Learn to speak Persian, without learning to read
Sometimes people ask if they can learn Farsi without learning how to read and write
the alphabet. Absolutely! There are two main ways to go about it, and you'll probably want to use a combination of both.
- You rely on audio-based instruction.
- You rely on romanizations (a way to write the language using the familiar Roman letters).
Is it a good idea? It might be. If you are still doubtful about whether you want to tackle "that damned Arabic alphabet", have a look at our article on the pros and cons of either approach (and if you do want to learn to read, make sure to checkout our Script section).
We are going to recommend some resources. We've split our recommendations into a couple of different categories:
- Audio-Courses - those are free of text by their very nature.
- Books with transliteration - books that teach the language using the Roman alphabet, either exlusively or as an option.
- Online courses & apps using transliteration - again, this may be exclusively transliteration, or, more like, as an option in addition to the Persian script.
- Dictionaries that use transliteration or have audio - a lot of dictionaries do use transliteration to show how a word is pronounced.
PersianPod101Not really a podcast, but an extensive audio course.
Despite being advertised as a podcast, this is really a very comprehensive audio course. Each lesson comes with a transcript and a vocabulary list. It may not feel as lovingly crafted as Chai and Conversation, but the library of materials is extensive.
I do not appreciate that as part of their marketing, they agressively spam YouTube, including with 3h vocabulary videos where the Persian script is written the wrong way.
Chai and ConversationA unique, thoughtfully put-together audio course.
Chai and Conversation is a set of audio lessons, starting at beginner level. The main audio files are freely accessible, while you can upgrade to a paid membership to access accompanying lesson guides and transcripts.
It's clearly a labor of love for Leyla Shams, the woman behind it, and you won't find an industrial, one-size fits-all course, but a deep dive into the Iranian language and culture, including lessons on poetry from Forough Farrokhzad.
Produced by a charity tasked with promiting Persian language learning, this website offers both apps designed for children, but also a very large set of carefully produced, short animation videos that come with an English translation, a glossary and dialogue sheets. They are ordered by increasing difficulty, and as such they are quite suitable as source material for self-study.
MangoLanguagesPolished interactive course with original ideas.
I'm quite fond of this app. Sure, like all systems which support many dozens of languages, you can't completely shake the feeling of your course coming off an assemby line, but it comes much closer than most. The content is organized into sensible units of instruction, they actually explain the grammar (though not as deeply as I'd like), and they seem to care about getting smaller details right.
So for example, you not just have transliterations and diacritic marks, but the app also indicates stress. Every word has an individual pronouncation. And all of this works not only within the excercises, but also within the instruction texts itself - you can tap any Farsi word.
Also worth nothing: You'll often have the option to see both a literal and a natural translation. And both the original Farsi and the translation are color coded to help you understand which parts relate. Very cool.
The way the app works is itself quite interesting. It's almost like an interactive audio book. You can read the explanations youself, or have someone else read them to you. You can sort of scroll through a chapter at your own pace, and go back whenever you want. Granted, a large part of the process is "Do you know how to say?" prompts, which can get a bit monotonous.
Ultimately, you have to love a product that counts "Pirate" and "Shakespearean English" amongst it's product offerings.
Works both in the browser and on mobile.
DropsTinder for Words?
Drops has a set of vocabulary and expressions categorized into thematic groups, matches each with a symbol that represents the meaning, and to test you, asks you to drag & drop the word onto the right symbol. It features pronunciations and for Persian, flawless transliterations.
There is no grammar instruction, and you don't really deal with whole sentences, so I don't think you can learn the language with it, but it might be a nice way for beginners to study vocabulary.
TaranevisTransliterate between Farsi and Finglish
This is the only tool I have found which can take text written in the Persian alphabet as input, and generate the Roman transliteration (i.e. Finglish) from that. This is actually a huge challenge, because the Persian script will lack the vowel information that you'd want in the Roman transliteration. In addition, some letters will call for a different roman character based on their context. This is why sometimes you'll see stuff such as "dw bit zaba" instead of the correct "do beyt-e zibā" - this is what happens if you just map every character in the Persian alphabet to a Roman equivalent.
Taranevis is smart enough to give you the actual Finglish, as much as that is possible (I assume in some cases it will have no choice but to guess). It also uses the alefbaye2om romanization scheme, which is an interesting choice (read more about approaches to romanization in Persian if you are interested).
Ali Jahanshiri's Personal WebsiteVerb conjugator and concise, but extensive grammar resource.
A real gem. In addition to many other things, this contains one of the most concise, well-organized guides to Persian grammar you'll find, and a verb conjugator that works with both Persian script as well as roman transcription.
It was a great help to me when I was coding the grammar-parser of Farsi.school, and also my inspiration to start the page you are reading right now.
Ali is taking Bitcoin-donations, and if you find is site useful, I encourage you to support him.