I'm looking to travel to Iran and I'm wondering how much Farsi I should know to be able to get by. Can I assume most people in the cities know English ? Is the signage only in Farsi or also in Latin alphabet?

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    Calling it 'farsi' and not persian is not always popular with the speakers thereof.
    – bmargulies
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 15:38
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    'Farsi' is the Arabic word for the Persian language. Arabic has no 'p' sound.
    – bmargulies
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 18:25
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    @bmargulies: Can you quote your source for this? I don't remember meeting a single person in the country who was remotely offended by anyone calling our language Farsi instead of Parsi. In fact the latter sounds archaic unless you're on TV or something. (And nobody would say "Persian" in Farsi.)
    – user541686
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 18:40
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    I got quite the lecture from a set of linguists who were born in Iran, so I thought I was passing along a useful warning.
    – bmargulies
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 18:43
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    @bmargulies Persian is itself derived from the Greek exonym, so I don't see how it is any better or worse than Farsi.
    – choster
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 3:09

3 Answers 3


Very little.

I travelled there last year, firstly for a wedding and then two weeks exploring with @Stuart and another friend. We didn't use a tour, and went to Tehran, Shiraz, Yazd, Esfehan and Rasht, as well as some other smaller places near the Caspian.

The only confusing part was the dates - on our first train ticket it said the year was 1394 (I think it correlates to 2015 at the time), and someone had to explain that.

Otherwise it was fine. Generally people are super excited to meet you - the friendliest of almost any of the countries I've visited, many want to greet and meet you, practice their English. I was wary after other countries where often this means they want to sell you something, but Iranians were so genuine and eager to help and make sure you have a good time. The only time I felt ... odd was briefly while on the bus in the north of the country.

If you find someone who doesn't understand you, odds are a nearby person will speak some English and help out, especially younger people.

Of our group, I'd done a bit of a Farsi podcast training beforehand, but it was basically only greetings and the like, and while it was fun to say thank you and the like, English was very widespread in the main cities.

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    Brilliant. How widespread is use of the Latin alphabet, should I not bother picking up basic reading ?
    – blackbird
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 13:27
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    @silkroad: Even when you can read the alphabet, much will still be nonsense to you. That said, it's fun to be able to read the signs. Some might actually make sense. And, the alphabet is similar to Latin, in that there are only a few dozen letters, so it's not that hard to master.
    – MastaBaba
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 16:18
  • @MastaBaba I know but it would be mostly for directions, opening hours etc
    – blackbird
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 17:34
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    It's Arabic script. With joined letters, learning to sound it out is not impossible, but not trivial.
    – bmargulies
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 18:30
  • @silkroad: A couple of things I want to note: (1) I imagine (I say I imagine because I'm only a native, so I never faced this problem) it's hard to learn even the basics of the language; accent really affects understandability, and it's practically impossible for foreigners to master even after years of studying. Feel free to try, but don't get your hopes up too much. (2) Expect not to be able to communicate with older people via speaking, though I'm sure they'll be more than happy to help you by pointing at things or having their children speak with you, etc. :)
    – user541686
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 18:55

I totally agree with Mark, about how nice and helpful the people in Iran are and that many, but not most, speak good English and like to talk to you.

To answer the question about signage: I would say most of the signs important to tourists had an English translation. Road sign, street names, signs in Railway stations and at touristic sights. I'm just looking through my photos. Signs in smaller mosques and hand-made signs in Bazaars were in Farsi only. In smaller towns or the countryside you see less signs with English, but I never had any problem to get around. Many food products you may buy also have English on the label.


The English knowledge of Iranians is good enough to communicate with travelers, especially young ones. Iranians use many English words which enter the Farsi language, this helps you too I think:) and the signage for tourists are all written in English. Something that helps you very much is to gain information about our currency, the Toman and the Rial, cause you can decide better what to buy or about all your other expenses.


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