Presenting Leyla Shams: A Story Of An Iranian-Preneur (11)

Whenever someone asks me if I speak Farsi, I wish I could say “100% yes!”. Unfortunately, I am not fluent in Farsi. I speak Azeri, which is obviously also cool, however, most Iranians speak Farsi.

And so, when I came across this company, Chai & Conversation, I was excited to see something that I could use. They are the only free online resource made exclusively for those wanting to learn conversational Persian via online podcasts. 

Happy to share my interview with Leyla Shams, the Founder of Chai & Conversation.

leyla shams

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1. What is your business – what do you offer?

Learn Persian with Chai and Conversation- it’s a podcast for learning conversational Persian. If you’ve ever tried to find learning materials for the Persian language, you’ll notice that there’s a real lack there. Also, I think one of the challenges is that written Persian is so different from spoken Persian, and most sources want to teach ‘correct Persian,’ which is not the kind you most often hear in conversation. What we offer is that we’re the only source that teaches purely conversational Persian- the kind you’ll hear in every day talk. And we teach it in a very enjoyable and effective podcast, which is accessible to everyone.

2. Why did you start your business? What interested you/encouraged you?

A few things- first of all, I had a five year degree in architecture, and I was working for an architectural firm, but actually very interested in public radio and journalism. I felt like maybe that was my passion. I considered going back to school and getting a degree in journalism and starting a career in public radio. But, after noticing the popularity of podcasts, I decided to instead try making my own ‘radio program’ in a topic I was very passionate about- the Persian language. Iran had been in the news a lot during that period, and I felt like tensions between Iran and the United States were at an all time high. I thought one of the ways I could contribute was to make an easy and accessible source for learning the Persian language, as a way to lessen the misunderstanding between cultures. I believe that language is one of best ways to truly understand a culture. So, this podcast is a result of these two passions- public radio meets culture.

3. What were some challenges you faced? 

At first, it was difficult to find a partner for the project. The format is of me teaching a person the Persian language, and at first it was difficult to find that person. I went through three different people before finding Matt Bourneuf, who is the husband of my former coworker Ladan. He’s reliable, has a great voice for radio, is passionate about Iranian culture, and loves to learn new things. So once I found him, the project was on its way.
The second challenge was to find time to devote to the project. It’s hard when a side project takes off, and you have limited time to work on it. A few months ago, I added a third person to the team, and he has become a partner in the project. His name is Chadwick Wood, and usually he’s a web programmer, but he’s also passionate about language, culture, and business. Through this partnership, we’ve developed more structure for the project and it’s allowed me to do things I never had time for before, like creating the blog posts that have been taking off recently.

4. What are some of the recent news (events, etc)

We recently produced a blog post called ’11 Persian Expressions that Make No Sense in English’ that completely went viral, and this was quite a surprise. I had that idea one afternoon, and put a few images together, and published it before I even checked it before noticing that it had crashed our server it had been shared so many times. I learned an important lesson- always check your work BEFORE publishing, because you have no idea how many people will see it before you do!

5. Plans for your business in the upcoming year?

Together with Chadwick, we are going through all previous learning materials and adding a lot of additional information. We already have the only source for learning purely conversational Persian, and we hear from many of the listeners that it’s the best method they’ve tried. We want to continue becoming the absolute best resource out there, and to get the word out about our teaching method to reach more language lovers around the globe!


Thank you Leyla for this interview! I already started to listen to your podcasts, and they are great. :)

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