Persian Language Program


Persian Language and Iranian/Persianate Studies Faculty

Persian Faculty in Other Departments

Alireza Doostdar (Divinity School)

Yousef Casewit (Divinity School)


2023-2024 Persian Studies Lecture Series


October 25th - Frank Lewis memorial lecture – Prof. Sunil Sharma, Boston University (

February 28th - Heshmat Moayyad memorial lecture – Prof. Kathryn Babayan, University of Michigan (

April 19th - Frank Lewis memorial lecture – Prof. Dominic Brookshaw, University of Oxford (



Persian Language at UChicago (Farsi / Dari / Tajiki = тоҷикӣ /فارسی / دری)

Persian is the official language of today’s Iran, and one of the two official languages in both Afghanistan and Tajikistan.  Outside of Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan, Persian is still spoken by a significant minority in Uzbekistan, and by diaspora communities throughout North America, Europe, Israel and Australia.  All in all, an estimated 110 million people throughout the globe speak Persian, placing it among the top 20 or so world languages in terms of the number of speakers.

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Historically Persian served as a prestige language of literature and administration across a large swath of Central Asia; in southwest Xinjiang province, China; in South Asia (including Kashmir, Pakistan, northern India, Bengal, and the Deccan); in the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Daghestan); in the Ottoman territories of Anatolia and the Balkans; in parts of Iraq (especially near the Shi`i shrines in Najaf and Karbala); and along the Persian Gulf littoral, as well as on the Iranian plateau.  It was also a widespread spoken koine throughout much of Asia along the Silk Route.  Scholars today refer to this area where the Persian language and/or its literary, political and administrative culture held sway as the “Persianate” zone.

Persian = Farsi? Dari? Tajiki?

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The Greeks gave us the name Persia  (Περσῐ́ς) after Old Persian Pārsa, the name for the province in south central Iran at the center of the Achaemenid empire, and it remained the name of the country until 1935 when Reza Shah officially pronounced the modern nation-state would henceforth be called Iran. 

Although Persian is mutually understood by educated speakers from eastern Iraq through to the borders of China, Persian speakers in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan use different names when describing their common language.  In Iran, Persian speakers call the language Fârsi, or Pârsi (فارسی /  پارسی); in Afghanistan, the 1962 constitution officially recognizes the language as Dari ((دری; and in Tajikistan– where the language has been written in the Cyrillic script since WWII – it is officially known as Tâjiki, or Tojiki (тоҷикӣ). In the modern era of nation-states with different ideologies, distinct educational and administrative systems, and divergent national histories, the national varieties of Persian (Iranian, Afghan and Tajik) have coalesced around the pronunciation of their respective capital cities: Tehran, Kabul and Dushanbe. Most universities offering Persian as a second language – and this includes Chicago -- teach the modern standard Persian of Iran.

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Because Iran has about twice the population of Afghanistan and Tajikistan combined, the Iranian word “Farsi” is sometimes also used in Afghanistan and Tajikistan as well, and since the 1960s and 1970s when large numbers of Iranians studied in the US and large numbers of Americans worked in Iran, the word “Farsi” has also been used in informal American English in place of Persian.  In linguistic terms, however, Farsi refers to the particular national variety of Persian spoken in Iran, as distinct from the national varieties of Persian spoken in Afghanistan (Dari), or Tajikistan (Tajik Persian), in much the same way that American, Australian, British and Indo-Pakistani English are all distinct national varieties of the English language.


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Persian is an Indo-European language, and therefore structurally related to English, with which it shares many cognate words (barâdar = brother, mâdar – mother, dokhtar = daughter, ast = is, am = am, etc.).  In fact, Persian was one of the languages that led scholars like Sir William Jones to deduce the existence of a family relationship between English, German, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit and Persian as languages descended from a common sprachbund: proto-Indo-European.

Persian belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of this family, which includes Sanskrit, Hindi, Punjabi, etc.  But Persian’s more immediate relatives are found among the Iranian language family which includes the ancient scriptural language of the Zoroastrian religion, Avestan, as well as other now extinct languages such as Bactrian, Sogdian, Khwarezmian (Chorasmian), Saka, the Scytho-Sarmatian languages, and Parthian. The modern Iranian languages in use today, in addition to Persian, include Kurdish (Kurmanji and Sorani), Zaza, Ossetic, Luri, Pashto (the second official language of Afghanistan), and Baluchi.  

Persian itself is roughly described as having three historical stages:    

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Old Persian was written in cuneiform, and used in the Achaemenid empire for royal inscriptions, seals and clay tablets, from the early 6th to the late 4th century BCE. Old Persian was an inflected language with multiple case endings, and singular, dual, and plural forms of the nouns.


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Middle Persian, including Parthian (Pahlawik) and Persian (Pārsīg and Pahlavi), was written using a modified form of the Aramaic script, both as a phonetic syllabary and as logograms.  Middle Persian is attested in inscriptions of the Sasanian period and in book literature, mostly Zoroastrian confessional works, but also Manichaean and Nestorian texts, as well as secular literature, some of it orally transmitted for a while before being written down from about the 6th century CE well into the Islamic period in the 9th and 10th century CE.


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(New) Persian, written in the Arabic script, emerged in written form in the 10th century at the Saffarid and Samanid courts, and  has remained fairly stable over the past millennium, so that texts like the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi (completed 1010 CE), can still be generally understood by Persian-speakers today. It is this new Persian that became the second language of learning (science, geography, history, administrative manuals), religion (exegesis, devotions, Sufi manuals, philosophy, theosophy), and literature (poetry, prose belles lettres, mirrors for princes) in the Islamic world, through which Islam was spread and promoted in Central Asia, South Asia and Seljuk Anatolia.

Apart from the many Persian words cognate with other Indo-European languages, some Persian words have been borrowed into Europe during the Middle Ages, or directly into English through the British in India, where Persian was an official language until the 19th century (such as lâzhvard – azure; tâfta – taffeta; pâdzahr – bezoar; shâh mât – checkmate; bakhshesh – bakhsheesh kamarband – cummerbund; kâravân = caravan; bâzâr – bazaar, khâki – khaki, etc.).  

Persian in the Workplace

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Because of the geopolitical significance of the area, Persian is a critical language for foreign and public policy, international development, international law, foreign service, national security, marketing and international trade. For anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, journalists, linguists, and other researchers, Persian has been an important language for fieldwork and research both in the Middle East and in diaspora communities in North America and elsewhere. In addition, the language is widely and extensively attested in painted, inscribed, or embossed material culture forms (murals, tiles, pottery, tableware, metalware, architectural and monumental inscriptions, jewelry, miniature painting).  Persian is the language of the world-renowned cinema of Iran (including directors like Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Majid Majidi, etc.), and of many modern writers (e.g., Atiq Rahmani, Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Forugh Farrokhzad, Sadegh Hedayat, Shahrnush Parsipour, Zoya Pirzad). 

Persian is historically the most important language and literature in the Islamic world after Arabic, with a vast and rich literary tradition, including poetry, prose belles lettres, historical chronicles, documents and correspondence, political treatises, philosophical treaties, religious (devotional, doctrinal, mystical, theological, heresiological, eschatological) tracts, scriptural texts (Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Baha’i), travelogues. Persian was the language of the primary chronicles, histories, and biographies of Iranian, Turkic, Central Asian and South Asian dynasties, as well as of treatises on kingship and statecraft, Sufism, philosophy, astronomy and belles lettres.  Persian poetry was a critical inspiration for European Romanticism, with Sir “Oriental” Jones, Voltaire, Goethe, Ralph Waldo Emerson and many others translating, emulating or imitating Persian poetry. The Persian ghazal form shaped the Urdu and Turkish ghazal and has now given rise to the English ghazal.

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Persian Study at UChicago

Students in the College can fulfill their language requirement with Persian, or use it as the basis for a Minor or Major in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC), or combine it with another program major (e.g., Fundamentals, Study of Gender and Sexuality, Global Studies, History, Human Rights, Political Science, Public Policy, etc.). MA students in CMES and in the Divinity School, MAPH or in MAPSS can focus on Persian language, literature, art, history and religions; and students in the PhD programs in Anthropology, Art History, Cinema and Media Studies, Comp Lit, Divinity, History, Music, NELC, Political Science, and SALC, etc., can pursue Persian as a major or minor research language. Graduate students often pair the study of Persian with other important languages of the region: Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Hindi, Kazakh, Syriac, Turkish, Urdu, Uzbek, etc.

Alongside the formal coursework, various extracurricular activities create and encourage opportunities on campus for students to practice colloquial speaking:  our Persian Sofreh, a weekly Persian lunchtime conversation table; an occasional Persian Film Night, to watch and talk about classics of Iranian cinema; and a weekly Persian Circle (Anjoman-e sokhan) where various academic and cultural topics are presented in talks and formal lectures in Persian followed by Q&A.

Persian Student Essay Prize

Thanks to Babak Pazooki’s generosity, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations will award one student in Intermediate Persian or other higher level Persian class with the Persian Student Essay Prize for the best written final paper. The prize will be presented at a Persian Studies reception at the end of spring quarter.  

Persian Language, Culture, and Literature Courses Persian Offered at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago offers two years of formal language-training in Persian, Elementary and Intermediate Persian, focusing on the four skills (listening, reading, speaking, writing). These courses meet four hours per week. Upon completion of the intermediate class, students have a firm basis in the language and can continue to expand their vocabulary, fluency and cultural command in various advanced survey courses, including Media Persian, Persian Literary Translation, the Persian Short Story, the Persian Ghazal, Persian Prose, Persian Sufi Texts, Modern Scholarly Prose, as well as courses about specific authors and themes (the Shâhnâmeh, Jalâl al-Din Rumi, Women Writing Persian, Nezâmi, Farid al-Din Attâr, Sanâ’i, Sa`di, Bidel, and other courses in Persian literature).

Persian Language Courses

PERS 10101-02-03 Elementary Persian This sequence concentrates on all skills of language acquisition (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). The class begins with the Persian alphabet, and moves to words, phrases, short sentences, and finally short paragraphs. The goal is to enable the students towards the end of the sequence to read, understand, and translate simple texts in modern standard Persian and engage in short everyday conversations. All the basic grammatical structures are covered in this sequence. Introducing the Iranian culture through the texts is also a goal. The class meets four hours a week with the instructor and one hour with a native informant who conducts grammatical drills and Persian conversation.

PERS 20101-02-03 Intermediate Persian This sequence deepens and expands the students' knowledge of modern Persian. The goal is to enable the students to gain proficiency in all skills of language acquisition at a higher level. In this sequence, the students learn more complex grammatical structures and gain wider vocabulary through reading paragraph-length texts on a variety of topics related to Persian language, literature, and culture. Students will also be familiarized with Persian news and media terminology. Class meets four hours a week with the instructor and one hour with a native informant who conducts grammatical drills and Persian conversation.

PERS 20500 Media Persian This course provides students with an opportunity to read authentic texts in Persian. Through various exercises, the students will be familiar with the news terminology as well as other complex expressions and proverbs used throughout the news articles that encompass different themes related to Iran’s politics, literature, culture, economy, etc. During this course, you will read a variety of news excerpts from the newspapers printed inside Iran (Ettelā’āt, Keyhān, Sharq, E’temād, Irān, and Mardomsālāri) and follow their current status as reflected in today’s media. Class meets three hours a week with the instructor and one hour with a native informant who conducts grammatical drills and Persian conversation.

PERS 20502 Persian Literary Translation  This course aims at strengthening the proficiency level of students beyond the intermediate level. Through a survey of translation techniques and strategies, students will do hands-on translations of various kinds of literary texts, both prose and poetry, both classical and modern. In addition, students will be introduced to prevailing theories of translation and the most efficient methodology of translating Persian literary texts by means of a close comparison of translated texts with the original. As term project, students will translate a short story or a long poem, either classical or modern from Persian into English. Class meets two days per week, each session for an hour and a half.

Iranian/Persianate Studies Courses

SALC 22604 /32605 “A Poem in Every House”: Persian, Arabic, and Vernacular Poetry in North India and the Deccan (Autumn) (Dr. Thibaut d’Hubert)

The Indian subcontinent is home to some of the most vibrant literary traditions in world history. The aim of this course is to introduce students to the main trends in the premodern (/pre-nineteenth century) literature of South Asia through a selection of poetic and theoretical texts translated from a variety of languages (Arabic, Bengali, Dakani, Hindi, Maithili, Marathi, Persian, Panjabi, Sanskrit, Urdu, etc.). We will discuss issues of literary historiography, the relations between orality and writing, and the shared aesthetic world of poetry, music, and visual arts. We will review the basic principles of Perso-Arabic and vernacular poetics through a selection of representative theoretical treatises and poems. We will also explore the linguistic ecology of the Subcontinent, the formation of vernacular literary traditions, multilingual literacy, and the role of literature in social interactions and community building in premodern South Asia. Every week the first half of the class will be devoted to the historical context and conceptual background of the texts we will read in the second half. Attention will be given to the original languages in which those texts were composed as well as the modes of performance of the poems and songs we will read together.

SALC 48603 Talking Birds and Cunning Jackals: A Survey of Indo-Persian Prose (NEHC 48603 / PERS 48693) (Spring) (Dr. Thibaut d’Hubert)

South Asia was a major source of narrative matter for the development of literary prose in the Islamicate world. For instance, literary prose in Arabic, but also in Persian (and Castilian) were fashioned through successive renderings of the Sanskrit Pañcatantra. Later, in the post-Timurid period, South Asian Persianate literati, and munshis in particular, contributed to elevate the status of Persian prose to that of poetry. This course offers a survey of a variety of Indo-Persian prose texts such as tales, premodern translations of Indian romances and epics (Mahābhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, Pañcatantra, Mādhavānala Kāmakandalā, etc. …), letters, anecdotes from chronicles, tadhkira literature, autobiographical writings, treatises, and encyclopedic works. The readings are organized thematically and by degree of stylistic elaboration. We will first read plain prose texts that will introduce the students to key elements of the Persianate understanding of Indic culture. In this first section of the course, we will mostly read narrative texts (chronicles, translations of Sanskrit and Hindavi works, and dāstāns). We will then turn to epistolography, biographies, and autobiographical writings. Finally, we will read technical and non-technical

texts dealing with various aspects of Indo-Persian courtly culture and aesthetics (philosophy, mysticism, grammar, poetry, or musicology). Each text will be introduced and framed by discussions on relevant secondary literature in English and Persian.


Prerequisites: intermediate level of Persian. This course is an introduction to Persian philology and poetry in South Asia. During the first sessions we will review some fundamental methods and basic terminology of Indo-Persian philology. We will read excerpts from the traditional grammar written by Anṣārī Jawnpūrī (d. 1810, Murshidabad) titled Qawāʿid-i fārsī. Then, we will see how this grammatical knowledge was used to analyze the language of classical poetry and prose by closely reading short excerpts of commentaries on works such as Ḥāfiẓ’s Dīwān, Jāmī’s Yūsuf u Zulaykhā, or Ẓuhūrī’s Si nathr (i.e. three Persian prefaces to the Ibrāhīm ʿĀdil Shāh II [r. 1580–1627]’s Hindawi Kitāb-i nawras).  

After these introductory classes, we will focus on Akbar (r. 1556–1605)’s poet laureate (malik al-shuʿarā) Fayḍī’s works. We will read excerpts from Nal Daman (the mathnawī adaptation of a very popular story found in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata) and his prose writings on poetry (e.g. the preface of his Dīwān and letters to various men of letters). About half of the course will be devoted to a close reading of a selection of poems from his Dīwān. The poems are selected in such a way that students will be gradually exposed to a set of common tropes and rhetorical devices of Persian lyric poetry, but also to themes that are more specific to Fayḍī’s oeuvre (e.g. his poetics of fire and magic and the exoticized representation of Hind). When selecting the poems special attention was given to the intertext by identifying poetic responses to ghazals by previous poets, or to the recurring presence of verses from specific ghazals by Fayḍī in poetic anthologies (tadhkiras). The aim of this course is to sharpen our gaze as readers of Persian poetry by using the tools offered by traditional Indo-Persian philology.  

RLST 24550/ISLM 32419 – Major Trends in Islamic Mysticism (Autumn) (Dr. Yousef Casewit)

This course examines Islamic mysticism, commonly known as Sufism, through an exploration of English translations premodern and contemporary Sufi literature in Arabic and Persian. The goal is to gain firsthand exposure of a broad spectrum of literary expressions of Islamic spirituality in their historical context, and to understand exactly what, how, and why Sufis say what they say. Each of the units will comprise of lectures and close readings of excerpts from the text in Arabic/Persian and English translation.

NEHC 20014 Ancient Empires IV: Persia (Autumn) (Dr. Mehrnoush Soroush)

This course introduces students to the Achaemenid Empire, also known as the First Persian Empire (ca. 550-330 BCE). We will be examining the political history and cultural accomplishments of the Achaemenids who, from their homeland in modern-day Iran, quickly rose to become one of the largest empires of the ancient world, ruling from North Africa to North India at their height. We will also be examining the history of Greek-Persian encounters and the image of the Achaemenids in Greek and Biblical literature. The students will visit the Oriental Institutes’ archive and object collection to learn more about the University of Chicago’s unique position in the exploration, excavation, and restoration of the Persian Empire’s royal architecture and administrative system through the Persian Expedition carried out in the 1930s.

ARTH 28003/ NEHC 28003/ ARTH 38003/ NEHC 38003 Islamic Art in Texas: Private Collections on Public Display (Autumn) (Dr. Persis Berlekamp)

Just within the past decade, two museums in Texas – the MFA Houston and the Dallas Museum of Art -- have emerged as major centers for Islamic art. Usually, well-developed long-term museum displays of art not recently made for the market build on sustained institutional commitment to collection and curation over several generations. However, both these museums quickly transformed their Islamic art exhibition capacities by securing long term loans of significant private collections. With the al-Sabah Collection and the Hossein Afshar Collection, MFA Houston more than doubled its display space for Islamic art in 2023; similarly, the Dallas Museum of Art has displayed the Keir Collection since 2014. Together these collections present of an expansive range of Islamic arts produced from the medieval period to the present, in materials ranging from rock crystal, silk, parchment, paper and ceramic; to lacquer, metal, jade, and plexiglass. Together they also offer a distinctive lens for consideration of broader issues related to the collection and display of Islamic art.

Major and Minor

Students who pursue a Program of Study (Major or Minor) in NELC can choose to focus on the Persian language and culture, within the frame of the NELC Major and Minor requirements. Here is a summary of these requirements, alongside examples of how they can be adapted to the study of Persian specifically: 

NELC Major with a focus on Persian, Language and Culture Track Requirements:

Students are encouraged to track their progress through requirements by using our Language and Culture Track Major Worksheet.  

- Civilization Sequence: Two or three quarters of a sequence listed below. If a NELC civ sequence is used to meet the College general education requirement, a second Near Eastern civilization sequence is required for the NELC major:  

- NEHC 20011-20012-20013-20014-20015-20016-20017. Ancient Empires I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII  

- NEHC 20004-20005-20006. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and Literature I, II, III  

- NEHC 20201-20202-20203. Islamicate Civilization I-II-III (see note below)  

- NEHC 20601-20602-20603. Islamic Thought and Literature I, II, III  

- JWSC 12000-12001.Jewish Civilization I-II.  

- Languages: Six courses in Persian. With approval of DUS, students may combine courses in related languages. Credit for language courses may not be granted by examination or placement.  

- Electives: Three or four elective courses in the student’s area of specialization, in this case the languages, history, and culture of the Persian world. Students should discuss their planned coursework with the instructors in the Persian program and the DUS. NEHC 29995 Research Project may be counted towards the elective requirement.  

- The Research Colloquium (NEHC 29899) is required of all NELC majors. It is to be taken in the Autumn Quarter of the year in which the student expects to graduate. See the Research Project section for more detailed information.  

PLEASE NOTE: The course sequence on “Islamicate Civilization” does not fulfill the general education requirement in civilization studies. All of the other NELC civilization sequences do fulfill the general education requirement. 

NELC Minor with a focus on Persian, Language Track requirements:  

The Language Track includes at least three courses in Persian. If a NELC sequence is used for the general education requirement in civilization studies, a Language Track minor can also consist of six language courses in Persian or in Persian and another related language with DUS approval. Here are some examples of possible combinations — please consult with the Persian Language Coordinator and the DUS to evaluate your individual needs. 

Language Track in Persian Sample Minor  

NEHC 20201-20202-20203  Islamicate Civilization I-II-III 


PERS 10101-10102-10103  Elementary Persian I-II-III* 



NEHC 20601-20602-20603  Islamic Thought and Literature I-II-III 


PERS 20101-20102-20103  Intermediate Persian I-II-III* 



NEHC 20601-20602 Islamic Thought and Literature I-II 

PERS 20101-20102-20103 Intermediate Persian I-II-III* 

PERS 20502 Persian Literary Translation * 


Language Track in Persian Sample Minor (for students who take a NELC sequence to satisfy civilization studies requirement)  

PERS 10101-10102-10103 Elementary Persian I-II-III* 

PERS 20101-20102-20103 Intermediate Persian I-II-III* 


OR (with placement into the Elementary Persian sequence)  

PERS 10103     Elementary Persian III*  

PERS 20101-20102-20103    Intermediate Persian I-II-III* 

PERS 20500  Media Persian*  


PERS 20502  Persian Literary Translation * 

OR (with two-language option) 

PERS 10101-10102-10103   Elementary Persian I-II-III* 

ARAB 10101-10102-10103   Elementary Arabic I-II-III* 


*Consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies about the level of the language (introductory, intermediate, or advanced) required to meet the language track requirement. Credit may not be granted by examination to meet the language requirement forcthe minor program.  

Persian Placement Test

A placement test for incoming first-year undergraduates can be arranged through CLC.

For further questions contact: Dr. Pouneh Shabani-Jadidi ( Incoming graduate students uncertain about their level can also arrange to take a placement exam.

Persian Circles

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Pedagogy Webinar Winter 2024

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Persian Language Pedagogy Webinar: New Trends and Innovations

Karine Megerdoomian, Principle Artificial Intelligence Engineer at MITRE, Saturday, Jan 14, 2023  

Linguistic data-driven approach to Persian language pedagogy: Practical application to compound verbs


Mahbod Ghafari, Associate in Persian Language and Culture at the University of Cambridge, Feb 11. 2023

Grammaticalisation of "dāshtan" 


Nahal Akbari, Clinical Associate Professor and the Director of the Persian Language Programs at the University of Maryland March 11, 2023

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Language Classroom: Towards Critically Engaged Practices in Teaching Persian as an Additional Language 


Masoud Jasbi, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Davis, April 8, 2023          

Leaky Grammars and Language Pedagogy 


Azita H. Taleghani, Associate Professor (Teaching Stream) at the University of Toronto May 13, 2023

Acquisition of Persian Differential Object Marker ‘râ’:  A Challenge for the Second Language learners and Heritage Speakers


Ali Abbasi, Associate Professor of Persian at the University of Maryland, Sep 2, 2023

Discourse Markers in Persian: Description and Instructional Implications for Learners of Persian 


Reza Falahati Ardestani, Lecturer at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Oct 7, 2023        

Relative Difficulty in the Acquisition of the Persian Uvular Stop by English Speakers                    


Peyman Nojoumian, Professor (Teaching) of Persian at the University of Southern California, Nov 11, 2023              

Innovative Technology in Language Classroom: Using Virtual Reality in Task-Based Language Teaching


Pouneh Shabani-Jadidi, Instructional Professor of Persian, University of Chicago, Dec 2, 2023

ABC or BCA: What to Teach First: A Psycholinguistic Approach to Teaching Persian as a Second Language



Movement and Landscape in Iranian Cinema

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