Steps to Learning a New Language

Taking on a new language can be very difficult. If there is one word to describe the feeling, the word “frustrating” comes to my mind. This is especially true when you are giving yourself a time frame to learn and grasp the basics of the language. Now, of course there are plenty of books and Youtube videos available that preach various techniques on how to learn a language. However, one important aspect of language learning is often forgotten, which is:

/// We learn best when we are not under pressure or stress.

That is to say, our brains are generally more receptive to new thoughts and ideas when there is peace of mind. I will give you an example. Last year, around this time, I decided to seriously try to learn another language. I have an interest in languages, cultures, behaviours, rather than mathematics and fields of that nature. So, since I live in a bilingual country, in the “Great White North”, being Canada, I dedicated my time and effort to learning French.

At first, I did not like it. It was becoming more and more frustrating as I had to start from scratch. I began translating almost every word from French to English using the website Google Translate. But I also noticed that as I kept translating 10-20 words a day, I was retaining very few of the very words I had studied only a day before. This made me feel more frustrated and stupid.

HOWEVER, I kept reminding myself of the fact that I speak another language since childhood (my mother-tongue) besides English and I only learned its grammar at the age of 17. More importantly, I remembered how I gave up studying it, even though I was receiving free tutoring from my father. I remembered how frustrated and hopeless I had felt.Yet, I still pushed through, and within a few years, I had learned to read and write in my native language.

The point I would like to emphasize is that it WAS a long process. Contrary to popular belief, there is not such thing as learning a language in a course in 6 months, unless you are a savant. The fact is, it takes plenty of patience, dedication, but also lowered expectations and the elimination timetables to learn a language.

So, with all that in mind, one must know that there are three phases of language learning:

1) Grammar Learning Phase – One must learning the very basic vocabulary of a language. Try to learn enough without pressuring yourself. This means, you may learn 10 -15 words in one day, but you should NOT try to learn another 10 -15 the next day. The reason is simple: our brains are not bags you stuff things into. Think of words like concrete, but before it dries. You need the words to dry before you coat another layer of concrete along the way. Once it dries, then it sticks.

2) Listening Practice Phase – The transition to this phase is probably the most difficult. This is especially true if you are learning a language that does not pronounce every letter in each word, like French, for example. This is something I had trouble with for some time as I became well capable of reading news articles in French, yet unable to listen to the news in French. Therefore, in this case, I realized, it is okay if you do not understand everything. Just be persistent and confident in yourself and bare in mind that even when you think you are not comprehending everything that is spoken, your brain is still adapting itself to the language subconsciously. I will give you an example. I began to watch a French talk show where I could barely understand anything that was said, and everybody seemed to speak very fast and incomprehensible to me. Then, I went back to listening to more basic and slower-paced conversations, and I understood the normal-paced conversations a lot better. I had noticed that my brain had worked faster and much more quickly at defining meaning, among other things. So, listen and listen often!

3) Speaking Practice Phase – This phase is difficult but has less to do with knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure, and more to do with confidence. If you are at this phase of your language learning, be aware that making mistakes will not get you in jail. So, there is no harm in trying. If you are too shy, or fear that your friends you speak to in that language will judge you or make fun of you, then try other techniques. If you do not know anyone who also speaks the language you are trying to learn, then try “acting” in front of the mirror when you are alone as the interviewer and the interviewed. This is a great exercise as you are not under any pressure to be 100% correct, and more importantly, you can be creative!

For example, you can act as though you are an actor or an actress in a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, and you are asked simple questions like: “How did you like working on this film?” Then, you can try to use basic words or phrases that you have learned to explain basic concepts.

Be imaginative! It is the only way one can learn new things and become open-minded. So, never pressure yourself, enjoy the process, and be sure that you WILL improve!

One Country, Two Nations – Iran and Modernity.

I believe that like an individual, an entire nation can have a low self-regard or low self-esteem. But, like so many personalities, the complexities reach its peak, when talking about a nation. The nation I would like to discuss here is the nation of Iran.

To attempt to talk about Iran, even of one particular aspect of this ancient land and culture may be inevitably futile. The reason is simple, the Iranian people are inheritors of a rich and pluralistic history with many thousands of years in profile. It is highly difficult to categorize, characterize, and to define. But in the absence of such wishful thinking, and the knowledge of the aforementioned challenge, I would like to discuss the downfall of Iranian culture, at the hands of Iranian culture, if I may. Note, I am not a scholar and this is merely my opinion.

So, what is the root of the downfall of Iranian culture? For many years, during the reign of Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, there seemed to be a glorification of nostalgia, and a remembrance of great Persian kingdoms and dynasties. This was engineered predominantly by the regime itself, but it was indicative of something inherently Persian – the passion for storytelling and glorious occasions with elements of mythological fantasy.

As one studies Persian culture and history, they will find the most powerful works of art and mesmerizing literature, from the likes of grand poets such as Ferdowsi, Rumi, and Hafez, to name a few. The beautiful Persian creativity in art and agriculture to music and dance is world renown. However, the medium to showcase this culture came to decline, during the 17th and 18th centuries,

With the gradual decline in political and economic power, particularly during the Qajar dynasty, more and more of Persian aristocracy found solace in other cultures. As this exposition to European culture increasingly grew stronger, it became more prestigious for the Persian aristocracy to say they spoke a foreign language. And, at the time, it was particularly prestigious to study abroad, and/or master the English or French language. Thus, through time, and with the consolidation of worldwide power by European cultures, the Persian culture gradually went under a veil of insecurity.

What then later came to be known as Iranian culture, as we know it today, was a culture left in fantasy, mystics, legends, and nostalgia. Today, one of the elements that has kept Iranian culture, and the nation from moving forward is predominantly its affinity for the past, and its dialogue and language, through metaphors, analogies, symbols, and all things imaginative. Contrarily, we can see quite evidently that in countries that have had political and economic superiority, a strong emphasis is put on the material world, and rationality – and thus, on realism.

These concepts are culturally foreign to Iranian society, and thus have kept the nation well-rooted, with the ability to use memories of a distant past to safeguard  against those who attempt to uproot its language and culture. The means to remember and maintain this identity is visceral – through Persian poetry, music, art, and a glorified history and taking solace in nostalgia defines the modern Persian identity.

Yet, ironically, the very same psychology of the Iranian nation that has helped preserve its Persian identity, has also entrapped it from seeking modernity in an Iranian sense and form. The society in Iran today is still longing for modernity for the wrong reasons, whether it is to return to the economic glory during the Pahlavi dynasty, or the glory days of the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great. The Iranian psyche is centred on being accepted by foreigners, hence explaining why Iranians are more welcoming to foreigners coming to Iran, than to each other.

The Iranian nation is now more than ever losing its cultural perspective for the future. One can set blame on Islamic ideology, foreign political interference, and imperialism for the decline in Iran’s cultural influence in the world, and its ability to re-innovate itself and propel itself into the future. Although, the aforementioned reasons did arguably have some influence on Persian culture, one cannot lose sight of the fact that Persian culture has in it a value system based on the past, used to preserve the present, with little to offer for the future. The religious and national values and belief system have left Iranians simply to mourn of legends, be grateful for the present, and but disregarding of the future.

In the end, with this mentality, Iranians may believe all they have is history, and all they are to be are survivors, and the rest is up to God. However, to construct a great modern nation that references past achievements is still possible, but requires a renaissance in Iranian society. It should realistically look at its current state of affairs and use Persian history and culture as a minimal source of reference for reconstructing Iran for the future.

It should be acceptable to believe that modernism is not a “Western idea” and is not contrary to Iranian cultural values and beliefs. A mentality centred more on the future of Iran is beneficial, and will not diminish the cultural legacy of Persian history, but will rather strengthen it and bring it back to prominence. If this cultural change does not occur, Iran will always remain stalled within its cultural fantasies, walking backwards into the future.

Freedom from Within

            The sense of fear is the most challenging to overcome, besides the plight of addiction. Nothing sweeps the earnest desires of joy and satisfaction like the storm of fear. Taken by this arresting and pulsating evil is the inner beauty of our souls, that bows out to any hope of sunrise spoken through the light that never dawns. There is nothing poetic about this sensation. Fear is the empty block on the road. But the shadow it carries fixates on our spirit, so as to let us know that we cannot pass through on our own. That not for a moment we should drive ourselves, we should forever seek comfort in another to do our part, or figure it best to do nothing at all.

It is fear alone that strikes and seizes this road from us to throw us away. Pain may arise, not from the fear itself, but from the costly seconds, now gone. The motives shattered, the inspirations melted, and the royal chance pulled off the throne. In our bodies, forces of blood rushed by anguish, by love, by desires, and by wishes are countered and mired, bring us to our knees and make us wish we were stronger. Yet the seconds passed, windows have shut and regrets begin to last.

But that is just the beginning. The beginning of how one can change how the weather in our minds form clouds, and how we can pull the light through between those clouds and see the sun peak into our hearts.

A Farcical Story: The Bizarre Relationship between the USA and Iran.

The bitter relationship between the United States and Iran has been agonizing to watch and live through, especially if you are suffering under economic sanctions due to this mutual animosity. During the better part of 35 years, with no official diplomatic relations, the Iranian and American governments have miraculously worked around the idea of a possibility of rekindled relations, at least in the near future.

The outrage against American foreign policy arguably began in the midst of revolutionary fervour in 1979, when a group of Iranian hardline students stormed the US embassy, and took Americans hostage. Ever since, during annual commemorations marking the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran (Nov. 4th 1979) groups of supporters of the regime, chant symbolic slogans such as “Death to America”. The United States for its part always responded with geopolitical manoeuvre along with political and economic sanctions in order to pressure the Iranian regime. 

However, the story only became interesting when a grieving and fiery United States of America, led by George W. Bush, gave Iran a taste of its own medicine, by calling it part of an “Axis of Evil”. The Iranian regime took offence, apparently since they believed that “Death to America” clearly doesn’t mean anything, since countries cannot die, and are not living things and do not have parents. But, labeling a country at once part of an “Axis of Evil”, after years and years of “Death to America” were deemed uncalled for, unjustified, and unforgivable.

So, Iran decided to ramp up it’s nuclear program, with more tenacity and research in order to protect itself from a possibility of an imminent strike by the United States. It was not a time to feel secure in Iran, because if there was one President who could by chance mistake an ‘N’ for a ‘Q’  due to a lack of ‘IQ’, not knowing the difference between Iran and Iraq, it would have been ‘W’. But, of course, in all seriousness, there were well trained, men and women with expertise, who could well advise the President, which country is Iraq on a map, which country has a nuclear weapons program, etc. And, of course, they did a great job.

The Iranian nuclear program evidently went under the radar, quite literally, after 2003. Seeing the result of Saddam Hussein’s fate, Iran slowed down its ambitions and proclaimed even more strenuously that its nuclear program was merely for ‘peaceful purposes’. The Iranian government has played an almost purposely ambiguous role in trying to extend ‘talks’ and meanwhile use this latest ‘argument’ (like a divorced couple) to settle some issues, and maybe see their mutual interests and quite faintly but possibly rekindle a relationship.

The US government for its part, does not mind ‘negotiating’ to settle past disputes with Iran, so long as the Iranian government does not say one thing and do another. Now, you see why it looks like marriage counselling? Iran’s government wants financial security, and stability, while the US wants Iran to stop talking behind its back and acting all tough. They also have relatives, called senators and congressmen (USA), and Members of Parliament (Iran), who are still bitter about every little thing the other party has ever done! So, even if the relationship is rekindled, it would be rocky and at best spiteful.

Then, what is Iran doing in the meantime? The Iranian leaders are trying to figure out a way to sell a novel idea to their most hardline supporters, which is, to cooperate with the USA in some matters of foreign policy and other issues in a conservative and pragmatic manner, may not be a bad thing. It is difficult to do that, hence the reason why there has been ‘no deal’ struck, and it is yet again postponed to July 2015.

It is quite clear what the dilemma is for Iran: The government is well aware that it thrives on political tension and economic disarray in order to survive since the people would constantly live in fear and need. But that is not the problem. Iran’s regime has implemented and maintained this status, and managed quite magnificently since its inception. The issue is that Iran now wants to alter this strategy, and wants to become a more economically friendly and politically cooperative country with especially Western states. These relations may certainly not occur immediately with the United States for example, but Iran has shown interest in ameliorating its relations with Western countries. Iranian President Hassan Rowhani actually met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in September 2014, the first of any official meetings between the two countries after 1979.

Thus, Iran is buying time, not necessarily to build a nuclear bomb as is the propagated rhetoric these days, but to warm up the hearts of those hardline elements within the Iranian regime that are still cold and bitter about anything and everything. It is the current Rowhani administration’s mission to ease the tensions by continuously extending the talks, in order to prove that cooperation and peaceful dialogue is possible. But, Rowhani also needs President Barack Obama’s help. This would lead to more necessary cooperation. 

With the terror of ISIS in Iraqi and Syrian land, Iran is showing its power and military might be joining in airstrikes against ISIS targets. This, in effect, has helped Iran show its ‘stance to fight against extremism’ and to cooperate, however unofficial and isolated it may be, along with other Western states who have joined in the same fight. This display of Iranian military power has allowed Iran to present itself once again as a force, but a force that fights ‘evil’. It cannot thus, be part of any axis of evil, but part of a coalition that fights extremism, opts for dialogue and cooperation, with all countries.

At least, that’s the image Iran wants to sell. We just have to see who’s buying it… 

Life is a Ship

Life is a ship that sails. It begins off the docks at your first moments of life, and moves forward with no map. For the first few years, there seems to be no ship, and no sea. One may feel lost and confused, and merely at the mercy of others. But it is in fact true that we sail along, at first, unaware of anything, and anyone. Our destiny is primarily determined by our initial experiences, through the captains of our ship, our parents.

Through powerful winds of change, and numerous storms, our parents teach us how to navigate, so we hope; how to manage, and cope. It is their experiences that we trust. No choice, we tell ourselves, we must. Then we learn of the patterns, and we learn of random events that shake everything around us, and bring discord.

We try to seek for ways to bring stability, to read a map with superb ability. To bring about a passage, to bring an end to fragility. It is I that learned to captain this ship, it is I that knows the meaning of hardship. I sought my parents for help find my way. Soon I realized, their path was routed to this route, to this day. I was the result of my experience, my parents’ intuition and their lack of experience.

I am in awe. Of what’s gone thus far, Sometimes I wish I foresaw. But it wouldn’t be life, would it? …If we already knew the draw.

So we sail along, and sail along. It doesn’t really matter if we’re right or wrong. The experience is the destination, and the rest remains in our imagination. Because, life is a ship that sails. Love the sea, love the ship, and you won’t fail.

“Hello and Goodbye” [poem]

The air is brisk cold. The polarity is wide. Wisdom is scarce, and disparity on the rise.

An age passes in a year. Some shed for the masses a tear. Yet nothing seems to change, little within our grasp, little within range. Holding a wish for eternity. Hoping it breeds fraternity.

Wealth holds sway, the power to persuades us, while dreams stand idle or seem to evade us. Passion is used to dissuade us. Often forgetting about ourselves in the present, and what made us.

Change comes within, they say. Work hard and the world will be yours one day. It’s true. We fought together one day, you and I. There were no worries of truths or lies. We took pleasure a midst our hellos and goodbyes.

We stood united, we fell divided, but we never gave in to power. Now, we are concerned with what we can sell by the hour.

But what is a world together, without you and I. What is a world at all without a hello and goodbye?

Legal Procedure in VAW Cases: Where does the law stand?

Violence against women is a serious issue all around the world that must be dealt with full force and careful analysis. It is difficult to uphold a legal balance when a man is accused of an abhorrent act such as violence toward a woman, sexual or otherwise. Such cases must be carefully investigated, and individuals proven guilty of such heinous crimes must be kept from committing these acts of violence ever again.

Due to the history of violence against women and the inequality between the genders, we have established a “compensation-based” legal system. This means that we are living in an age where our legal/judicial system constantly attempts to “amend” or make amendments to laws once bred systemic acts of violence to women, religious/ethnic minorities, and homosexuals. All these attempts and intentions for equalizing our rights as individuals and citizens of society are well and correct. However, from a legal point of view, as long as our justice system provides legal context merely for amending its historical neglect and past mistakes, it cannot provide a truly equal society for all.

I would like to discuss one particular pillar of our justice system that acts as the vehicle to safeguard our rights and preserve our equality before the law. This would be the fundamental principle that we are all “innocent until proven guilty”. Now, in our judicial system it is important to be mindful of its true meaning. What this principle provides us is the right of an accused to due process and legal procedure, wherein the accused must defend the allegations brought against him or her, but more importantly, it is incumbent on the prosecution to prove the accused as guilty of the charges. These are procedures in our legal system we have used for many years in order to give a fair and unbiased judgment based on evidence provided.

The legal system we have today however, with all the procedures and functions of our constitution and our amended individual rights,  in my view, is still flawed. For example, there are some cases where law and reason are apprehended by public sentiments and expectations of the law to keep its vow to compensate for historical neglect and “legal-malpractice” against oppressed women and minorities. What the law needs is an unbiased point of view, clearly. But today, due to our justified sensitivities and historical baggage regarding such topics as violence towards women, the law seems to be inept in properly dealing with and assisting accusing parties of rape, while properly protecting the rights of the accused of such serious allegations.

With the advent of the age of social media and easily accessible information circulation, the law has taken a back seat in properly addressing these serious matters. When an individual is accused of a crime, he or she is accused yet “innocent until proven guilty”. But in matters of rape and violence against women, due to the sensitivity of the matter, the law seems to retreat and thus the accused becomes “guilty until proven innocent”. I say the law retreats because it allows for anyone to accuse an individual of such serious allegations, without protection of the accuser or the accused in this matter.

There have been numerous cases where women have been too intimidated to go to the police to report matters of sexual violence, and many have looked for alternative channels, such as the media. The law must directly provide mechanisms and programs for police to follow to make women more comfortable in seeking the police in the advent of such horrific incidents. This neglect by the law also neglects the accused, since the accused has little recourse to protect his or her rights especially if the accusations are completely false and without merit. With the age of advanced communication and new age technology, one can go from “zero to hero”, or “hero to zero” in a matter of tweets.

Thus, it is incumbent upon our judicial system to devise certain procedures and policies in dealing with such allegations, considering the repercussions for the individuals involved. It is the duty of the law to be fair and balanced when dealing with arguably the most sensitive issues in society. For our judicial system to remain inactive in these circumstances is to the detriment of our justice system, and our democracy.

Although, it is a preliminary thought, I propose certain rules or regulations to be followed when encountering such sensitive issues. I hope it can help in providing a basic idea as to more complex solutions to be structured into our legal system to better protect all individuals and provide equal treatment to men and women before the law.

I propose:

1) There be a publication ban on allegations of sexual violence against an individual accused of such charges until the accused has faced the charges in a court of law and has been proven guilty in court.

2) There be better programs available to victims of sexual violence, to make it safer and more confidential when approaching the police. Since, the main obstacle to approaching the police seems to be a media backlash, again, all such allegations must be protected from media reports, until an investigation has taken place and allegations have been proven to be true.

3) As mentioned, it shall be illegal for media outlets to publish accusations of sexual violence since it is not yet proven in a court of law. Such allegations have serious consequences for all parties involved, especially the accused, and thus, the rights of all parties must be protected at all times. The repercussions would and should consist in allowing the accused to sue any media outlet that reports an allegation(s) of sexual misconduct prior to the verdict of guilt or innocence. Any interviews by media outlets of accusers should be banned until the court hears the accuser’s allegations.