The Land of Elites: Pirhani

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Persia, an ancient land with rich history was the cradle of science in earlier times and Persian scientists have made major contributions to understanding nature, medicine, mathematics and philosophy. In an attempt to revive the golden age of science in Persia, Iran’s scholars have made great strides in advancement of knowledge. Ali Pirhani is an Iranian elite from Hamedan, the city of the most renowned and influential philosopher-scientists of the Islamic world , Avicenna. By attaching utmost importance to pivotal role of language in bringing the world ever closer together, Pirhani succeeded in getting good command of 19 languages. But this is not all! This polyglot young man has a master degree in International Law and a PhD in Teaching Foreign Languages. Pirhani has devised a specific method for teaching foreign languages based on his own personal experience. Learning a foreign language is no more a laborious task for Pirhani’s students, rather it’s more like fun. Pirhani’s insatiable desire for learning knows no limit. This explains why the daily activities have not stopped him from learning more languages.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: At the foot of Iran’s western Alvand Mountain range stands Hamedan. One of the Countries most storied cities. With a history of four thousand years, it is considered one of the oldest cities in the world. It’s refreshing air, pristine environment and wealth of historical relics dating back to key junctures in Iran’s history make it a prime destination for tourists worldwide. But, in the heart of Hamedan, lies the mausoleum of Avicenna the most influential Iranian philosopher and scientist of all time, a figure celebrated throughout the world indeed, as well as 200 years ago Avicenna writings were commonly taught in prestigious European Universities. Students wear gowns inspired by those worn by Avicenna at graduation ceremonies. But even in modern Iran there are those who have followed in Avicenna’s footsteps, such as the story of one young man from Hamedan Dr. Ali Pirhani.

SOUNDBITE [English], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning: “Here is Avicenna tomb. Avicenna tomb was a very important happening in my life. The reason behind that is interesting. I saw the tourists that came to our city. They were talking to each other. They were looking for where to go for lunch, where to go for dinner, where to stay at and at the age of five I was very interested to know what they are talking about. So the reason for me to go to them to talk to them and I was very interested to communicate with them. That’s why I tried to learn French at the age of five.”

Narration: Dr. Pirhani is a gifted polyglot to say the least. At the age of 14 his knack for learning languages granted him a certain celebrity status in Iran.

SOUNDBITE [English], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning: “Well, being eager in communicating with tourists was a very big help to me, because it was the beginning of the process of language learning, learning 19 different languages. My mother was fortunately a teacher. She taught me how to read in Persian. Reading Persian was the real key to using a French-Persian dictionary. I found the words in dictionary, I found the meanings in Persian and Just kept the words just like a symbol just like a corrector in my mind so I kept them just like real symbols with different colors, with different codes, so I learnt French in less than one year, around 8 or 9 months.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration: Unlike many adults, who find learning a foreign language a tedious and exhausting task, the young Pirhani saw learning new languages as a game.

He was constantly on to look out for the excuses to learn a brand new tongue.

So when Germany won the World Cup in 1990, Pirhani decided to learn German. In fact this was just the beginning of the story. Ali, who could talk at four, read and write in his mother tongue, Farsi, and could speak French at 5 and German at 6, continued the same path; he spoke English by 8, Spanish by 9, Italian by 10, Arabic and Hebrew by 11 and 13,Portuguese and Esperanto by 16, Turkish and Swahili between 17 and 19, Pahlavi, Latin and Romanian between 20 and 22,Hindi by 23, Swedish by 24 and 26, Malay by 27 and finally while you are watching this film, he is learning Kurdish and Korean.From this perspective he is among the first polyglots of the world .… But how?

SOUNDBITE [English], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning: “My answer to this question is very short, I mean I just used the natural way to learn a foreign language. Imagine a little boy is learning, not learning, acquiring a language; let’s say learning is different from acquisition. A child doesn’t learn a language, he or she acquires a language. That’s what we call acquisition. The interesting point is that I used many books; I mean I read many texts and then I guessed the grammar as a child acquires the language from his or her mother or father.”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning: “Based on my own interest in the subject, they taught four languages to ten kids in four years on the basis of the methodology I had devised.

Thank you.

Hi, how are you?

I have two kids, twins who are unique in the country!”

Narration: Dr. Pirhani is one of the first polyglots of the modern world. Everyday mothers in Pirhani’s neighborhood approach him asking what they can do to teach their own children new languages.Pirhani is well known in his mother land but not because he knows 19 foreign languages, rather he is known for the teaching methods he has designed on the basis of his own personal experiences,

Methods based on self-learning.

SOUNDBITE [English], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning: “Many people do not know how to learn different languages. How to learn a foreign language is half-learning. Learning to learn a foreign language is a very important part of language learning. Self-learning is a crucial part of language learning.”

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

Narration: Pirhani believes that everybody is capable of learning three to four languages easily, even those in their sixties. You don’t need to have an inherent talent to learn a new language, he claims. What you do need is inner motivation.With the help of his fellow researchers, and foreign language instructors Pirhani has been working to perfect these methods to facilitate the language learning process. These methods aim to boost motivation and accelerate the rate at which new information is stored in the brain. This is done through a mixture of tutorial discussions, psychology as well as Pirhani’s own rules of learning.

SOUNDBITE [English], Researcher 1: “The best point about this project is that it’s more like fun. You just start playing a game and it’s not just like learning a language just as hard as those previous old fashion methods.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Researcher 2: “These exercises help students, you know everybody to retrieve data from their memory easily.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Researcher 3: “It is completely indirect method of learning, you know.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Researcher 4: “It’s not giving you input. It’s working with what is in your mind already.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Researcher 1: “Something between language and psychology.”

SOUNDBITE [English], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning: “Many people think learning a foreign language is just learning a few words, grammar, structure. This is a wrong idea. Learning a foreign language is just to know how to communicate in the particular language, how to play in that language. So if you cannot play well a role in that particular language, in that intended language, you are not a good language learner.”

Narration: Pirhani says learning a language has little to do with following rigid rules. What is more important is to make friends with the language one is learning, to live with it, and to feel the same way towards it as one does towards his mother tongue. One of Pirhani’s innovations follows precisely this strategy called Internalization. It encourages the learner to approach the process of learning a new language as though entering a new fascinating world. These methods stand in sharp contrast to the more conventional approach, one that involves memorizing heaps of vocabulary and intricate grammatical rules only then to acquire a mechanical understanding of the language that has little practical use.

SOUNDBITE [English], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning: “If there are different languages you have different words, you are different persons. For example I’m an Iranian person, I’m an Italian guy, glass for me means something, for an Arab that glass of water means something else. What I’m trying to say is that if you know different languages you are acquainted, you are familiar with different words wing, with different thoughts, behaviors and ideas. I like walking very much because usually every day I talk to myself in different languages. Sometimes I talk to myself in Arabic, sometimes I talk to myself in French. Sometimes I talk to myself in German. So when I’m talking I feel ok because I talk to different personalities.”

Narration: Pirhani regularly appears in Iranian TV shows as an expert in language education. Not only do these shows attract a sizable following domestically but they also reach large foreign audiences via satellite.

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian], TV Presenter: “Sir! What have you brought us today, what will we be discussing today? What specific points? What kind of trick for learning a language more easily?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning:“I hope I would not make it more difficult!”

Narration: TV appearances aside Pirhani also holds seminars inside and outside the country on the topic of foreign language instruction. Today Pirhani intends to teach one such seminar in Qom, one of the two centers of religious learning in the world of Shia Islam.Each year the city hosts a considerable number of foreign students from various countries of the world, eager to amerce themselves in the theological sciences.

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning: “One Question. I have a question. What should I do to strengthen my arms? Tell me what to do for that?”

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning: “Is there anyone who can speak Arabic?

Who speaks in Turkish?

Any French speakers? And you my dear, come here please, as a Persian speaker!

Say three or four Turkish words relating to arkadaş (friend) beginning with ‘g’”

Narration: Ali believes that the only possible way to develop linguistic skills like reading, writing, listening or speaking is to be good at what he calls pre-skills.

Some of these pre-skills depend on the structure of human brain such as coding, calling data to the memory while learning another language and some depend on psychological characteristics such as having self-confidence in communicating with others while talking in a foreign language.

SOUNDBITE [Persian], Dr. Ali Pirhani, Expert in Language Learning: Dears, would you please hold your chins? … Like this!!

Shake your hands like this!

Now like this!

Not like that If you don’t have self-confidence, what do you need to learn?

Body language … Sure, sure … You gave me the information and now I am passing it back to you.”

Narration: Pirhani’s life-long goal has been to instill one idea in those who wish to learn a new language that success whatever it may be lies within them and rests on their own capacity and self-knowledge. And that with smart planning and a little bit of perseverance and motivation. That’s exactly what Pirhani did him. Dr. Pirhani has the masters’ degree in International law and a PHD in teaching foreign languages. Yet he still considers himself a student in his own field. The 27 year old from Hamedan still manages to devote 3 hours a day to learning new languages despite the extensive research and teaching that consumes much of his time and in the spirit of Avicenna he continues to do so to this day.


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