A couple of weeks ago, I happened to be in Geelong to visit family. While there, my sister took me to the local library, which is quite modern, like it was recently renovated. I was rather impressed, but, as I wandered over to the language section, I still didn’t have high hopes of finding anything in Persian. Amazingly, though, they did have one!
The book in question was Teach Yourself: Complete Persian (Modern Persian/Farsi) by Narguess Farzad. I’m calling this an obscure review because it is unlikely to have any relevance/interest to anyone I know, but I’m writing this anyway because I feel compelled to, and, who knows, maybe there’s someone out there looking for reviews of Persian textbooks…
But first, a bit of background regarding my learning journey thus far: I first started learning Farsi over a year ago from a friend. She taught me the alphabet and some basic words and phrases. I then sought out online resources, and last year bought a textbook to help with my studies. So by the time I picked up this Teach Yourself book in the Geelong library, I already had an ok knowledge of Farsi.
After flicking through a few pages, I soon realised that this book was the other option I’d been considering when I was looking at textbooks to buy at a language shop last year. To make this post really short, I could just say here that I’m glad I chose the other book, leave it at that, and write a review on the other book instead … but TYCP does have some merits too, and it’s probably just that it didn’t suit me and the way I’ve been learning.
On the off-chance anyone wants to know what book I am actually using, it is Abdi Rafiee’s Colloquial Persian. I remember my decision to buy this one instead of Farzad’s book came down to the more recent publish date for Colloquial Persian, the fact that it focuses on spoken/colloquial language (which is different from the formal, written language that I’d been learning), and the audio CDs (TYCP does come with audio, but I think you have to stream or download it).
I think Farzad’s book is also more basic in terms of what it covers, and it covers a lot of information that some people might consider somewhat extraneous. I skipped a lot of the introductory pages because I think there was something about history and calligraphy and other things that you probably don’t need to know if you just want to learn the language.
I mean, yes, by all means, that kind of info is good for helping the reader gain an appreciation for the language and a better understanding of the people who speak and write it, but there are other books for that too. On the plus side, I did really feel like the author was very passionate about Persian culture, and she probably gets really excited whenever she meets a non-Iranian person who is trying to learn Persian.
TYCP does also seem to spend more time on the alphabet than Colloquial Persian. There are even diagrams to show you what direction each line/stroke should be drawn. However, having already learnt all that, I skipped that part too. It probably is quite helpful, though, if you’re just starting out. Colloquial Persian, on the other hand, does not have as extensive an explanation for writing (but I think that’s because the focus is on spoken language).
The other big difference I noticed was that Farzad explains a lot more about grammatical terms. Since trying to learn Farsi, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of language and grammatical terms I’m not familiar with in English. For example, I’m sure at no point in my twelve years of primary and secondary school did anyone teach me what a “subjunctive” is or which form of a verb is the “imperative”.
Of course, my classmates and I learnt English fine without knowing these and other fun theoretical concepts, but I see it’s hard to self-learn a new language via a book in which someone is trying to succinctly explain why this one verb has several different forms without also knowing these grammatical terms.
But I overcame this small hurdle thanks to Google and many moments of staring into space, trying to comprehend and remember the explanations Google gave me. Still, Farzad does explain quite a lot of these in her book, and I think at one point she even explains what a “verb” is (although I feel like most people really should know what a verb is, and this explanation was unnecessary).
So, basically, I did skip a lot of the English text that was in TYCP, but this was also because I was only going to have the book for a few days (my sister borrowed it from the library for me while I was there). I was quite pleased, though, that I could read and understand a lot of the Persian dialogue in the book. However, I’m only up to unit 7 of 19 in Colloquial Persian, so I’m taking this as an indication that either (1) I’ve learnt a lot of random vocabulary from somewhere, or (2) the vocabulary covered by TYCP is not very broad.
My predominant study tool these days (and for the last several months) is the Colloquial Persian textbook, and I think I definitely made the right choice for me, but TYCP might be better for someone who has little or no prior knowledge of Persian. Either way, I also reckon it’s better using a textbook to learn a language than using only online resources/apps because it seems more structured and more methodical in the progression.
The main downside with books, however, is that language — particularly colloquial, spoken language — is ever-changing, so you need a book that is up-to-date. Even so, I wonder how often language apps and websites get properly updated… At least with a book there’s an obvious publication/revision year.
There’s also the possibility that I’m just biased because I like books, and can learn ok from them. But I’ve also been watching children’s cartoons in Persian, and that seems helpful too…