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Your Brain on Persian

by Rezwan Razani,


This quest for literacy brought to you by


The Amazing Power of the Human Mind - Scrambled English


A while ago, this paragraph was circulating around the internet. Try to read it and see if you notice anything strange:


The pheeomnnal pweor of the hmuan mnid.

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is that the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the human mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Smiply amzanig huh?


Here is the paragraph unscrambled: The phenomenal power of the human mind. According to research at Cambridge University, it doesn't matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole. Simply amazing, huh?


There you have it. When I first read this paragraph I was amazed! It wasn't that hard to read English scrambled.


Of course, it's not as easy as they make it sound. Click here for Matt Davis' website that discusses the limits of this word scrambling phenomenon. And click here for Josh Nimoy's site that has a scrambler. You can type in any English text and it will scramble it for you, keeping the first and last letter in place. Cool.


Neat! Does that work in Persian? - Scrambled Persian


OK, it works in English, but can you scramble words and still recognize them as a whole in Persian (a.k.a. Farsi)? After all, Persian has a semi-cursive alphabet. If you re-order the letters, the shape of the letters within the words may change as they take on a different cursive form. And don't forget the missing vowels.


Will it be harder to decipher scrambled Persian than it is to decipher English? To answer this question, we translated the "Cambridge" paragraph above into Persian and scrambled it (see below.) [For the unscrambled version, click on the scrambled version, or the link below it and compare. We suggest you try the scrambled version first, otherwise you're "cheating".]


I found it readable, but I translated it, so that doesn't count.


I've run it by a few other people of mixed reading ability, and results have been mixed. Contact us and let us know your level of Persian reading ability, and on a scale of 1-10 how easy it was to read (with 10 being the easiest). Also, let us know from 1-10 how easy the English was to read.


Scrambled Persian:

Click here for unscrambled version.


I'm not a gambling woman, but I suspect that some of you read both scrambled and unscrambled versions with no problem. Some of you got very annoyed at the scrambled version and just thought "wow, there are a lot of spelling mistakes here." (DUDE! THAT'S ON PURPOSE. IT'S SCRAMBLED.) And some of you were pleasantly surprised by how you could read it if you focused a bit.


And some of you just skipped the whole mess because it looks Chinese to you. Whatever the case may be, this exercise points out an interesting way to think about literacy.


Subconscious Word Recognition - the Goal of Literacy


The goal of literacy is subconscious word recognition. Poor readers transform into fluent readers once their brains are able to recognize words as a whole, on a subconscious level, without having to analyze them. There is actually a section of the brain devoted to this. Once you become fluent, that part of your brain will glow while you read. (OK, maybe not glow, but somehow researchers have mapped this out. Here is a link to a paper on the subject.)


Getting to whole word recognition takes a while. Decades of research in Education indicates that reading starts with phonological awareness - learning the alphabet and the sounds that correspond to each letter or group of letters. Once you've learned your phonics, though, it still takes about 38 encounters with a new word before you learn to recognize it on sight - as a whole.


Language is all about exposure and familiarity. 38 encounters is not that much, and yet it's a lot for a person who is in America, reads everything in English, and avoids Persian. The word recognition gap widens. English is a cinch; your brain has it wired. Persian...fades. Then, it's not as rewarding to read Persian because you're struggling with it. So you're on a degenerating spiral headed to illiteracy.


It's All About Exposure - Expose Yourself to Persian.


For those of you slipping down the slope of illiteracy, the solution is simple. All you have to do is figure out a way to encounter lots of words over 38 times. I know. You're all, "Who has time?"


Did you know time and space are interchangeable? If you have a time constraint, you need to rearrange your space so that written Persian is always lurking around every corner. In other words, you need to encounter it frequently and naturally. It needs to be a normal, visible element in your daily environment.


This is really easy to do with Persian-English word magnets, designed for teenagers, college kids and adults. Put these up on the refrigerator, or get a magnetized board and put them up anywhere in your house. And then keep them up in that space so that the words are always around you, ready to be looked at and played with. Perhaps by watching this 3 minute video of little kids playing with the magnets, you'll get a sense of how they work. Remember, while kids can have fun with magnets, the people who will get the most out of them are teens, college students and adults. We just haven't made a video about that yet.


Just think: with word magnets on the refrigerator, you will achieve your 38 exposures quickly and painlessly. By simply standing in front of a bunch of words, looking at them and making the occasional silly sentence, you are engaged in a process that will help you to achieve Subconscious Word Recognition

  • Your brains' natural word mapping process gets reinforced as you see each word by itself on a magnetic tile.
  • For words you don't know, the English is on the back. After flipping it over a few times, it will be mapped in your brain.
  • If you are looking through the sea of words for a particular word to complete a sentence, your brain is SCANNING words, and the mapping process is getting a great workout. The subconscious mind is saying: "that's not the word, that's not the word, that's not the word...THIS is the word." In this process, both the word you're looking for and the words you skip over/reject are being mapped by your brain on a subconscious level.

Playing with words like this is a really fast way to improving reading ability. But don't stop at word magnets. Jump in to reading Persian books and articles!


OK, don't hyperventilate. It takes a bit of practice, but reading fluently is not as far off for you as you might think. Start small. And start fun. Put easy to read and compelling books and articles in handy places where you have time to look at them. Waiting areas. Like in the bathroom. Or on the coffee table.


The extreme Hafez books are nice on the table, but for many of us they are too hard and so we just use them as decoration. Crack one open once in a while. But put a lot more of the easy stuff around while you get your bearings.


How will you find a simple, elegant book you want to read? Something that sparks your desire? It's different for everyone. For this young man (24) it started by watching a Persian movie:


" When I saw the movie gAvkhuni I hadn't ever heard Farsi be so beautiful in a prose format. I've heard a lot of Farsi poetry valikan saram nemisheh (I don't understand) what they're saying. This was the first time that I saw Farsi with a real aesthetic appeal. So I said to myself... whatever it takes I'm going to read this book and so I checked it out and the going was really hard at first but then I saw the that the more time I spent with the language the easier it became. The beginning was the hardest part but it constantly became easier with practice."


Love of literature happens when there is excellent literature out there. What are the top 10 Persian books that are relatively easy for those of us getting back on the literacy wagon? Please send me your recommendations for a future article.


The final tool you will need in your literacy quest is a really good dictionary. The link will take you to my recommendations. A good dictionary is like a good woman. Essential. Fundamental.


And here is a fun way to start using the dictionary in every day life. Say it's your friend's birthday. You got her a card. Now, what to write in the card? Let's say her name starts with the letter "M". Go to your dictionary and look up all kinds of words starting with "m". "mehrabAn", "motafakker" "mAshAllAh", "mahshar", "mohem", "matin", and just list as many as appeal to you. As you're looking through the dictionary, you're doing that amazing brain mapping thing again! Do you feel it?!


Then, you spread the joy. When you give the card to your friend, now her brain goes through and maps stuff. She reads out the delightfully flattering words, and asks you what some of them mean, and you laugh because in fact, you included some of the words that were inappropriate.


The mind is a cool thing. Leverage the subconscious portion by feeding it some words every day. Rearrange words. Play with words. We can do it! We have the technology, the resources, the space. The Persian language is cool. fArsi qAbel dAreh!

زبان فارسى قابل داره


... Payvand News - 11/15/05 ... --

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