choose to learn conversational Farsi, hire a professional native tutor with the right credentials (there are many who lack such credentials). I have heard quite a bunch of horror stories from my students who had tried to learn Farsi from just any native speaker. In most cases, I had to make them unlearn many wrong things they had learned. Imagine the amount of time and energy wasted in this process.
- Do not be afraid of making mistakes when speaking Farsi / Persian. Compared with many other languages, Persian has a relatively easy grammar, but it is not the easiest language in the world. Also, there are many Persian idioms and expressions that are context-based. This means that there are many expressions Persian speakers use every day, which, if translated literally, will not make any sense whatsoever. Therefore, be ready to keep an open mind about this challenging aspect of Persian, and just have fun with making mistakes. If you laugh at yourself first, you won’t get hurt if someone else laughs at you later!
Spice It Up!
- Listen to Persian songs or watch Persian movies. We happen to have one of the most productive and creative cinemas in the Middle East. Exposure to the way a language “sounds” will certainly prepare your brain to produce those sounds better. So, browse YouTube for hundreds of Persian songs, or borrow a few films with subtitles from your local library, and start exploring the fun aspect of learning this beautiful and rich language!