Out of the many languages and dialects in the Middle East and Central Asia, Persian (Farsi) is one of the most historically rich and fascinating to learn.
And that’s likely why you are here, so:
سلام حالتون چطوره؟
Though it might seem like a complex and daunting language to delve into, particularly with the different alphabet that it uses and the right-to-left reading and writing method employed, if you take some time, it can be a rewarding and surprisingly simple process!
In fact, did you know that for most English speakers, Persian is one of the easiest Middle Eastern languages to learn?
The grammar is fairly straightforward, without inflection, agreements between nouns and adjectives, and even no genders of words to memorize.
And while the idiomatic complexity comes with spoken Persian, its melodic tones can be picked up and understood quicker than some other Middle Eastern languages.
Plus, with a wide base of modern content, and a proud literary tradition that stretches back for centuries, you will have no shortage of material to read, watch, and listen to in order to improve your comprehension and practice the Persian language.
We will cover the basics of the Persian language, its origins and cultural history, and some of the best ways to approach learning it for the first time, including great resources that are available now.
Read on to start your journey into the beautiful and intriguing world of the Persian language, and موفق باشید — good luck! 😊
- Persian and Farsi: What’s the difference?
- Farsi language today
- Brief history of Persia and the Persian language
- Origins of Persia
- Empire and kings of Ancient Persia
- Origins of the Persian language
- Old Persian (550-350 BC)
- Middle Persian (200-900 AD)
- New Persian (850 AD-Modern Day)
- New Persian Dialects
- Origins of Persia
- Structure of the Persian language
- Grammar and syntax
- Phonology and pronunciation
- The Persian alphabet
- Persian script
- How to learn Persian
- Best resources for learning Persian
- Persian language schools
- Persian online lessons and courses
- Persian podcasts and audio
- Persian smartphone apps
- Persian textbooks
- Persian YouTube channels
- Persian literacy
Persian and Farsi: What’s the difference?
Before delving any deeper into this fascinating language, it’s important to talk about the difference between “Persian” and “Farsi”, as we will be encountering both words as we continue.
Originally, Persian was the language spoken by the rulers and people within the Empire of Persia, stretching back for thousands of years.
The language changed and morphed over time, leaving us with the modern language and areas of native Persian speakers, including modern-day Iran.
This location of spoken Persian in Iran is where another term is used for the language.
Here, the native name of the language is known as “Farsi”.
It is important to note that the Farsi and Persian languages are the same things, with Farsi simply being an endonym, or the language’s name according to native speakers.
That is, Farsi is Persian, particularly the type that is spoken within Iran and parts of Afghanistan, and the term Farsi is not used for dialects in other countries of the Middle East.
However, the word “Persian” is still applicable to the language as a whole, as it refers to the spoken and written forms, as well as the entire backstory of the Persian culture that comes along with just the words.
This includes literature, history, traditions, and food, as well as the language.
The Farsi language today
Though Persian is spoken in several countries in the Middle East, it is primarily used in Iran and parts of Afghanistan as the Farsi language, or Iranian Persian.
The total number of learned Farsi speakers and native Farsi speakers alike equals about 62% of the population of Iran, or over 30 million people.
In addition to Farsi speakers in the Middle East, there is evidence of linguistic transmission all the way to the Western world.
Because it is a part of the Indo-European language tree, such influence is common, but not everyone knows the origins of certain words.
For example, several common borrowed words in English that come originally from Farsi words include the following:
Overall, Farsi and the Persian language are spoken by millions of people, both within Middle Eastern countries and across the globe.
It is a vibrant, fluid, and ancient language, that ignites passion and intrigue in researchers, teachers, and those who want to learn how to speak it.
Brief history of Persia and the Persian language
Ahead of getting into the details of the language, including the Persian alphabet, syntax, and sound system, we should first create a firm understanding of where the entire language came from, and the country that spawned such a dynamic vernacular.
To do so, it’s time to journey back in time to the roots of many countries in the Middle East— Persia itself, and the Persian Empire.
The origins of Persia
Though Persia does not exist as a nation today, per-say, it does live on in the Middle Eastern countries that were created because of it. Persia was one of the most powerful empires on earth, rivaling those of the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians.
So, what happened to it?
The original Persia is most commonly associated with the area of the Middle East and Gulf countries now known as Iran, though its ancient influence did extend beyond those constraints.
Indeed, the Empire of the Persians was one of the most expansive ones in the ancient world, spanning from the Balkan Peninsula in Eastern Europe to the Indus Valley in India at the height of its influence.
This was the empire of Cyrus the Great, of Darius and Xerxes, and of the elite forces who fought the 300 Spartans within the pass of Thermopylae during the Greco-Persian Wars.
The Empire stretched over areas such as Macedonia, Thrace, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Bulgaria, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Syria, and even parts of Egypt and Libya.
Persia’s expansion lasted from the initial formation of the Empire in 550 BC, when Cyrus the Great founded it within Western Asia as the Achaemenid Empire.
Under Xerxes, Persia took over large parts of Northern and Central Greece in the 480s BC, and the Empire was only shaken by the conquest of Alexander the Great by 330 BC.
The empire and kings of ancient Persia
And to rule the vastness of the Empire, Persia needed kings.
After Cyrus the Great transformed the groups of nomadic tribesmen into Persians and unified the lands under the name of an Empire, nearby Middle Eastern kingdoms like Media, Babylon, and Lydia soon fell under his rule to create the first superpower of the ancient world: the connection of Mesopotamia, the Nile, and the Indus Valley.
Other notable kings of Persia include Darius the Great, who presided over the Empire when it was at its peak.
He expanded on culture and infrastructure by building roads, introducing standard currencies, weighing and measuring systems, and pronouncing Aramaic as the official language of the Empire.
Though Persian expansion arrived at a standstill after a failed attempt to colonize Greece during the Greco-Persian Wars following the Ionian Revolt of 499 BC, the Persian defeat at Marathon, and Darius’s death, his successor was still determined to continue the legacy of previous kings.
Following Darius, Xerxes I was initially successful in his campaign against the Greeks, but after defeat at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC, the Empire took a decisive hit.
The Greek victory inspired various revolts staged by Greek cities under Persian control, and while the Persian army was still recovering, the Empire lost much of its Baltic holdings, including Macedonia as a whole.
However, the Empire still maintained cultural and political significance even as its sphere of influence shrank. After Xerxes’ assassination in 465 BC, the litany of the last Achaemenid kings made strides in Persia’s cultural phase.
A solar calendar was introduced, as was Zoroastrianism as the Empire’s religion, and strides in metal-working and primarily gold production for coinage.
The multi-state system set up by Cyrus continued, including tax districts, infrastructure, communications, and transportation, all important to sustain such a massive expanse.
It was only during Alexander the Great’s 330 BC campaigns into Persia that the states began to fall apart, and the Empire of the Persians finally disintegrated into the control of other political and dynastic factions, like the Ptolemies.
Origins of the Persian language
To support such a diverse and ancient culture, the Persian language was able to develop over the course of centuries, into the version we have today, and that is spoken in places like modern-day Iran.
We find evidence of this language’s changes in many inscriptions as it changed throughout three primary eras: Old, Middle, and New, between 525 BC and modern times.
Old Persian (550-350 BC)
The first peoples of Persia under the rule of Cyrus the Great would have spoken this dialect, which we have written cuneiform evidence of, thanks to the Bistun Inscription, found on Mount Behistun near modern-day Kermanshah in Iran.
Similar to the Rosetta Stone, the inscription features three languages for the same text, including Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite, and gives historians and linguists a great look into what the original dialect of Persia was like.
Both the script and vocabulary system of this dialect is far from the modern version, with small, wedge-like lettering and a fusional language syntax system that mirrored other languages like Latin in using genders and noun cases.
Middle Persian (200-900 AD)
After the Empire of Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great and subsequently split up, the re-emergence of the language took over 500 years to come about. And with the Sasanians, a new Persian dynasty emerging after 200 AD, Modern Persian was able to form.
From this period, we primarily have the remains of religious Pahlavi or Zarathushti texts that described Persia’s new religion, Zoroastrianism.
This dialect was very similar to Semitic languages and actually used Aramaic script for its alphabet. The Middle Persian language was also inflectional, but started showing changes towards a simpler manner of denoting relationships between vocabulary.
New Persian (850 AD - modern day)
Now we come to the language of Iran, and what modern native speakers use to communicate.
The change to New Persian was initially sparked by the rise of Islam and the Arabic nations of the area, including the adoption of Arabic script for writing, illumination for manuscripts, and a wider spread of poetry.
From Early to Classical New Persian, the language managed to become more simplified and easier to understand and spread along with new religious guidelines as people migrated between Middle Eastern countries, bringing the ever-changing language with them.
Varieties of new Persian dialects
Today, there are many versions of the Persian language, depending on where you are in the world.
This includes the three main dialects of Farsi, Dari, Tajiki, used in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan.
Other Middle Eastern languages that use similar dialects are Basseri in Southern Iran, Darwazi in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Hazaragi in Pakistan, and the specific meanings that the Tehrani accent brings to the language.
The structure of the Persian language
Finally, it’s time to take a brief look at the complexities of the Persian language and what makes it work, in terms of grammar, syntax, and pronunciation.
Let’s do that now.
Grammar and syntax
There are a few unique and fascinating grammar rules that the language follows, which are worth mentioning here, relating primarily to Persian morphology.
Unlike many other languages in the world, Persian does not include grammatical gender, and pronouns are not marked with natural gender, either, making them all gender-neutral.
This truly simplifies the entire language, as every subject is referred to with the same pronoun او, pronounced “ou” or ū.
When it comes to the verbs, Persian uses these words to denote tenses and the grammatical aspect of how the action will continue over time, such as the continuous imperfect (“I was loving”) or the bounded perfective (“I loved”).
The syntax of Persian sentences is a little different than what you might be used to in English, as well. The word order format here follows a particular pattern of subject-object-verb, with prepositional phrases nestled between the subject and object.
However, this pattern repeats itself in all writing and speaking, so once you get used to it, it becomes fairly simple!
Phonology and pronunciation
As one of the intonational languages of the world, Persian vocabulary changes meaning depending on the rise and fall of your voice. This is one of the reasons why Persian speakers sound so melodic when pronouncing words aloud.
With four distinct pitches, Persian uses the tone of your voice to denote types of speech.
For example, a high pitch means new information, a low pitch provides old information, low to high is used for contrast, and varying low and high tones brings doubt.
The natural rhythm of Persian spoken aloud is just as important, as it is a syllable-timed language that requires the right pronunciation to get your meaning across.
However, once this alteration becomes natural to you, the ability of these words to flow off the tongue comes with a joy second to none!
The Persian alphabet
However, the script involved with learning the Persian language is simpler than you might imagine, once you understand the basics.
The Arabic alphabet was adopted for writing Persian words with slight adaptations after the Islamic conquest of 642 AD, which means that the literary tradition within the language has been fairly uniform for the past centuries.
It is also known as the Perso-Arabic alphabet and is written in horizontal lines from right to left, with numbers written from left to right.
Other features of the script include that it is an abjad alphabet, which means that only letters for vowels exist and any vowels must be indicated with diacritics or specific consonant combinations.
Another language that uses a similar style alphabet is Hebrew, which is also consonant-only.
This language’s alphabet utilizes six different vowel sounds (â, a, e, i, o, u) and two diphthongs (ey, ow), but the diacritics that denote them, such as the alef do not have a specific sound.
How do you learn Persian?
Now that you have an understanding of the history behind the Persian language, the influence it carries, and some basic Persian structure, let me go over some general tips for learning the language.
- Do it daily: Like any other skill, it’s important to go over your basic grammar and Persian vocabulary every day to keep your mind sharp and better retain your Persian lessons. The faster you turn learning into a habit of even just ten minutes per day, the faster you will become fluent in the language!
- Immerse yourself in the language: As with learning other dialects, it’s crucial to immerse yourself in the culture, history, and lessons of the language. Make sure you are listening, reading, and repeating Persian words every day for the best results.
- Learn words in context: Instead of busying yourself with memorizing the meanings of individual words, focus on learning how to understand entire phrases and sentences that put the words in context.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat: Saying new vocabulary aloud is always helpful when learning languages, particularly when it comes to Persian. Focus on the correct pronunciations when speaking > Persian, and practice real-life conversations to enhance your language learning!
- Stop translating words into English: The Persian language is unlike English, and so it will just become confusing if you try to equate each Persian word with an English equivalent. Instead, remove the dual pressure on yourself and learn it naturally.
Best resources to learn Persian
Now, it’s time to go over some of the best resources that are available to anyone who wants to begin learning to speak Persian.
From online lessons to books, here is a full discussion of where to look for help when you want to learn this new language.
Persian language schools (brick and mortar)
Learning a new language can be made much easier when immersed completely, so opting for an on-site language school is a great option.
Another popular language school is the International Language Institute, offering multiple levels of classes to learn Persian and Farsi in Washington, DC.
Persian online lessons
If you want to learn Persian online, there are many great options available to you right at your fingertips.
See this researched list of the best online Persian courses to start with.
The best options by far are:
Cudoo also offers 3 levels of Farsi (at $12.99 each) which is a helpful starting point.
For scheduling 1-on-1 conversation sessions with native Persian speakers, you absolutely should have an italki account.
Rosetta Stone is a well-established course but isn’t suitable for everybody.
Alternatively, Persian Language Online offers a variety of free lessons that cover everything from grammar to tenses, vowels to intonation. Similarly, Ûdemy has lessons from native Farsi speakers that allow you to fluently speak and understand the language.
And if you want vocabulary courses that helps you learn Farsi words, Memrise’s courses are helpful.
Persian podcasts and audio
One of the best ways to connect with native speaker audio and a Persian teacher is by listening to podcasts, which can really help your understanding of pronunciation.
Persian web and smartphone apps
With the wide range of smartphone applications available for every purpose under the sun, it’s no wonder you can find language learning there too! Here are some of the best apps for learning Farsi or Persian.
For lessons based on Persian script and how to write the Perso-Arabic alphabet, Learn Persian Alphabets by Drawing is a great app for all ages, and it is free.
For conversation and community-based lessons, opt for Mondly’s courses that help you get fluent quickly and easily! Along the same line, LingQ is another great option, as well as Luvlingua for Farsi lessons.
If you prefer the feeling of a book in your hands while learning a language, you are not alone. Here are some good titles to get you started on Farsi lessons!
The Complete Modern Persian (Farsi) Beginner to Intermediate Course by Narguess Farzad is a go-to resource for learning the language from a book.
Or, for a more step-based lesson book, try Learn Persian (Farsi) Step by Step: Level One Beginner (Steps 1 to 10) by Fruzan Seifi, available in both kindle formats and physical copies.
Lastly, brush up on your Colloquial Persian with Abdi Rafiee’s 3rd edition copy of this classic conversational sourcebook.
Persian YouTube channels
YouTube is a great resource for free lessons and video clips that will help you master perfect pronunciation and retention for the Farsi vocabulary that you compile through other lessons.
To get started, subscribe to Farsi Wizard, a channel that helps people get started with the basics. Another superb option is Persian Learning with your host, Majid, who goes over everything you need to know about the language.
Or, if you want structured lessons on all things Farsi that will help you start speaking it in 30 days, check out Reza Nazari’s channel to achieve your fluency goals!
Persian writing and alphabet (literacy)
While many beginner courses or introductory lessons to the language ignore Persian script, it’s important to supplement your learning with understanding the alphabet of your target language, to encourage reading and writing Farsi in the original written form.
The EasyPersian site offers lessons based on the alphabet and script.
More tutorials, interactive lessons, and activities are found via ANU Persian Online, an official portal with many educational options.
Finally, if you want an open-source tutorial that is accessible from anywhere, check out Perso-Arabic alphabet and script lessons through WikiBooks and the site’s lesson plans.
Learn Farsi (Persian): In Summary
The language of ancient Persia has gone through many changes to become the modern day language we’re now familiar with.
This doesn’t diminish the intrigue and fascination that comes from learning Farsi. With Farsi being such a surprisingly easy language to learn, why not start your journey into its grammar, inflections, and wider Persian culture today.