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 languagegeek.net, the official Assimil steps are as follows:
- Listen to the sounds (passive).
- Listen again while looking at the French translation in the book (active).
- Read the Persian text aloud, following along with the French.
- Read the Persian text again, but don’t look at the French translation.
- Listen to the Persian sounds twice, once looking at the French text, once looking at the Persian text.
- Listen to the Persian without any text. It should be comprehensible at this point.
- Listen again and repeat each sentence (shadowing).
- Study the notes and sentence structure of the text.
Full Circle Method
Then there’s also Luca Lampariello’s Full Circle Method, summarized by frenchtogether.com as:
- Listen to the sounds (passive).
- Repeat the dialogues (shadowing).
- Read the dialogues while listening.
- Read the dialogues without listening.
- Translate the Persian dialogue into your native language.
- 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.
In any case, on a high level the two methods seem to share three main phases:
- Absorb – Passive listening and repeating.
- Understand – Use the text and repeat until you can understand the dialogue.
- 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.
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.
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.