The cover of the Farsi textbook that Dr Joubin and his
students created. Photo courtesy of Dr. Rebecca Joubin

SOHAN GADE ’23 (HE/HIM), WRITER

During the 2015-2016 academic year, students in Professor Rebecca Joubin’s class (ARB 240 Accelerated Persian for Arabic Speakers) wore different hats. They were translators, teachers and writers. Together they worked on a year-long project: a Farsi textbook for prospective Davidson students.

Farsi is spoken by approximately 110 million people, mainly in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Although the language is widely spoken, Professor Joubin explained that there were not many high-quality, student-friendly Farsi textbooks available.

“When I added Farsi [to the curriculum], we were dealing with very few resources. There was really only one textbook – it’s a decent textbook – but it’s not for visual learners. There are no conjugation tables, there are no stories or creative activities,” Professor Joubin said.

The manual covered several topics of everyday life and incorporated traditional proverbs into its teaching methods, differentiating it from any other Farsi teaching resource.

“I really like proverbs and idioms,” Professor Joubin said. “One thing is to know the language, but if you don’t know the culture, you don’t really have the cultural cues when you go abroad.”

Recognizing this opportunity, the class embarked on the monumental task of providing future Farsi learners with a better textbook. In doing so, each student enrolled in the course wrote a few chapters on their own behalf and also contributed to the chapters of their classmates. Austin Gray ’16 was one of the writers with three chapters to his name.

“I had chapters on food, travel and maybe medicine. All of the subjects are very dear to me and which I was happy to put my passion into to flesh out the content in an engaging way for prospective students,” said Gray.

Gray also explained a unique problem he encountered during the writing process: playing the role of a student and a teacher at the same time.

“I found it much more difficult than expected to transition from a student’s perspective to a teacher’s perspective, such as writing grammar and vocabulary exercises for the textbook,” Gray said.

Alex Soltany ’18 also worked on the textbook as a sophomore and wrote two chapters on his behalf.

“I wrote a chapter “Vacations and travels” as well as an appendix on colloquial Persian. I showed an interest in writing [a section on] colloquial Persian, as I was used to the more informal conversational form spoken by my family,” Soltany wrote via email.

Soltany, who is of Persian descent, was a self-designed interdisciplinary Middle Eastern studies major. He explained that the course allowed him to establish a stronger connection with his culture.

“Even though I had a working understanding of Persian, it always bothered me that I was not fluent. My parents briefly enrolled me in a Farsi school on the weekends when I was a child, but they took me out after just a few weeks. I thought I wouldn’t get another chance to formally learn the language of my cultural background. Attending Dr. Joubin’s crash course in Persian during my second year gave me such an opportunity,” Soltany wrote.

Professor Joubin praised the wide variety of disciplines, career paths and academic interests of the students. Regarding the writing of the manual, she pointed out that no particular way of thinking was the right one.

“They were able to bring their own perspectives because they were all from different departments. There were studies on the Middle East, economics, art history, [and more]said Professor Joubin. “[One student is currently in] medical school, one of the students recently graduated from business school, one of the students works in a bank, and two are currently pursuing doctoral programs, one in art history and the other in religion. They all do completely different things. ”

The manual is used by Professor Joubin’s current Farsi lessons. Josef Milstein ’22 expressed his appreciation for the manual’s ability to cater to different learning styles and provide cultural exploration.

“This Farsi textbook incorporates significant cultural anecdotes, memorable Persian sayings, contextualized vocabulary, and plenty of helpful illustrations to enhance our understanding,” Milstein said.

Milstein also praised his teacher and the great learning experiences he had while teaching Davidson Farsi.

“Dr. Joubin is an absolute treasure who always guides his students. Farsi holds a particularly special place in his heart, and although the course is fast-paced and challenging, it is undoubtedly one of Davidson’s best,” said said Milstein.