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In Oregon, 'Heritage Speakers' of Farsi Get to Learn From a Young Native

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster, Musa Nushi, a 27-year-old Iranian with a master's degree in English teaching from Tehran University.

MUSA NUSHI: "English is in high demand in Iran because lots of people are going on the Net and business is kind of booming, so they need English lots."

RS: But right now, Musa Nushi is in America, thanks to the I.I.E., the New York-based Institute of International Education. He arrived in September to spend ten months in the Persian Studies program at Portland State University in Oregon, on the West Coast.

MUSA NUSHI: "I'm a T.A. here, a teaching assistant. I'm teaching Farsi to heritage speakers of Farsi. You know, 'heritage speaker' refers to a person who knows the language through his parents but does not necessarily read or write. So I've got this class, it's a multilevel class, and I have to cater to everybody's needs. But I just love it."

RS: "Is it forcing you in one way or another to take a deeper or closer look at your own culture?"

MUSA NUSHI: "It does. You see, I've picked lots of positive points that I'm going to take back to my country. One of them is just being friendly towards your students. In Iran, authority counts a lot. You have to be very respectful and at the same time fearful of your authority.

"But this is not the case here. By just being a little bit more friendly, you can just encourage your students to do more activities. But the authority thing is a big thing in Iran. So I will like to be a little more friendly towards my students -- and it works."

RS: "So was this something that surprised you when you came into the American university system?"

MUSA NUSHI: "God, I just came here wearing a suit. I was wearing a tie. I was dressed to nine. I thought that ... [laughter]"

AA: "Dressed to the nines, meaning very formally dressed."

MUSA NUSHI: "Yes, and then I went on and I saw that I don't have to be so formal. And I've got to take some courses too. So I'm sitting in class, and the prof came in, I just automatically got up, you see? And I looked at the other guys, they're just sitting, and I wondered. And then I understood that you don't have to get up for your prof. Of course, respect is good but the point is ... "

AA: "The professor probably wondered why is that man standing?"

MUSA NUSHI: "Yes. Actually, then I came to know that it's not necessary to get up all the time when the prof comes in."

RS: "Tell us some other things that you've noticed in this first month in the United States."

AA: "And especially even about the language. What have you been learning on campus?"

MUSA NUSHI: "I don't have problems with vocabulary and things like that. I'm just getting the good phrases and writing them down. For example, 'google' something. For example, you google a name, you google an article, you google a place."

RS: "That's turning the Internet Google search engine into a verb."

MUSA NUSHI: "Yes. Another thing that I learned, 'look see' -- for example, to 'have a look see' at something. Look see means to look, or have a quick look actually, at something. So you can say, for example, 'I had a look see at the document and there was nothing wrong with it.'

"I heard the expression, 'He's sleeping with fishes.'"

RS: "He's what?"

AA: "Sleeping with fishes."

MUSA NUSHI: "Yes, it means he's dead, I guess."

AA: "I think that's sort of like Mafia slang, you know. They throw someone in the water, right? And he's sleeping with fishes."

MUSA NUSHI: "Exactly. And I got it from a movie. [laughter]"

RS: Speaking of movies, Musa Nushi says violent American films gave him the wrong impression of American life. He says he wasn't prepared for how nicely people have treated him since he arrived last month.

MUSA NUSHI: "They are helpful and help you as much as they can, and sometimes more than you expect. I mean, it's something that really surprises me. In Iran, when I was there, I couldn't ask many questions because asking too many questions means how weak you are, or that you need others. But here you can easily pose your questions, your problems, and these the good things I'm seeing."

AA: "Now can I ask you one last question?"

MUSA NUSHI: "Go ahead."

AA: "Have there been any expressions or idioms or slang that you learned, let's say from a dictionary or a book, that feel flat when you used it, meaning the person just looked at you and sort of didn't understand?"

MUSA NUSHI: "Yes. For example, the other day I used the word 'rents' for my parents. And they got ... "

RS: "'Rents instead of parents."

MUSA NUSHI: "I said, 'Well, my rents are ... ' and the guy just thought I'm talking about renting a place. [laughter]"

AA: When, in fact, he was referring to his pa-rents. Musa Nushi from Iran is spending the school year at Portland State University, through the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program of the Institute of International Education.

RS: That's Wordmaster for this week. Our e-mail address is And our segments are all on the Web at With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.