I admit it. I didn’t learn much Persian this month.

I could make all sorts of excuses or *ahem* reasons. I only started a full week into February, already a short month. I got sick *twice* this month, and traveled twice, which made my effective learning days very few indeed.

But I reject the premise of these rationalizations. They’re based on the assumption that I didn’t reach some sort of goal, ostensibly learning a certain amount of Persian or spending a certain amount of time learning Persian.

True, several months ago I did say my revised goal for the year would be to spend each month setting up a new language practice (and later expressed doubts about this goal). But it has become more and more clear to me that this goal might still be too ambitious. At least, if I want to preserve my sanity through the end of the year.

I could just throw up my hands at the whole “one language a month” idea and focus on one, two, or three languages for a while. But I’m not ready to give up yet.

Who says a month with a new language has to be stressful, or has to result in some kind of “practice” being set up? What if a month were just a chance to explore a new language, learn enough to get a feel for it, find some cool resources, and remember to come back later if I ever feel inspired? Is that a waste of time?

Of course not. Again, as with most things, the difference between doing nothing and doing a tiny bit is vastly greater than the difference between doing a tiny bit and doing a lot.

I realize I’ve become a broken record on this topic.

In the last post I talked about the idea of reducing decision fatigue by putting all my language learning links in an easily accessible place. Today I downloaded a Chrome extension imaginatively titled Home – New Tab Page. I deleted all the other stuff on there by default and just added links to my top seven German, Korean, and Persian learning resources (mostly podcasts, and a couple fake links — reminders to myself about audio that’s in my iTunes library).

I suspect this app isn’t the best fit for what I’m doing, but it seems good enough to start with. I’ll report back about how well it’s working in a future post.

Decision fatigue & another crazy language learner

Decision fatigue

Yesterday when I was finding more resources for Persian, I also spent some time reviewing and cleaning up my list of resources for other languages. I proceeded to do more German and Korean shadowing than I’ve done in a while, try out Mango Languages (on my todo list for a long time), and even watched an Iranian movie. I haven’t done this much in one evening since last summer when I was first getting into German and restarting my French.

Could it be that one obstacle to my keeping up with a regular practice is just having to remember what to do, and all I need to stay more productive is an occasional reminder about what to do? It’s true that when I most often waste time is when I feel too tired to think about starting a new project, and doing anything that’s not right in front of my feels like hard work. Too often I look at my phone, see I’ve already done all my Anki reps, note that I’ve forgotten to transfer any new podcasts to my phone, and then give up on language learning. It’s a sad, sad scene.

Aside from the obvious of remembering to transfer more podcasts, is there anything I can do to make it easier to keep going, even when I’m tired? I’ve been meaning to spend more time watching YouTube videos in the languages I’m learning, but usually this involves trawling through stale note files on my computer where I’ve pasted links and sifting through bookmarks tabs. What if I had one place where I always went for links to videos, convenient enough that opening it became almost a reflex, the way typing “f-a-[return]” in Chrome has become? For that matter, it could be a repository for all my videos, lessons, and podcasts — anything that’s on the web and doesn’t require a lot of effort to interact with.

Where should I put it, though? The best place I can think of is just the bookmarks tab in Chrome. I’ll keep thinking.

One year? Why not EIGHT years?

Yesterday I found an amazing blog by a New Yorker named Ellen Jovin, who has been doing this language thing for the past eight years and studied 21 different languages. She started out spending two months on each language, but seems to be staying with each one a little longer more recently. She studied Persian from May to November 2014.

One thing I like about Jovin’s blog is the personal diary-like format. Each short entry honestly conveys the joys and struggles she encounters along the way. Jovin makes it clear how closely connected her language journey is to her life and identity as a New Yorker, which makes it all the more meaningful.

Reading the first month of the first language — Russian — was like encountering myself back in August having just started German. Well, as much as it could be like that, given that Jovin is another individual with a different personality, probably different motivations, and her own approach to learning. Anyway, I can’t wait to read on and see how things progress for Jovin over the next eight (8!) years.

“learn Persian”

I’ve been thinking about how, despite how much I like the Assimil Persian lessons so far, I don’t think I want to rely on it solely to teach me Persian this month. It’s not just that I can’t imagine a lot of situations where I’ll say or be told that the boy likes the hot bread, or the father went to the bazaar. It’s also that a diversity of sources makes learning more interesting, and that, well, exploration is kind of the whole point, isn’t it?

I thought a pre-built Anki deck might be a good way to get a head start on some simple sentences and/or vocab, but I didn’t see anything that looked great on Ankiweb. Making my own cards using Google Image Search and Forvo is still probably better anyway. Though since I’ve been memorizing vocabulary for both German and Korean, maybe with Persian I should try just focusing on lessons and dialogues and not doing any memorization to see how that compares.

I Googled “learn Persian” and found this helpful post on Benny the Irish Polyglot’s site. My favorite part is the resources section at the bottom, where there’s a link to a podcast called Chai and Conversation. Each episode is about 15 minutes long, and introduces colloquial conversation at a relaxed pace. Not bad!

I also tried Mango Languages, conveniently available through Seattle Public Library’s website.

The first lesson introduces the formal way to say some common greetings, and quizzes you about each word along the way. I wonder if the content gets more interesting as the lessons progress.

نان گرم است

In the last couple days I’ve followed the first five Assimil Persian lessons, spending about 30 minutes each day. Each lesson consists of about four sentences about some related topic. My favorite so far is lesson four:

  1. Pédar bé pesar nân dâd.
  2. Nân garm ast.
  3. Pésar nân-é garm doust dârad.
  4. Pédar raft.

Which means:

  1. The father gives bread to the boy (“Father to boy bread gives”).
  2. The bread is hot (“Bread hot is”).
  3. The boy likes the hot bread (“Boy bread-that’s-hot liking has”).
  4. The man leaves.

I didn’t expect this putting the verb at the end business, like Japanese and Korean. I’ve heard people compare Turkish and Japanese grammar, but I’ve never heard Persian compared in this way.

So far I’m relying on the Latin transliterations. If I had more time to dedicate to learning Persian I would want to learn the Arabic script, but it’s been challenging enough for me to just spend the minimum thirty minutes a day working through these lessons.

Motivation and time management

I still feel like I’m spread too thin. Probably because I’m still reluctant to set aside German and Korean. I’ve been getting more inspired to work on these languages the last few weeks.

I sat at the Korean table for an hour — my longest so far — at the polyglot cafe this past Wednesday. I still fumbled just trying to make the simplest statements. The only phrase that came readily to mind was 정말요? (really?). But due in large part to the table leader’s patience, I was able to actually communicate quite a bit despite my speech impediment.

But I also know that I can do better. I have the means to expand my vocabulary, get more fluent, and practice more material. It’s just a matter of allocating the time.

My German is still better than my Korean, but it’s in a similar state: I believe I know how to get better, if I could just spend more time with it.

I have set aside enough time on my calendar, that if I actually stuck to my calendar I probably would be getting better a lot faster. But I still haven’t been taking it seriously, even after reducing each learning entry to 30 minutes or less.

Avoiding doing something either means you’re not motivated to do it, or you’re intimidated by the amount of work it seems to require.

In other words, at least one of two things is happening:

  1. I’m not really as interested in learning German, Korean, and/or Persian as I thought.
  2. I’m trying to do too many things at once.

I think at least the second one is certainly true.

Update 2/11: Today I came down with a cold and canceled all my plans. In the afternoon I finished my German and Korean Anki reviews, did a bit of German shadowing, made a few new Korean Anki cards, then went to the park and did some Korean and Persian shadowing. After I got home, I learned another Assimil Persian lesson.

This seems to suggest that I am motivated to learn these languages, if only I have enough time to work on them. Maybe the tasks I’ve been setting myself just take more time than I think, and I’m still trying to do too much every day, with the result that sometimes I do nothing instead.


Question about starting a new language using transcripts

Incidentally, here’s Steve Kaufmann talking about how he starts a new language from scratch:

He stresses starting out with short audio for which there is a transcript. My experience so far with German and Korean have also shown me how useful audio + transcript material can be. But there’s a question that keeps nagging at me.

Sure, a written transcript isn’t a necessary part of natural language acquisition, in theory.

But that doesn’t mean it’s bad to use a transcript, as long as it’s used as a visual aid for remembering the audio, and not as a replacement for the audio material itself. Used this way, it can accelerate the learning process, particularly in the beginning.

Now my question is this. Sure, learning without a transcript, especially in the beginning, can be painfully slow. Using transcripts accelerates things and gives a gratifying sense of tangible improvement. But does it really pay off over time? I’m thinking of the graph from Thierry Hsieh’s class, which shows the learning curves of traditional learning compared to natural language acquisition (NLA). The first starts in a linear way and then I think levels off at some point. The NLA curve starts much slower, but increases exponentially.

In other words, if I choose to learn the NLA way, is a transcript just an unnecessary crutch that only gives the illusion of accelerating in the beginning? Could this crutch even prevent me from doing true NLA? I don’t know if I’ve ever tried “true NLA,” so maybe I need to ask some people who have and see if they can give some insight.

Persian, Assimil, and the Full Circle Method

I keep hearing from various polyglots that Assimil is a good way to learn languages, but until this month I hadn’t gotten around to trying it. For February I managed to get my hands on the French Assimil learning material for Persian, Le Persan sans Peine.

There’s a book, plus 86 audio tracks, each around two minutes long. Glancing through the French book and listening to the first few audio tracks, which are completely in Persian, didn’t give me any clues as to the intended use of the material, so I asked Uncle G.

Official Assimil method

According to, the official Assimil steps are as follows:

  1. Listen to the sounds (passive).
  2. Listen again while looking at the French translation in the book (active).
  3. Read the Persian text aloud, following along with the French.
  4. Read the Persian text again, but don’t look at the French translation.
  5. Listen to the Persian sounds twice, once looking at the French text, once looking at the Persian text.
  6. Listen to the Persian without any text. It should be comprehensible at this point.
  7. Listen again and repeat each sentence (shadowing).
  8. Study the notes and sentence structure of the text.
Full Circle Method

Then there’s also Luca Lampariello’s Full Circle Method, summarized by as:

  1. Listen to the sounds (passive).
  2. Repeat the dialogues (shadowing).
  3. Read the dialogues while listening.
  4. Read the dialogues without listening.
  5. Translate the Persian dialogue into your native language.
  6. Translate your translation back into Persian.

I was confused about the purpose of the last two translation steps when I first saw this. I still haven’t found a thorough explanation of the theory behind them, but the “full circle” translation seems to be the cornerstone of Lampariello’s learning method. I can only surmise that translating from L2 into L1 forces your brain to engage with the material on a deeper level, and then translating back from L1 into L2 forces you to think about how to express the very things you’re learning in your own words in L2, which is probably good practice for output and maybe simultaneously strengthens the connections between those concepts in your brain.

Is there any downside that comes from making these connections between L2 and L1? If there were a version that involved doing something analogous but without using L1, would it be even better (like using pictures instead of L1 text)? Or maybe it doesn’t make a difference.

Common method

In any case, on a high level the two methods seem to share three main phases:

  1. Absorb – Passive listening and repeating.
  2. Understand – Use the text and repeat until you can understand the dialogue.
  3. Analyze – Either study the grammar notes or translate from one language to another. In both cases, the result is to get a deeper understanding of and connection to the material.

Starting Persian

Yesterday (day 1) I put the first ten Persian audio tracks on my phone and listened to them while walking and shadowing. Today I listened to them again while eating lunch.

Whichever method I choose to follow, my next task is to match up the text in the book with the audio I’ve been listening to, and then figure out what they’re actually saying.

Why Persian?

I don’t have a great answer to this question. Here are some un-great answers:

  • I have a good friend who is Persian.
  • For a while in college I entertained hopes to traveling to Iran, around the time of Rick Steves’ visit.
  • I’ve long wanted to learn the Arabic script, and as an Indo-European language Persian seems like a slightly easier way to get introduced to the script compared to learning Arabic
  • (Also, I’ve never been able to figure out which Arabic to learn. From what I’ve heard, every region has its own dialect that isn’t necessarily mutually intelligible. There’s a common version, but unlike with Chinese and Putonghua, not everyone speaks it.)
  • So far I’ve only learned European and Asian languages, and I would like to explore another part of the world. The Middle East is a fascinating place, and Iran seems to me like one of the most cosmopolitan and open-minded places in that part of the world. Granted, I’m still pretty ignorant.