I don’t have the best hearing. I’ve always been just ever-so-slightly deaf. Not deaf enough for it to really matter (i.e., I don’t wear a hearing aid and medically, I don’t need one), but my hearing is such that I frequently mishear words and sound quite stupid upon repeating them.
So it should not really be a surprise that for most of my childhood, I mistakenly thought the Persian word for cantaloupe, “kharbozeh,” was pronounced “khargoozeh.”
So I pronounced it “khargoozeh” without really thinking about it until, at perhaps nine or ten years of age, I said it quite loudly in a Persian supermarket, in the presence of lots of proper Iranian ladies. Apparently my half-yelling, “Maman, can we buy some ‘khargoozeh’?” across the little produce section actually meant, “Mom, can we buy some donkey farts?”
Obviously, I blame my parents for this. True, I have bad hearing. But clearly, they must have been horrible listeners. Why else would they have let a crucial misnomer like this slide for years and years, quite literally?
Of course, from this experience and many others like it, I am extremely paranoid about making mistakes like this now. It’s a detriment to my Farsi language skills to be self-conscious about speaking Farsi, to be sure, but I’m far too old - and surrounded by far too many smart Iranians - ever to play off an error like that as cute. In fact, I think it is a huge liability to speak incorrectly when, for instance, I am interviewing someone and it’s important that they take my questions (and me) seriously, and that our conversation is natural.
So, what do you think? Is it better to make horrible mistakes in a professional capacity, as one perfects one’s mother-tongue? Or is it wiser to speak English, even in interviews with Iranians, which most subjects understand but which definitely does not yield the best answers from them because their best language is Farsi. I’m partial to the former approach, if only because it’s a question of access to certain subjects, and lately, the former has become my modus operandi because my Farsi is only going to get worse if I don’t use it. But I am curious about how other people would approach this issue, and if the poor Farsi is forgivable as long as the interviewer is trying.
(cross-posted on sepidehsaremi.com)
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