August 14, 2007


My husband starts his Farsi training today. Things should get interesting around here. It's hard for me to imagine learning a whole language in six months, but I guess if you're at it for eight hours a day, it's a little different than the three hours per week deal I did all through college. And apparently the Army is wising up to how badly they need competent speakers, so they've changed the final test from all multiple choice (sheesh) to reading and aural comprehension. My husband is determined to clobber this puppy and get the highest score ever.

It's funny the reactions you get when you tell civilians that you're going to start learning Farsi. There are two main choices: "What's Farsi?" and "Are we invading Iran?"

Our old neighbors from when we first got married are Iranian, and we got to meet up with them last week. They were just tickled pink hearing what my husband has already managed to learn on his own via the Rosetta Stone program. They about fell over when their daughter toddled into the living room and my husband said, "The girl has on a shirt but no pants." And he just floors them with his knowledge of the region, such as when he found out what city the wife is from and said, "Oh, so you're Azeri and not Persian?" Most of the people they meet in the US can't tell Iraq from Iran, but my husband knows the different Iranian ethnic groups and their corresponding geography.

Can you tell how much this man amazes me too?

Everyone asks if I am going to try to learn Farsi alongside him, and I haven't really decided yet. I can count to ten and nearly recite the alphabet, but maybe I will try to glean more than that.

And when our friends asked, "So are you going to invade Iran?", you could tell they were half-joking, but you could also hear some wistfulness in their words.

Posted by: Sarah at 03:42 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 Sarah - We need more people like your husband. Good luck to him!

Posted by: keri at August 14, 2007 04:30 AM (l3uZP)

2 Rosetta Stone is awesome. We use it for Russian, and because I need to brush up on the French I haven't used for 10 years. It's amazing how much you forget, even when you have forced yourself to watch those horrible French-Canadian programs on TV.

Posted by: airforcewife at August 14, 2007 05:03 AM (emgKQ)

3 The day I've been waiting for is finally here! The bad news: Some of your readers might think it's possible to learn (meaning master) a language in six months, even at the rate of eight hours a day. It's not. Eight hours a day amounts to 40 hours a week, 160 hours a month, and 960 hours in six months, not including homework, of course. I don't know if these figures are still valid, but here's what the Defense Language Institute expected out of its students in 1973: After 720 hours of instruction, a "a student with superior language aptitude" is supposed to be able to achieve a speaking proficiency level of 2+ or 3 (using what I presume is the ILR scale). Here's the ILR scale for speaking: Level 5 is "equivalent to that of a highly articulate well-educated native speaker". I call this the 'impersonator level'. Level 2+ and 3 are still way, way ahead of what most Americans can do with foreign languages, though. So I guess that's still good news. The good news I originally had in mind: Farsi is the English of the Iranian languages in two senses: not only is it the biggest, but AFAIK it's also the simplest. It doesn't have grammatical gender or case endings like Pashto. It's also easier to pronounce than Pashto. And Farsi is easier than Modern Standard Arabic - the DLI has the figures to prove it. (According to the chart I linked to above, after 720 hours [18 weeks?], the best students of Arabic are still at the elementary level, way behind those taking Farsi.) I look forward to reading more about your husband's progress in Farsi - and maybe even yours! PS: Counting to ten in Farsi isn't that much different from counting to ten in Sanskrit: 1 - F yek / S eka 2 - F do / S dvi (cf. duo-) 3 - F seh / S tri (cf. three) 4 - F chahaar / S chatur (cf. quarter) 5 - F panj / S pañcha (cf. penta) 6 - F shesh / S ShaSh (cf. six) 7 - F haft / S sapta (cf. sept-, hepta) 8 - F hasht / S aShTa (cf. octo-) 9 - F noh / S nava (cf. nove-) 10 - F dah / S dasha (cf. deca-) The relationship between the two languages (and between them and Greek, Latin, and English) is still apparent after millennia. For the bigger picture, see:

Posted by: Amritas at August 14, 2007 11:59 AM (+nV09)

4 (Hi Amritas!) As Amritas says, it is much harder to learn a foreign language than most people think. However, there is a great deal of variance in language learning ability, so if you are talented it might be easy for you. More bad news: Language learning ability is not well correlated with other kinds of learning ability, meaning that people who used to being good at learning things in general often fail at this. Think of it like musical ability. In any case, good luck!

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at August 14, 2007 10:22 PM (LKLcc)

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