Monday, April 25, 2016

The Long Road to Tehran

It is said in many cultures that the way you spend the first day of the new year, sets the tone for the rest of your year. This is true of Persian culture as well, and therefore in the same vein, I'd like to start my blog on a positive note, with a goal in mind, and a route to plan and execute!

Tehran, Iran; Picture from Mina Yamini, a photographer who traveled and lived in Iran

A long time ago, I'd made plans to visit Iran, through a university level student exchange program, but which didn't work out (some administrative issues); and not in the least because of a lack of effort. I had started planing my stay there, place to live, rents, and made extensive progress (or atleast that's how I see it) on learning the language. Now I can understand if you just brush off this statement; I too would be bored to hear someone say the phrase 'learning a language', because it sounds like a part-time hobby! But I actually went about it methodically, with proper material, making different sections in my exercise book for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and prepositions; drawing columns for the words in Persian, and their meanings in English. Yes, I did it, and yes by myself.

Because Persian (or Farsi) has a script different from the Latin alphabet used by many European languages, this may seem a super set back, but I found a way around this too. I started by learning the Alefba (alphabets) in the original script, trying to remember them, and carried on for the rest in the Latin script, like how an English speaker would read German (which is in the Latin script), but with the correct enunciation. Yes, I found the right way to say the words in Persian, through an online source, which was a real gold mine of learning material. As I went about it, over the span of maybe two months, I had more than 200 words, neatly written out in my book, and soon began to stitch them together into sentences, eventually addressing advanced grammar like tenses, interrogative sentences, assertions and imperatives.

All this in 2 months, I hear you say? Yes, in two months; our generation really doesn't appreciate the impact of diligence and persistence. We call it 'hard-work' but it's not really hard work; if I think about it, I can't recall anything that was 'hard'. It was fun work if you ask me, and when you start to feel the progress, you get a real kick out of it. The first time I felt the progress is when I started making calls to the Universities in Iran, and would effortlessly introduce myself and ask my questions. Ofcourse I'd had to prepare them beforehand but there was still a sense of accomplishment when the lady on the other line didn't initially realize that I wasn't an Iranian!

In this process, the one thing that really helped was a website for people interested in language exchange. Now I'm not much of a fan of technology and I feel it has severe limitations when it comes as a learning aid, but I realized that those are actually because of us, the users. We don't really understand how to fully exploit it to our advantage. This language exchange is basically like any other social network with people setting up profiles, and searching users with filters, for others they'd like to talk to, and start a conversation. Realistically, it is impossible to make any meaningful strides in learning a language by merely texting each other, and it gets awfully boring if done line by line; so instead I started to send exercises. To learn speaking full sentences, I'd come up with phrases in English, then write down the translation in Persian, scan it, (because I prefer pen and paper) and send it to my partner online, who would correct it with her feedback.

This didn't always work because 1) you'd need to know someone with that adequate level of English to make the corrections and explain it, and 2) you'd need someone just as motivated who'd be willing to help consistently and with timeliness. Finding someone with a mix of both these traits is near impossible, and if you throw in the fact that majority of men are 'out and about' on the social internet, to strike a 'friendship' with women, there's almost no trust left for people to actually go out of their way to help you. (Somewhere you may wonder why I only tried to have this exchange with women, but I'm hoping you've understood reading that last line).

So now I re-start that long road to Tehran! I've just dusted off my old Persian exercise book, and rejoined that language exchange website, but I'm doubtful of any positive response soon; we'll just have to wait and see. Alongside this, I'm refreshing my photoshop skills (used to be a graphic designer), since I plan to do some part-time teaching here at the University, and save up money for the upcoming trip. In the next post, expect to see either travel plans/itineraries for Iran, or something about the shuffle and juggle of life in Switzerland.


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