How To Learn Persian From Arabic

When you learn one romance language like Spanish, it becomes much easier to learn a related language such as Italian. The same is true for Arabic and Persian (Farsi), even though they are not related linguistically – i.e. they don’t have a common origin. The reason why it is much easier for an Arabic speaker to pick up Persian than say for an English speaker is that the Persian language has been enriched over the centuries with a vast number of Arabic loanwords. So much so in fact that I would estimate that 40% of all words used in Persian are derived from Arabic.

As you read this article you’ll discover exactly how you can use your knowledge of Arabic to pick up Persian extremely fast.

Let’s look at a brief paragraph taken from an article on the BBC’s Persian website. Try to identify the words you already know from Arabic and guess the general meaning of the text.


حامد کرزی رئیس جمهوری افغانستان فردا برای یک سفر پنج روزه به آمریکا می رود. مقامهای افغان می گویند که این سفر اهمیت زیادی برای آینده روابط دو کشور و امنیت منطقه دارد. ده وزیر افغان حامد کرزی را در سفر به آمریکا همراهی می کنند. مبارزه مشترک با تروریسم از جمله مسائل مهم مطرح در این سفر خواهد بود

Here’s the same Persian text again, this time with some help:

Persian text with Arabic loan words highlighted

In the extract I have indicated names of countries and persons in green, words of Western origin in turquoise and words that Arabic speakers will recognize in yellow. Of the 60 words, 27 are already familiar to someone with knowledge of Arabic. Of course, the remaining 23 words make up a huge part of the text and without knowing their meaning it is difficult to gain a complete understanding. Nevertheless, the yellow, green and turquoise words alone should be enough to get the gist of what’s going on.

Hamid Karzai, president, republic, Afghanistan, journey, America
position, Afghan, journey, importance, relations, and, safety, region
minister, Afghan, Hamid Karzai, journey, America
duel, shared, terrorism, sum, questions, important, discussed (think: maTrooH)

As can be seen from the example of maTraH, words of Arabic origin need not mean exactly the same in Persian. However, it is always a good idea to look back at the roots and think of possible alternative usages. For instance, maTraH clearly derives from TaRaHa and has as one of its root meanings “to bring up (an issue) for discussion”.

The words of non-Arabic origin in the extract are in fact relatively simple:

Persian pronunciation meaning
فردا fardâ tomorrow
برای barâye for
یک yek one
پنج pantch five
روزه rooze day
به be to
می رود mi ravad (he)goes
می گویند mi guyand (they)say
که ke that
این een this
زیادی ziyâdi very
آینده âyande future
دو do two
کشور keshvar country
دارد dârad (it)has
ده da ten
را ra (grammatical particle)
این een this
در dar in
همراهی hamrâhi accompanying
می کنند mi konand (they)make
با with
از az from
خواهد بود khâhad bood (it)will be

 

With this help you should be able to understand almost everything. Of course, some of the finer grammatical points will not be immediately clear, but this does not impact the meaning too much:

“The president of the Afghan republic, Hamid Karzai, is going on a five-day trip to America. Afghan sources say that this trip has great importance for the future of the two countries’ relations and for regional security. Ten Afghan ministers accompany Hamid Karzai on the trip. The joint fight against terrorism will be one of a number of important issues that will be raised in this trip.”

So how can you take advantage of your Arabic vocabulary when learning Persian? The first step is to engage with short Persian texts that deal with topics you are at least somewhat familiar with. Highlight the words you recognize and try to get the gist of the text. After a while you might notice that a few Persian words seem to appear very frequently (e.g. yek – “one”). Look these words up in a dictionary and see if you remember them later on.

In a second step you should get hold of a few Persian language courses to learn the basic words that are in common usage and to learn a few basic grammar rules (e.g. verbs generally go at the end of a sentence, basic conjugations etc.). Then you will be equipped to have a very good reading knowledge of Persian.

It is then up to you to decide whether you want to learn how to speak in Persian, to understand spoken Persian and to write Persian. Whatever you decide to do you will have a huge advantage.

2 thoughts on “How To Learn Persian From Arabic

  1. Max. I found this post while searching “how long to learn persian if you know arabic” on Google. I’ve done about 300 Persian flashcards so far and it’s going very well. The words stick pretty easily because I often have something from Arabic to hook them on in my mind. I don’t know if these words are related to the Arabic meaning, but as you know, in Arabic عكس means “opposite”. I just came across a bunch of photography flash cards and they said عكاس means “photographer”. In Arabic that would be someone who makes opposites which makes sense because back in the days of film the negatives were opposites of the picture you took. Now I don’t know if that’s what was intended when Persian took that word, but it still helps me to remember it. There are a lot of examples like this and also a lot of words shared by the languages. Another photography word I saw was ظاهر كردن which means “to develop a picture”. It’s easy to remember if you know Arabic because the verb ظهر means “to become visible” or “to appear.” I knew Persian had Arabic loanwords, but I didn’t realize there were so many. I don’t think learning Persian will be hard at all.

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