Our Discussions

Children Learning Persian
1 (a mother)
Hello everyone,
I was just wondering what people are doing to teach their kids Persian (I am American, my husband Iranian). My son is really starting to take off with language now (18mos. old) and my husband wants me to teach him Persian words. I don't mind (although my vocab is limited), but I am afraid he will be confused about which language to use with me. His father is living away from us right now, so can't be there to talk to him. I want him to know Persian, but am just wondering what is the best method? I want to be able to communicate with my son too, and I don't speak Persian very well. Does anyone know about developmental issues in this respect? Or, what are you doing at home?
I am just feeling a little pressured from my husband, but also feel it will be confusing for my son if I speak Persian.
Thanks for your responses.
2 (a madar)
my suggestion is to start a playgroup with other Iranian children.
have you heard of "Pari dar Jangal" video for children? it is really good. children at the age of your son will enjoy it. my children were crazy about it and learned some songs from it.
also, just raft-o-Amad with other families might help.
3 (a mother)
I, too, am American, but, insist my children learn Farsi, for, it is not only the native language of their father, but, a cultural shiboleth as well. Saying the words, is one thing, but, living them is another. I like the idea of my children "ta'arofing" others and maintaining a modicum of consideration by acknowledging the existence of others with a Salam, instead of just entering a room like a gav-e goosaleh and ignoring those present. I think it nothing but helpful to affirm one's understanding of the "zahmat" other's perform, with a "dast-e toon dard nakoneed" or a "cheghad zamad kesheed."
Many behavioral studies have specifically addressed the issue of multiple language introduction, and although, oft times, the child is a bit late in speaking, I, personally, would rather have a child who begines speaking two months later but maintains a lifetime of language and culture due to his/her natural and early inculcation.
Not having a native speaker present, makes things more difficult, but, there are ways of working around that as well. One way is to play Persian language children's story tapes in the room the child is playing or resting in, so he develops an ear for the language. He can speak with his father by phone, and relatives are fantastic for just that. I think Soheila's idea for a playgroup is great, and if there is one after summer, I would immediately agree to Whichever means you choose, I think you have the right attitude, and I wish you well. An additional language is a gift your child will enjoy for the rest of his life.
RE: The playgroup...I think it's a great idea. But, with summer coming, vacations might get in the way of a good beginning.
Maybe an after summer group and even a Saturday school of Farsi with parents taking turns as teachers...
4 (a madar)
Hello: Do not worry about the child getting confused, they have a way of knowing exactly when to switch to the appropriate language especially as they get older, they get better and better at it. My daughter started only speaking Persian. My mother and I spoke to her all the time in Persian, of course my mother more than I. At the same time, she was exposed to hearing English on her father's side of the family and also watching children's TV programs in English. By the time she was two, she knew exactly to whom she can speak persian and to whom she should speak in English. Of course most her speaking was just saying the words she knew. So I am confident that they do not get confused. Experts say that from the age of 2 to 5, children have the best aptitude for learning more than one language. However, I must say that the child must be exposed to the language or the languages almost at all times. In my experience after my mother left for Iran, and my daughter's exposure to Farsi was decreased, I noticed that she wanted to use her English more. So now I have to work harder at speaking to her in Farsi. Doing this by yourself can be hard so getting together with other Farsi speaking people especially children is a big help. Seeing other children speak Farsi has a great impact on them when they are 3 or older. I hope this helps. Good luck
5 (a mother)
What about having the baby's father to tape him a story and/or simply his voice talking to the child. The Iranian father could say simple little things like he misses him but he's in his thoughts, he is looking forward to be with him and take him for a ride/play/get together, etc. And the tape can be played to the baby when the baby is about to sleep. The taped content will be retained in the child's mind for a longer period of time if is played before to sleep, as it could be the last activity baby does before going to bed.
Another thing could be to get Iranian tapes/books. Songs are a nice way for kids to learn a language They have fun and learn. I think there are some web sites (if you want I can try to find out for you), that can provide you with places to buy tapes/books. You can play them in the car, while driving or at home.
A third option I would think of is as Soheila recommended, finding Iranian play mates. Find out from your community centre, if any Iranian groups are meeting. Or maybe, and hopefully, anyone here lives closed to you and has children about your son's age. (Just thought of another idea, maybe if your family doctor is Iranian, have a posting in his office for meeting Iranian play mates. Just thought of sharing that thought with you).
All the best.
6 (a madar)
I never tried to teach my children English just because I did not want them to pick up my accent. If you have an accent in Farsi, I wouldn't recommend your teaching Farsi to him because the point is to let them speack it fluently. but if you have to make an effort to teach him, then I would just teach him Baba, maman, Abb, etc. and not much more. it also depends on how long your husband will be far away. I think it would be an excellent opportunity for you to learn Farsi along with your child and try to use some Farsi along English with your Iranian freinds. I undestand the pressure from your husband, too. I love it when my children call me "maman" and I hate to admit it, but it makes me feel much closer to them when I hear them call me in Farsi. I bit your husband would love to hear his son call him Baba, too. Although my children call us Mom and Dad outside home (they naturally did since they were very young) but inside home we are maman and baba. I don't know what it is about the language, but it does play a role in my bonding with my children.
hope I am clear because it is always very hard for me to express myself in English (another reason why I want my children to learn Farsi:)
7 (a pedar)
In my case, it worked fine with me (father) talking to my son in Persian and her mom talking to her in English. For a long time I was not sure if he understood Persian since he would answer me in English and we didn't have any Iranians living in our small town. But, he learned it. I think the important part was that he figured out that there were two distinct vocabularies used when mom or dad talked to him.
As far as developmental issues, it's been proven that those kids who are exposed to more than one language will excel in school. This also has been proven in our case.
Hope this is helpful.
8 (mother # 1)
OK - well I thought I'd eat crow and thank madar-pedar for their various input in the discussion how/where/why teach our children persian. I set up a Persian conversation class in my home for the past 6 weeks - with only one student, my son. The teacher, myself and interested friends were happy with the progress they saw my son making, however he was alone - ultimately - it didn't work out. I told him that we'd cancel the classes for a while and see what happened. Mid-week, I took him to the local persian school for him to attend the begining class. He begged etc. not to go and that "I couldn't make him". My persuasiveness won out and he went. At the break I checked on him - big smile, lots of laughs - he BEGGED me to enroll him. The teacher has changed since 2 years ago and there are more children in the class that don't know Farsi - like my son. Anyways, I'm happy and enthusiastic to keep this as a positive experience. Most of all - I want it to be a positive experience and hands on with the persian culture in a learning environment.
Cheers -
Palos Verdes - (Los Angeles area)
9 (a madar)
Dear Mother Number One:

I also would like to add my voice to those parents who are advising you not to worry about teaching your child 3 languages. I am Iranian and my husband is French; we have a 5 1/2 years old son. I persistently speak Farsi and my husband French, with our son. There was a time, I guess when our son was around 3 years of age, that we became a bit concerned because he did not seem to speak any of the languages as well as a child who spoke only one language. At that time, I researched this issue and all of the findings seemed to suggest that there are no problems associated with teaching a child 3 languages. I came across several studies indicating that in addition to the advantages of speaking more than one language, adults who were bilingual or trilingual children, are more articulate, develop a better vocabulary, and are more precise with gammer usage in the language they are most exposed to (in our case, English), than individuals who only speak one language. Of course, socio-economic and education factors play a part in whether this result is actually achieved.

Now that our son is 5 1/2 years old, he speaks all 3 languages beautifully. He goes to a French school and attends Farsi classes every Saturday. Remember, however, if you are serious about teaching your child 3 languages, you have to be persistent and you can't get discouraged. Good luck.

10 (a mother)
In our experience there is no problem teaching several languages to children. Actually, I researched the issue when we were expecting our son and found studies indicating that children can learn up to 5 languages at the same time without any problems. Our 3 year old son speaks Norwegian and English very well and has a very good understanding of Persian. Unfortunately, there is not much Persian influence around him except his father, but we are hoping this will improve when we go for visits to Iran. But, I agree with Madar # 9 who said you have to be persistant!

Good Luck!

11 (a mother)
I was so glad to run across your web site! I have a little boy who is five. I speak english but took farsi in college but did not learn much because there was not a lot of focus on spoken Persian. Then I met the love of my life, and he speaks both english and farsi. Two years ago I had started teaching my son little words but was not persistent. Now it is very important to me that he learns farsi and that I improve as well. Now, whenever the occasion arises and I know how to answer him in farsi I do and at this age he is learning so fast. But my significant other, though he wants him to learn farsi, thinks that if he just spoke farsi to him that my son would be confused. I explained to him that at this age he will just pick the language up if he hears it and uses it. Am I right. What suggestions can you offer for me to suggest to him? And I too have to admit that when my son calls me "maman" I feel extra special and closer to him! It puts a smile on my face.
12 (a madar)
You're right, kids brain at this age works like sponge. They just bounce back with any language that they're spoken to in no time. I read somewhere that kids up to age 11 are capable of learning up to 7 languages if not more! I have seen many kids myself growing up learning and speaking up to 3 to 4 languages at the same time. And, these were not gifted or geniuses, just normal smart kids. As eager as you are in teaching your son Farsi, I think you should not give up and keep on working on it. The only thing is that your Farsi is not very strong. Find out if there is any classes being offered in your area and take advantage of it. Besides, I don't think you should worry about your Farsi not being good enough or perfect for teaching your son. Whatever he can learn from you is good enough for him. As for your husband, I just sympathize with you... :)) When my first daughter was little (now 6), my husband had the same reaction as yours. He thought if she's spoken to with both English (at day care) and Farsi (at home), she'll be confused specially because she was very shy. In fact he thought the reason that she was shy and not very communicative was because she was confused with the languages. Unfortunately, I could not convince him that her shyness has nothing to do with her being bilingual. I had him to talk to her teachers about this. They told him that they had no problem understanding her and she had no problem understanding them it's just that she was more reserved than other kids. But that didn't work either. Because we did not want to argue about this issue any more, I suggested that I do what I believe in (speaking Farsi to her) and he dose what he believes in (speaking English to her). He found some comfort in this harmless suggestion because he thought at least this way she'll be hearing English as much as Farsi at home. Of course, without his help I had to work much harder on my daughter's Farsi, but it was worth the effort and later when she got older and got over her shyness my husband realized that there was no confusion as far as the languages specially because she started (at age 3 1/2) learning Spanish at school too so he was glad that I did not give up on her Farsi. So, I think your husband will come along eventually too!

Good luck!

13 (a mother)
I am American; my husband is Iranian. We are both very concerned that our children learn Farsi. Our daughter (now 2) was learning Farsi nicely after we spent a month in Iran over last Christmas. Then she noticed that Mommy (me) was speaking only English, so she began preferring English. I spoke with her pediatrician about whether or not I could mix my limited Farsi as much as possible with English to provide her with more exposure and with reassurance that it is socially acceptable to speak Farsi. The doctor said she and her husband taught her own children 3 languages: Tagalog, Chinese, and English. They mixed the languages freely at home. She said children sort the different languages out very quickly, even if one parent mixes them.

She was right. My daughter is only 2 now, but she knows that Daddy says one word, Mommy says another. She corrects my Farsi and her father's English! She sometimes mixes her grammar, but that's okay. Exposure, as much as is possible, is essential for her to learn. She will figure out for herself which language uses which words and which grammar.

Good luck.

14 (a madar)
I agree that exposure is essential in learning a language. A while ago one of the parents sent something about Iranian TV stations that you could get via satellite (the two stations in Los Angeles and the one in Tehran). We initially got the Iranian satellite dish for my mother and mother-in-law so that they wouldn't be bored when they spend weeks and months in our house. However, I can see the impact on my children and their command of Farsi is improving and they enjoy watching Farsi television (well, sometimes:)

Disclaimer: I do not mean to advertise for the TV stations. I am just stating a fact about exposure to Farsi via TV.

15 (a madar)
My children 5 and 3 years old play with their French friends and they now undrestand some french and even say a few words in french

: )

Please send your replies and/or opinions regarding this subject to madar-pedar@surya.eecs.berkeley.edu. Do not forget to include the topic in the subject line of your email.

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