Learning Persian Through Talking to My Phone - Does It Work?


Middle East

This post was written by Nellie, our contributor, who tried the Pimsleur app for free!

The Pimsleur CD I’ve been handed down has been sadly gathering dust in my room. I don’t have a CD player to listen to it easily. So you can imagine my excitement when I was given the opportunity to test out the Pimsleur app instead.

Pimsleur is an audio-based language learning method. You learn by repeating words and phrases and constructing new phrases by deduction. It was developed by Dr. Pimsleur using his research on how often we should learn new vocabulary and how much information we can realistically retain at once.

With it being January and 2020 (not that I needed an excuse to start), I downloaded the app and began with Level 2 Persian.

I spent the summer of 2017 taking an intensive Persian course to read, write and speak, and stayed with my wonderful grandma in Tehran, the capital of Iran. I was keen to see whether the Pimsleur method really is worth all the hype.

That awkward 'first day of school in front of the gates' photo...

My aim is always to communicate face-to-face, and Pimsleur seems to share this goal. I learn languages by listening and trying to hold a conversation with others, rather than reading and writing – at least to begin with anyway. 

Pimsleur suggests that you spend a maximum of 30 minutes a day listening to their audio and consecutively every day, rather than cramming multiple sessions into one day.

Pimsleur is not for bingeing… no Pimsleur and chill here 😅.

If there’s a session you’re not comfortable with, you re-listen until you can respond out loud with confidence!

The context is great as you listen to natives using real places and situations you will likely find yourself in. You may invite someone out to eat, visit Tajrish Bazaar, a vibrant market in the north of Tehran, Mellat Park, a beautiful large urban park full of many locals exercising or even Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Other cities such as Isfahan and Mashhad are also featured.

Learn how to arrange to meet at Tajrish Bazaar, Tehran, Iran

You are not just improving your language skills but also at the same time learning about the culture of the country in which your language is spoken, which is usually a large part of why you start learning a language.

Pimsleur teaches you how to ask “How do I say [insert word] in [target language]” – very important as it means you have no excuse to switch to your native language when practising speaking. If you come across a phrase or word you don’t understand, you can ask for the translation!

Learning hands-free and not needing to write things down means you can learn just about ANYWHERE. There really is no excuse to the thirty minutes a day as you can use Pimsleur while driving (there’s even a driving mode!), exercising or cooking… or in the cab ride, on your way to a date!

Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan

You will be doing a lot of talking to yourself and are encouraged to speak aloud to get the best results. Bear that in mind when you are on public transport. Embrace the fact that you might look a little funny constantly repeating the same foreign phrases over and over again – it seems to work!

Pimsleur gives enough pauses within the thirty minutes to think and repeat. There’s also a focus on specific sounds which helps with improving your accent. The vocabulary is repeated between lessons to make sure you don’t forget what you learnt previously.

View of Tehran from Milad Tower

The app is super user-friendly and simple. You can click to rewind ten seconds if you miss something. Being able to download all the resources to use offline means I always have access to everything I need on my phone!

Pimsleur also teaches you the difference between speaking formally and informally. It’s good practice for when I address strangers or someone older than me. Persian pronouns meaning ‘you’ (‘to’/’shomaa’) have similar rules to the French (‘tu’/’vous’) or Spanish (‘tú’/’usted’) pronouns for informal/formal use.

Shah Mosque, Isfahan

I have moved onto the reading PDFs which are incredibly useful and well organised. With the accompanying audio pieces, you can read and then check yourself with the audio. This is especially useful as Persian has a completely different alphabet to English. Pimsleur teaches the difference between the written and spoken form to avoid any awkward misunderstandings. They also teach you the way words are usually spoken in Tehran so you won’t stand out too much in the city!

Left to right: the app, driving mode and the reading booklet

For me, this app seems like the best way to learn a language when you are unable to immerse yourself in the country itself and have limited natives to practice with all the time.

It’s not too late to bring back that new year’s resolution of improving your language skills. Go for it!

Which language are you trying to learn in 2020?

Meet Nellie: she is best known for her wild adventures and daring challenges. Whether it’s cycling across countries, travelling with strangers or trying to live rent-free, Nellie has done it all.

Follow her life on insta @thirdculturenel and read all about her escapades on her blog, Third Culture Nellie.

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