Why did you choose this particular language program?
I really wanted to use this summer to concentrate on building up my Persian skills and I knew that the best way to do this (besides going to Iran) was to enroll in an intensive program with small class sizes. I was particularly interested in developing my Persian speaking skills. Of the four language skills – reading, writing, speaking, and listening – I found it hardest to get practice speaking in my Persian class during the school year. Spoken and written Persian are quite different, and coming into the summer I felt that my speaking skills were far behind my writing skills. No matter how fantastic the instruction is, not everyone is going to get a chance to practice speaking a lot every day in a class with 20 students. I lucked out in finding the program that I’m in over the summer – My class is comprised of the professor, one other student, and myself. This is an ideal setup for practicing conversations and really getting a hang of cadence and idioms. I’ve made a lot of progress in speaking (as well as reading, writing, and listening) thanks to this class.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from this experience?
Practice makes perfect. I’ve never considered myself very good at language learning. In college, I took French every quarter and struggled through each class. I kept thinking that eventually, all of the verb charts and vocabulary lists and short stories and French films would all coalesce in my mind and the language would just ‘click’ for me. It never really happened because I was a passive learner the whole time, just waiting for the language to magically make sense to me. What I’ve come to realize this summer is that learning a language requires a lot more action. You remember the sentences that you construct yourself and then deliberately use over and over again in conversation, not the ones that you read once. Having such a small class size has helped me become a much more active language learner. With three people in the room, I can’t sit in the back and coast. I have to constantly be thinking and actually using the language.
What are two interesting things about Persian that most people don’t know?
Persian is actually an Indo-European language, which makes it a lot easier for a native English speaker to learn than many non-Indo-European languages like Arabic or Mandarin. There is, of course, a steep learning curve at the beginning for a native English speaker because you have to learn a completely new script (which is written from right to left). There are also fewer familiar cognates in Persian than you might find in Spanish, French, German, etc. (although approximately 10% of Persian words are loan-words from French). After you get comfortable with the script and resign yourself to the fact that you can’t just say the English word with a different accent and hope that it’s the same (which I often did in French), the language is grammatically relatively straight forward. No genders, no neuters, very few irregular verbs. The rules are a lot more logical and consistent than in English. It’s a beautiful language and I recommend trying it out to anyone who is interested!