How do you say...?

I am embarrassed that I can’t speak Persian


How do you say...?
by Leyla

Everyone on my dad’s side of the family speaks Persian. At family reunions they all jabber like exotic birds, their hands spinning and twirling for emphasis. Every so often I catch a word that I know, or my name, and I try hard to make out what’s going on, but I never can.  So I just sit there, pretending I’m having fun, and waiting for someone to translate for me.

Besides my mom, I am the only one who doesn’t understand. You would think having someone like me would make me feel better, but it doesn’t. It makes me upset, and embarrassed. As ashamed as I am to admit this, I want my mom to be one of these ladies, sipping drinks, wearing fancy designers, and talking loudly in fluent Persian. I don’t want her to have to ask what’s going on, and what the joke is. I want her in on it.

When my grandma visits from Iran, she has to switch to English around me so I will understand. English is not her first language, and it makes communication harder. Whereas she can talk to my cousins easily, she struggles when talking to me. When I’m with all of them, they all talk while I stand awkwardly to the side, pretending I know what is being said.

When I was little, my dad made some lame attempts at teaching me Persian, which consisted of him having me repeat words. At 4 years old I wasn’t too interested in repeating words that had no meaning to me. When I try to talk to my dad about not teaching me, he gets defensive, I don’t get very far. He shuts down and tells me I didn’t want to learn.

My dad doesn’t identify with his heritage much. He moved to America when he was 16. His parents sent him away to protect him from the beginnings of the Iranian Revolution. He finished high school and went to college in North Carolina, and didn’t go back to Iran until he was 36, so for some reason he doesn’t connect with being Iranian. He doesn’t want to celebrate the holidays, and wouldn’t if we didn’t make him. He barely even visits his family, and when he does go it’s not for very long.

In November 2008, my family went to Iran for two weeks to bring back my grandma. It was my third time going, and the one I remember the clearest. We stopped in Paris and then boarded the plane to Tehran, the capital city of Iran. My grandma’s sister lives there, along with my dad’s cousins. We stayed at her little apartment, and visited some traditional Iranian places, like palaces and old style teahouses.  The thing I remember most was that she had some sappy romance novels that I would secretly read in the bathroom, or when my parents were out of the house.

Next, it was off to Shiraz where we stayed in my dad’s old house. It’s a big house, with a garden and a greenhouse out front, and flowers everywhere. The inside of the house is traditional; stiff and over packed with furniture, and I love it. I love to walk around in there, going through old treasures and exploring the little nooks and crannies. In the sitting room area there are little bowls, always filled with Iranian sweets that I love to go and sneak.

One of my favorite parts of going to Iran is unpacking the suitcases. I'm not talking about my suitcase. I'm talking about the ones my aunt sends to my grandparents. Their whole basement is filled with boxes and suitcases from her that have never been unpacked. However, sometimes we are allowed to open one. It’s great because you never know what you’re going to find. I have seen everything from sunglasses to XXXL sweatshirts, broken DVR players, and maps. Just opening one of those suitcases is hours of fun and adventure.

Besides that, there isn’t much to do in Iran. There are some palaces and gardens you can visit, or some bazaars, big outdoor malls with stands to go shop in. Since we had gone to a lot of those last time we went to Iran, we spent a lot of time in the house. My days mainly consisted of breakfast, reading, (my grandma had a lot of romance novels as well) lunch, schoolwork, dinner... Everyday.

The best part about my last trip to Iran happened near the end. We were visiting my dad’s friend and his daughter, who also live in the States, but were in Iran because of some health issues in their family. They told us that their 20 year old daughter, named Laila, was taking horseback riding lessons. We decided to check it out.

We went, and I instantly fell in love. I loved spending an hour each day riding, not thinking about anything but mastering the movements. The only problem was the instructor didn’t speak English. He would try to talk to me, but I, not knowing Persian, couldn’t understand him, so he would have to bring over a translator to tell me what to do. This was time consuming, and embarrassing. Since it was such a hassle, I was mainly left alone and told to follow the other kids leads.

I am embarrassed that I can’t speak Persian. Every time someone has to stop a conversation to explain what they were talking about, or asks me a question in Persian that I can’t understand, I’m ashamed. I want to be able to understand what they’re saying. I want to be able to reply with what I want to say. I want to be involved with conversations, and more than anything, I want to talk to my grandparents.

I resent my dad for not teaching me Persian, and for not being more connected to his roots. I want to learn Persian, whether my dad helps, or not. And I will. And then, I will finally be able to talk to my grandparents on the phone, visit Iran and understand my instructor, and answer whatever questions my relatives see fit to throw my way.

Leyla is a 14-year-old Iranian-American named living in Berkeley, California.



Guts Guts Guts

by HHH on

Start with learning the 32 letters of farsi Alphabet:

Alef (A)-Beh(B) - Peh(P) - Teh(T)- Seh(C) Jim(J)- Cheh(CH)-Heh(H)- Kheh(KH)- Dul(D)-Zaal(Z)-Reh(R)-Zeh(Z)- Jheh(JH)- Sin(S)-Shin(SH)-Saat(S)- Zaat(Z)-Taa(T)-Zaa(Z)-Ein(EH)-Ghein(GHEH)-Feh(F)-Ghuf(GHEH)-Kaaf(K)-Gaaf(G)-Laam(L)-Mim(M)-Noon(N)- vaav(V)-Heh(H)- Yeh(Y-EE-I)

Learn them in Farsi letters not english. Then start reading farsi books by connecting these sounds to make simple words.  Then start building your vocabulary & finally practice using these words to communicate with someone like me or your father who would correct your mistakes. You can buy first-grade Farsi books from Los-angeles book stores.


Thank you Leyla

by Monda on

First off, I really enjoyed your writing/ sharing style on this blog. Secondly, I have a feeling that you will learn Persian as much as you'd like, given your genuine interest in using it.

I also have heard nice reports of group or private lessons taught in Berkeley. I hope you and your parents do check them out. Have fun Leyla! 


Opposite story...

by comments on

I have a different story.  My son speaks Persian well, though he was born here and we have lived in places with almost no Iranians.  I like the fact that he speaks Persian very much, but now I argue with him that he is not supposed to speak Persian with me when English speakers are around.  It's all the matter of etiquette. 

I have a big family here, and once a year we have a reunion.  We never speak Persian when the English speaking language relatives are around since they don't understand it.  However, we have 3 American women who married with our Iranian relatives for about 35 years who speak PERFECT Persian.


Layla etc all

by Simorgh5555 on

I have provided a link for you which contains AUTHENTIC Persian equivalents to the modern day Farsi words. Please learn these instead of the Farsi ones and introduce them to your friends and family. 


By learning the authentic Parsi  you will be filled with a sense pride and you can avoid using the gutteral 'gh' soound (az in 'ghaza') which sould make it easier for you to pronounce. 

You will notice that authentic Persian words use a lot of the letter P which was robbed from us because the Arabs could not pronounce it and we were forced to remove many of them as well.

P.S. As Rastin said, NEVER use the ugly word' Salam' always use 'Dorud'. Sounds much nicer........ 




Thank you for sharing this with us, Leyla

by Rastin on

Maybe you will find this useful //, if attending classes isn't an option at the moment. And as others have already said, it is very admirable that you are so passionate about this.

Simorgh: I'll use darood and bedrood from now on :-)


Do not be ashamed!

by Simorgh5555 on

Layla Jan, Please do not be ashamed not to know Farsi. Unfortunately, our ancestors language has been coorrupted by Arabic words and grammar ever since the Umayyad dynasty when speaking Persian was banned on threat of death. The language which your parents are speaking is more that 45-50% Arabic from 'Salam' to 'Khodahafez'. Even the word 'Farsi' is Arabic!!!!!!!!!

Fortunately, there are some dedicated patriots who have undertaken a Persian purification project. Here is a link below if you are interested:


Do not ever feel insecure or inadequate for not speaking 'Farsi'. Next time a mamber of your family ask why you cannot speak Farsi, please reply, "Daddy why do you speak 50% Arabic?"  

The language that your family and most Iranians are speaking is not authentic Persian and if they contest this please refer them to me and I'll be happy to correct them.  


Leyla jaan

by statira on

You're still very young and able to learn the persian language. What you need is just speaking the language regularly with your persian friends who are the same age as yours. My daughter was talking fluent Persian until age 5( because we just talked farsi at home), but when she started school and stopped talking the language with her friends( actually, she didn't have that many persian speaking friends) she almost forgot it.  

Red Wine


by Red Wine on

این انقلاب صدماتی بس عمیق به فرهنگ ما وارد کرد که ما گاهی‌ به خود میگوییم که آیا آن انقلاب ضروری بود یا خیر !

بسیار جوان بودم زمانی‌ که انقلاب شد و در فروردین ماه ۱۳۵۸ از مرز به صورت غیر قانونی گریختیم از آن روز تا به حال دلم گرفته است و کس باورش نمی‌شود که بیش از ۳۰ گذشته است و هنوز پا به میهن نگذاشته‌ام ! در تمام طول این سالها سعی‌ کردم زبان پارسی را پاس بدارم و لحظه یی بی‌ مطالعه کتب پارسی زبان نگذرانم و خدای را شکر که این امر میسر گشت و تا به حال این زبان را مینویسم و صحبت می‌کنم،(حال شاید ته لهجه یی فرانسوی در نوع صحبت کردن ما باشد که آن هم برای جلب توجه عام است!) ... بیچاره آن کودکانی که در خارج متولد شدند و زبان پارسی نمیدانند،بیشتر آنها تقصیری ندارند،پدر و مادر لطف خرج نمیکند و آنقدر گرفتار مشغولیات زمانه است که دیگر وقت برای پاسداری از فرهنگ ایران زمینی‌ ندارد !

کاش کسی‌ بود تا به این لیلا خانم درس میداد و ایشان را با زبان و ادبیات مملکتش آشنا میکرد.

یادتان نرود که در حال حاضر در ماه اردیبهشت هستیم و گلستان جشن نزدیک است و برگزاریش واجب ! فرخنده ماهی‌ است این ماه،روز بزرگداشت فردوسی ۲۵ اردیبهشت است.

همیشه سبز باشید و منور .




by MM on

Rosetta Stone PERSIAN / FARSI 1,2&3 HOMESCHOOL+AUDI​O ($359.00 on ebay) is your answer.  These are a series of interactive DVDs with audio that you will be able to do on your computer, irregardlesss of your dad's time.  Get your dad to buy it for you for your next birthday, learn Farsi at your leisure, and surprise your grandma the next time your meet her.

Here is brief description from one of the sellers:


This is the award-winning Rosetta Stone® Homeschool Edition Level 1,2,  & 3 Set with Audio Companion™ & headset. It is brand new, factory-sealed, and comes with an unconditional six-month money back guarantee. This is the newest Homeschool Edition version available (Version 3), and it is compatible with, both, MAC & PC."


Jamaal-e- agha John-o eshgheh...**

by پندارنیک on

No reason to be scared, my friend. I have mentioned to another blogger that without proportional representation the Canadian voters are as screwed as their American counterparts. If you wanna spoil a vote, you might as well go for the "weeds".

Last time we talked, your Farsi was not this good yet!!

Enjoy the rest of your long weekend.

**Don't accept "Your face is love" as the true translation of the title.

Mash Ghasem


by Mash Ghasem on

If I'm not mistaken IC's  own 'official' party is Hezb Kharan, with Mr.Khar at helms, as the President and Commander in Cheif. There are rumors of turning it into a one party system. Our beloved  President Khar has continually enjoyed wide popular support.

Hezb Kharan: the future is ours, chonkeh khaily kharim, cheers


You scared me Agha / Khanom

by John on

Dear Agha ya Khanom, you had me worried until I read the "just kidding" part.  I love Iran and Iranians, at least the few hundred that I've met.

Elections are tough sledding when your choice is several parties which all have platforms contrary to one's own thinking.  This time, should I choose, I have candidates in my riding for the Rhinoceros Party and the Marxist-Leninist Party; maybe I'll vote for one of them.


John?!!! Bite your tongue...

by پندارنیک on

I'm totally speechless! What do you mean by "non-Iranian-looking parents"?  What's next John? our smell? or maybe just because we have the habit of staring at strangers you will soon classify us by our manner, or maybe our Mercedes and BMW's? That is sheer Racism, with the uppercase R.



Just kidding John. I, too, have a handful of communicationally challenged relatives; some of whom are Iranian!!! We all love each other.

BTW, I know there's an election up there. Who are you gonna vote for?


A common story

by John on

I, a 100% non-Persian, am currently taking Farsi lessons in my hometown, and the school is full of children of Iranian-Canadians who are struggling to learn their mother tongue despite having Iranian parents (I see almost no non-Iranian-looking parents in the school).  I find it unfortunate, and somewhat sad, that these children are having to spend every Saturday afternoon in school trying to learn what they would have absorbed, sponge-like, had their parents spoken the language to them from birth.  What I see at this school is a couple of hundred kids trying to learn Farsi in class and then at break time running around speaking mostly English (or French) to each other.

On the other hand, if I, a middle-aged newcomer to Farsi, can make an effort then so can teenagers and young adults, whose young brains should let them have an easier time of it than me.  Don't give up though, because being bi- or multilingual is a huge asset, and keeps the mind active and alert.


Dear Layla

by lissnup on

You are such a refreshing, honest person, and so brave to share this story with us, thank you from my heart. I too have the same regrets, and for me it's too late to have that conversation you could still have with your father. The one where you tell him you feel uncomfortable and guilty, and that you don't really blame him. Because I know in your heart you don't. And being a Persian Dad, I also know he will always love and cherish you whatever language you speak.

I wish you great success in your study of the wonderful Persian language, and I write this with a big smile, thinking of the way it will expand your horizons, and bring you closer to your heritage as well as your loving family. 

PS: Don't forget to leave some time for horse riding! 


Learning Persian...

by alborz on

... is not very difficult and you live in an area that makes it possible through social circles and the classes that are offered.  If you can do this with your Mom, that would be best.

I admire your determination and hope that before long, you will not only understand but also speak the language.  



Dear Layla

by pas-e-pardeh on

My daughter is seven years old now.  Afterreading your letter, I will do a better job of teaching her Persian.  Thank you dear.


Dear Layla

by Faramarz on

Thanks for your heart-warming blog.

Learning Farsi is not that difficult. All you need to do is to be around teenagers your age in a school and you will learn Farsi in a few months. And you are lucky that you are in Berkeley since it does have Persian schools. Just look it up.

Please don’t be resentful towards your dad because he did not teach you Farsi. From what I have seen, kids who have Iranian moms learn Farsi, because that’s what moms do. Dads are not as good at it as moms!

Why don’t you make this a summer project and learn Farsi at a school. Writing is a little bit more difficult, but speaking is not that hard. After all little kids speak Farsi all over the world!

Remember that you are Iranian. It is in your genes and that's why you love all those great foods that your dad makes. so learning Farsi will not be that hard.

Here is one of my favorite songs by Eric Clapton called Layla.


Ari Siletz

Your desire to learn Persian is admirable

by Ari Siletz on

...and also admirable is the fact that you have shared your thoughts in this forum. Likely, you speak for many Iranians of your generation outside the country.