Persian hurts!

Filed in General

I have slowed down somewhat for various reasons, but I'm still progressing with the five languages I set out to learn in August last year. It's not easy. My brain does tire but that's to be expected when you're trying to absorb alien pronunciations, grammar and words. There are differences in difficulty between the languages.

Hebrew has a lot of 'sh' sounds, but the grammar is very similar to English so that makes it a little easier to learn.

Japanese is going ok because I studied it for a few months many many years ago here in Hong Kong. Much of that study still exists in my brain somewhere and that makes learning Japanese now easier.

I tried to learn Spanish while I was in Durango last year. Unfortunately, I didn't have Pimsleur Spanish course material with me at the time so progress was difficult but combined with actually being with Spanish-speaking people did lay down some groundwork for when I began to learn it again with Pimsleur many months later. I was learning from Living Language, which like so many other retail language course institutions simply includes a list of new vocabulary and a 'dead' conversation with each chapter, and puts everything on CD to give it more appeal. The Pimsleur courses are very different. Each lesson introduces new vocabulary but does it within the conversations that occur during the lesson. Sentences and conversations are not 'dead' because they will alter the grammar of the phrases and sentences when it's possible so that you become accustomed to the various possibilities. Word endings and other elements that change the meaning of the words are introduced and explained when necessary and at a slower pace so that you are not overloaded with information, something which normally results in scaring the student away. By design, without realising it, students learn to assemble full sentences from multiple phrase elements simply by following the lesson. The Pimsleur people really put a lot of effort into making their courses work. It's no wonder additional levels can take so long to be released.

Italian is a little difficult because I have absolutely no background in it except for a very few similarities with Spanish; feminine and masculine objects and verbs, etc.; and because Pimsleur doesn't explain everything at once, you sometimes have to accept what you're learning at the time and have faith that an explanation will eventually come. For example, the variations of the 'want' verb take a little while to get used to. As you progress through the lessons though, patterns in the way the language works become evident and you begin to fully understand the language without realising it.

They're all difficult in one way or another but the one that literally hurts my head is Persian. It is completely different to English. Both the pronunciation and the grammar are completely alien to me. Furthermore, they sometimes use phrases and words to say things that we would say completely differently in English. Persian will take a while to get used to. Unfortunately, Pimsleur has only released level 1 of Persian. When I finish this level, I'll go through it again and hopefully soon after, level 2 will be available.

Levels is the one limitation of the Pimsleur method. I tried studying Indonesian with Pimsleur (actually while I was on set in Durango) but the only course available is the 10-lesson "compact" course. You can do very little with just ten lessons. Standard Pimsleur levels contain 30 lessons. Only level one of Persian has been released (perhaps for the armed forces and U.S. corporations working in Iran?) which is fine if you want to learn enough to travel with, but not if you really want a conversation. Fortunately, two levels of Hebrew are available so I should have a decent foundation on which to build once I've completed that course. Italian, Spanish and Japanese are languages in high demand so three or four levels are available for each of these languages.

When contemplating learning additional languages from the Pimsleur library, I now check to see how many levels are available. My minimum requirement is two levels. Other languages that I'm considering include Korean, Russian and Arabic with emphasis on the word "considering".

For those people more dedicated then myself, most of the Pimsleur courses also contain reading exercises. I haven't used them yet. I'm too lazy. Maybe one day...

Oh, and one more thing. My biggest challenge in learning these languages? Rolling r's, used extensively in Spanish and Italian.


Comments (Comments are closed)

22 Responses to “Persian hurts!”
  1. Cindy Adams says:

    Hi Gregory,
    Happy New Year to you & your family!
    How awesome to learn so many language at one time!? I think you are gifted in languages. Do your best!

    Thanks for the link to Pimsleur, I tried to learn Korean on KBS World online last year but found they have truncated the lessons into some 30 sections per chapter. I had gone nowhere for 3 months just because of the switching of webpages back and forth. Hope with the help of Pimsleur method, I can pick up this language in the months to come! My resolution is to see my favorite Korea drama without chasing the subtitles.

    Cindy : )

  2. Bobo says:

    Definitely 5 'wow's at least for you...learning soooo many languages in a row. I didn't know you learn Hebrew too!! Why choose Hebrew? That is really interesting. Show me some of the books next time. How far are you on Japanese? I did 2 years of Japanese too and just took the level 3 exams. May be we can practice with each other next time (hahahah....talking to an Aussie Hongkie in unbelievable!! Cannot stop laughing about this...;) I am doing German since last summer too. I have been having trouble switching my tongue and mind between the 2 languages (Jap & Deutsch), not to say you are doing FIVE!!! You are definitely an amazing person - 'The mythical One-thousand knifes'....hahahahah

  3. 河國榮 says:

    hi Cindy.

    Pimsleur won't get you to fluency, but it will definitely give you a foundation. my sister-in-law watches Korean soaps non-stop too. they sound pretty good.

    btw, Korean can be a very complicated language with multiple levels of courtesy. a friend once told me that they have numerous names for rain!


  4. 河國榮 says:

    hello neighbour.

    you'll be eons ahead of me in Japanese. I'll probably need at least another year to be comfortably conversational.

    getting confused between the two languages (five in my case) is apparently normal in the beginning stages. when you get to a certain level of fluency, the languages become separate tracks in your mind.

    The important principle in the development of communication skills is that learners progress from a compound linguistic system, in which the items of the second language are added to the native language, to form a coordinate system. In this coordinate system the two languages can function independently, as appears to be the case with pure bilinguals.

    German and Japanese... with your competency and dedication, I know you'll excel at both.

    take care.

  5. Milan says:

    Hey Man.

    Been a long time since I saw you in 2006, however, here is a Youtube video of Stu Jay Raj who is an Australian that can actually speak over 20 languages and he shows his skills in some of them here:

    There are other videos of him explaining his method.

    Another important key guy is Steve Kaufmann. There are tons of videos of him on Youtube. He can speak like 11 languages including Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Russian, Italian, German, French, Swedish etc and shows extreme fluency in 5 languages on Youtube too.

    I adopted his method of language learning a few years back when I first came to HK and now I have acquired a high level of Cantonese fluency at a fairly decent advanced level - if you go to my blog you should remember me. He has a very effective language learning site called and you can read all about his methodology at his blog: -- I have talked about Steve on my Cantonese blog a few years ago.

    I was going to send you Steve's e-book "the way of the linguist" which is damn good. He explains all his methods and experiences in all the languages that he learnt.

    If you are seriously interested in learning languages like Steve or Stu - I suggest you go to their respective sites. I know that Steve Kaufmann is very helpful and ALWAYS emails back questions promptly. He also conducts many multi-lingual skype interviews which you can find on his blog where he talks to students about language learning.

  6. 河國榮 says:

    hi Milan. are you still in Hong Kong?

    Stu is amazing. fortunately for him, he had a very special grandfather to seed him with the keys required for affective language learning. he's a natural!


  7. Milan says:

    Yes. I'm in Hong Kong and have no plans to leave for a long time. I bought a shoebox and quite stable here now.

    I just sent you an email with a language ebook attached from Steve Kaufmann. Its a very good read, and it helped me keep motivated.

    I saw that TVB had your interview removed from your youtube account a while back... but I took it upon myself to re-upload it :-) So if you search your name on youtube you will see a few of your interviews uploaded.

    If you have time some time, my wife and I would be happy to meet up and talk more. And I'm happy to talk about language learning as I'm quite keen about it and have proven you can speak fluent Business level Cantonese in only 2 years of living in Hong Kong.


  8. 河國榮 says:

    I noticed that my interview had been removed, but I thought it was because a duplicate of the video existed. Are you sure that TVB requested it to be removed?

    congratulations on your Cantonese learning. Business level? very impressive!


  9. 河國榮 says:


    I just checked my YouTube channel. you were right. TVB requested that the interviews be removed; one good reason not to use YouTube to post clips I guess, or at least omit "TVB" and perhaps the name of the program from the clip's title.


  10. Lisa says:

    I'm also from Australia(south Australia).

    How did you manage to become fluent in Chinese? Did you use Pimsleur?
    I've been learning Korean for a few years now & I really recommend it!
    Pimsleur makes it quite easy ^_^.

  11. 河國榮 says:

    hi Lisa.

    I started with a cassette course "Basic Cantonese in 100 Hours" to get the basics, and then learnt everything on the fly. Much of my learning happened with acting for TVB where my script and dialog was in Cantonese, and singing in Cantonese. My home life is 99% Cantonese too, and even when I chat with my (few) Caucasian friends, we chat in Cantonese! Immersion with enthusiasm. BUT, there was a long period in my life when I was scared to learn another language. only recently have I had renewed interest to learn afresh.

    I believe Pimsleur will give you a great start (as you've stated), and then it's up to you to improve on that. I'm looking at LingQ, Stu, Stephen and Steve as recommended by Milan :-)


  12. ahhmui says:

    goodness Gregory! Most people try to just learn one but you are quite ambitious and went for 5! haha! I'm sure with your dedication though you will be able to pick them up. I did learn spanish in school (as back then it was either spanish or french - now they offer a lot more selections such as mandarin & italian) but the problem always comes of if you do not use it enough it fades... You have tons of great recommendations from others already so you are on the right track! I'd just suggest watching things in other languages (be it on youtube or other websites) to help along with the process. As for the Rrrrrolling R's - the most important thing is relax.The air needed to roll comes from inside your lungs, almost like a deep exhale at the same time of semi tongue curl, relaxing the tip of your tongue (similar to the tips written in the link you provided). Like when you sing and perform - to be loud enough the voice must emit from deep within you chest area. It's the same idea of where the air is coming from to roll your r. I mean at first it is more of an effort (of the deep exhaling but then it becomes more natural). Not sure if that made any sense at all... :P

  13. MicMac says:

    >>Korean on KBS World online
    Thanks for referring this service. It's nicely designed.
    My wife is studying Korean. The hardest, first leap is learning all the characters ( sorry I don't know the exact term they called ). There are hundred(s) of them.
    That overcame, aha, next, I think even more difficult, is to remember 變音。
    In other lanaguages, a word is pronounced the same where ever it is used. In Korean pronounciation changes if the word comes after certain word. There are a lot of them, so takes lots of practise to get used to it.
    That takes a beginner, like my wife, some time to "build" the sentence in mind before speaking.
    Watching Korea soap TV can't learn much because we keep watching the Chinese subtitles! Find a Korean DVD and turn off the subtitle. If possible find a DVD with Korean subtitle. That's rare but I managed to find one.
    (The same applies to learning any language. For English I found some antique BW titles carry English subtitles. )


  14. MicMac says:

    By the way, the best way to practice speaking a language is talk to natives.
    My wife tried to find a junior job at Korean Shops in Kimberley Street (That's a Korean street in HK), without success. ( So nervous for both parties when she knocked their doors. Well, she will try again when she speaks better. )

    Could anybody introduce some Korean social events in HK my wife can join? (e.g. volunteer work at charity groups )
    Thank you.


  15. Cindy Adams says:

    Hi MicMac,
    Agreed with practice makes perfect! The area I live in also have high concentration of Korean community and I find that not many of them would be open enough to "teach" you the language, they prefer using English to non-native Korean speakers. Therefore, at this beginning stage, I keep listening to the CDs over and over again, and get to learn the context. Then, switch to KBS World again, just get my ears familiarised to the tones, basic vocabs, etc.

    Another thing is to learn from kids, I find they are much willing to speak with learners of their language.
    Perhaps, check out the website of Korean International School regularly if they would recruit volunteers for their school extracurricular activities.

    Happy learning : )

  16. Stephen says:

    Funny that Ahhmui should have mentioned the breathing part playing a roll on the R rolling. I was born in a country in South America where Dutch is the official language and most of the continent speaks Spanish. As a result, I initially wanted to say that the rolling of tongue with the R would have to come born in or when you are actually trained the language since birth. Thus for me the explanation makes sense but I couldn't apply it. Good thing I read the comments first before diving into making my comment and thus resulting in discouragements. One more thing...ha ha, I could use this phrase too which is made famous by Steve Jobs during his keynotes. I was having lunch during the time I read this post of Greg. I turned on text to speech on my MBP and when it came to the paragraph with the "Oh, one more thing..." I almost burst into laughter and choking myself. Anyhow, kudos for learning foreign languages. I've always wanted to learn more languages. Thanks for the tools.

  17. Stephen says:

    Might I add that confusion between languages or dialects in my case is of supreme normality in my case. I am of Hakka descend and I teach and talk to my daughter that since her birth and now to my 5 month old son. Sometimes, I confuse myself when I speak to my wife who doesn't speak Hakka but Cantonese instead. On top I have English. If I still remember all of my Dutch, it might be even worse.

  18. Eli says:

    hi, well im a native Persian speaker, i can help u with that;) i never knew Persian is that hard for an English speaker..hehe..anyways if u need some help i'd be happy to help u:)

  19. veronica says:

    There is a another site is good for learning languages,,I'm using it for my French...

  20. Jessica says:


  21. felicity says:

    hi there, r u learning hebrew now?? i wanna learn hebrew also but i found it very difficult to learn by myself...r u taking course or do u know any material can help? best wishes to ur learning process!!!

  22. Steffi says:

    I am thrilled to find out that i am not alone in Hong Kong! Gregory is also learning Farsi! Totally agree with him about the complexity of the language...Eti, it is even harder if you are Chinese... I really do need so help in learn Farsi...