Persian for Beginners

Written by
Iraj Bashiri


Persian belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Along with other Iranian languages such as Baluchi, Kurdish, Pashto and Ossetic, it serves as a major link among the languages of the subcontinent of India, Central Asia and the West. Persian assumes different names in the various regions of the world in which it is spoken: in Afghanistan, where it is spoken as a second language, it is referred to as Dari Farsi (Persian of the court); in Soviet Tajikistan, where a modified form of the Cyrillic alphabet is used to write it, it is called Tajiki; and in Iran, where it is the standard language understood by over 50,000,000 speakers, it is known as Farsi.

Since its adoption as a lingua franca by the rulers of the Eastern Islamic lands in the ninth century, Modern Persian has been used as one of the major vehicles for the transmission of knowledge. Many treatises on philosophy, history, religion, linguistics, astronomy and medicine written in this language await translation. The strength of the language, however, lies in the vast field of literature. It has produced such eminent poets as Rudaki, Firdowsi, Omar Khayyam, Mowlavi, Sa'di and Hafiz, and such prose writers as Baihaqi, Nizam al-Mulk and Rashid al-Din.

The field of Persian literature has experienced a drastic transformation since the early years of the twentieth century when Iranian authors like Nima Yushij and Jamalzadeh defied the rigid and unbending rules of the classical poetry and prose respectively. Thus, in the last half century, Persian prose has been enhanced by the introduction of the colloquial language and Persian poetry by invention of new meters. The end result has been the creation of a language simple in structure yet rich in content.

Supported partially by the Center for Near Eastern and North African Studies, Persian for Beginners began as an experimental text in 1970 at the University of Michigan. The material was taught at that University and to the trainees of the American Peace Corps at Brattleboro, Vermont. Persian for Beginners became a permanent textbook at the University of Minnesota in 1972. Since then it has been revised and enhanced by the addition of tapes produced at the Learning Resources Center of the University of Minnesota (see the Tape Manual). The present edition consists of a main text including grammar, reading texts, glossary and a Tape Manual. These components must be used together and according to the specifications described below, and in the Tape Manual in order to achieve the desired results.

Grammar and Texts

The present volume is the main frame for the course. The materials in this part consist of the rudimentary grammar required for generating and comprehending simple Persian sentences. Preparation for embarking on the course begins with a detailed explanation of the writing system. It is essential for the student to become familiar with the letters of the Persian alphabet and with their sound values before getting involved with meaning and grammar. In this section, therefore, the student learns how to form letters and read letter groups. No attempt is made at teaching the language per se. Practice reading passages, accompanied with tapes, help the student read without recourse to meaning.


The first five lessons introduce the student to meaning and to grammar. The vocabulary is chosen from among the most frequently used (except for a few items that are used for explaining grammatical points) words of Persian. The grammar is centered on the verb "to be". Explanations and drills are devised to enhance the student's understanding of the structure of the Persian noun phrases in the context of the verb bud3/4n "to be".

Lessons Six, Seven and Eight deal with action verbs. The verbs are dealt with in isolation and as the governing agents in the sentence. For the former the students learn conjugation patterns, tenses and moods and, for the latter, they learn how the verb organizes the various functions within the sentence.

Lesson Ten deals with the ordering of the elements in the sentence. Here the student is asked to work hard and constantly draw on his/her resources, i.e., the vocabulary learned, the functions of the Noun Phrase and the governing capabilities of the Verb to generate sentences.

Lessons Eleven through Fifteen complete the instruction in grammar. These lessons must be learned at a slow pace and, preferably, in tandem with other, lighter materials. It is advisable, therefore, that materials from other textbooks for the same level or appropriate newspaper items be used while these lessons are being taught.

Reading Texts

Reading begins with "Practice Reading" and continues in a rather slow pace during the earlier parts of the course. By lessons Seven and Eight, when the action verbs are learned, the pace of the readings picks up. Passages that had thus far consisted of a few sentences change to longer and culturally oriented pieces. Lessons now include three or four such passages each of which is written to emphasize a particular grammatical point and several cultural points.

At this juncture the student is asked to not only read these passages, but rewrite them. This tedious job goes on for about a month. Those students who have followed the directions and written out all assignments report that the passages and their rewriting in various forms had helped them grasp the intricacies of the verb/noun relations with ease.

There is, however, more to the reading passages than meets the eye. Developed over a long period of time, these passages reflect some of the changes that have affected the Iranians and Iranian society in recent decades. They are, of course, not a "study" of that society but proper handling of them invokes basic questions leading to lengthy discussions inside and outside the classroom.

The basic cultural unit in the readings is the family. Three families, representing the three social classes, interact among themselves. We learn, through the readings, how these families live, entertain each other and entertain themselves. Often we get to have a glimpse of their attitude about the world and about themselves.

By Lesson Eleven, the student is expected to retell the content of passages in his or her own words. This process, at times enhanced by "acting out" a story, has proved a good method for "breaking the ice" and for introducing the student to the "world" of the language. Many students have surprised themselves by retelling a lengthy story like "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves of Baghdad" from beginning to the end in their own words .

The text ends with a section called iran kojast "Where is Iran?". In this section, which is in handwriting, the students become familiar with discipline-oriented vocabulary. They read passages dealing with geography, history, literature, education and the like and discuss the content in the language among themselves. Handwriting rules along with examples from previous lessons are provided so that the students can read the handwritten passages with ease.


The glossary, is in two parts: Persian-English and English-Persian. The Persian-English section covers more than the immediate needs of the Main Text. It covers vocabulary that the student might need while engaged in the earlier stages of acquisition of the languages. The items that relate to the lessons in the Main Text are marked for the lesson in which they appear for the first time. For further detail, see the "Introduction" to the glossary on page 259.


Writing System

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