Englisi Farsi is a wonderful resource for parents who wish to teach their children Persian (Farsi), the language of Iran, even if they can’t read or write the language themselves. Using the familiar phonetics of the English alphabet, the learning aid includes a series of lively e-books with an interactive audio and pronunciation guide, giving anyone who reads and speaks English a entryway to the rich and lyrical language that is Farsi. Created by Mona Kiani, Englisi Farsi includes colorful books for young children about animals, virtues, fruits and vegetables. They also have a Baha’i prayer book as well! Mona shared with us how she created these books and about the process of putting together the prayer book. Here’s our conversation:
Baha’i Blog: Hi Mona! Could you please tell us a little about yourself and Englisi Farsi?
I am an English-speaking Australian of Iranian descent with a Singaporean spouse of mixed ethnicity. We are currently speaking Persian and Mandarin to our son. While I could converse fluently in Farsi, I was not fully acquainted with the Persian written word. That is, untiI I started this journey!
I knew in my heart that I wanted my son to know Farsi. My language defines who I am and, in turn, who he is or will be. I wanted my son to have a good start. But I couldn’t find any resource that didn’t require me to master the Persian alphabet. After a period of futile searching, I decided to develop my own teaching tools in Pinglish/Finglish (Farsi in English) for my son — and my husband as well as the English-speaking wives of my Persian brothers.
Baha’i Blog: How does it work?
All learning resources for children are in the Persian alphabet. Second or third generation Persians, the Persian diaspora, and their non-Persian spouses are not fluent enough to read Farsi using the Farsi alphabet. This is where Pinglish comes in, much like how Hanyu Pinyin allows one to read and speak Mandarin using an adapted set of English alphabet.
The sole purpose of Englisi Farsi is to create a nurturing Farsi language environment with the child, parent and extended family firmly in mind. To lend further support, the e-book has an interactive audio feature and pronunciation guide to the Persian alphabet sounds, including those not found in the English alphabet such as the guttural “kh” and “gh”. I am very pleased to add that these books follow the transliteration guide by Shoghi Effendi as outlined in 1939 Baha’i World Vol. 7.
Baha’i Blog: What was the process like to put this prayer book together?
The process was actually harder than I originally imagined. I started off with finding a simple prayer that I would love my son to learn by heart. “O God guide me” is the first in the Englisi Farsi Prayer book series as it has simple imagery that can be easily understood by a toddler. It took countless hours of refining the user guide and making it easy process as an English speaker. The usual A B C that an English speaker would be familiar with when searching for letters. The Persian alphabet has no correlation with the English so I took it upon myself to modify it to help a Non-Persian speaker identify and find letters with greater ease. Recording and ensuring the pronunciation was correct was another interesting challenge — so I had my mum on standby to correct the little nuances that only a native speaker would be sure to hear! This labour of love from start to finish took approx 1.5years (in between raising a child and the usual life commitments). Now that I have the foundations, it will be easier to create more resources for the Iranian diaspora to ensure they have access to relevant and useful resources to help them memorise prayers.
Baha’i Blog: What have you learned in the process of putting the prayer book together?
I have learnt the great lesson of patience and detachment! Time lines, when publishing are set by your discipline and self motivation. Life seems to get in the way and its so imperative to maintain consistency and persistence when setting out to finish a project or passion.
In addition, it is so important to speak the institutions of the Faith to make sure that your resources are in alignment with the guidelines and standards laid out for us, as we want to ensure the integrity of the writings are maintained.
Baha’i Blog: Could you tell us a little bit more about the collaborations involved?
Looking back, I feel as if God was testing my resolve whilst providing me the stepping stones for this endeavor. How else could I have even reached this stage? I struggled for about a year developing the phonetics before author Dale Eng (Responding: 101 Questions Often Asked of Bahai’s) introduced me to Shoghi Effendis Transliteration Guide. The perfect system was already in place. I just needed to apply it!
At each critical juncture, help was at hand. Sometimes, it was very specific technical details; other times, sounding boards and morale boosters. In the very early formative days, I met a jolly, quirky, wise and award-winning Singaporean book publisher who gave me invaluable advice and jump-started me on the book. Just as I was entertaining self-doubt, I had a visit from a retired journalist who provided crucial edits. I am deeply grateful for the sounding boards that somehow, providently, came my way, including a language development specialist, graphic designer, communication consultant as well as fluent farsi speakers, young and old alike, to ensure usability and friendly interface. Truly, I’ve been blessed!
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Mona, for sharing this with us!!
The Englisi Farsi prayerbook is available for free download from iTunes: www.itunes.apple.com/au/book/englisi-farsi-bahá
You can find other Englisi Farsi books here: www.englisifarsi.com