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Welcome to the Language & Culture Programme

LCP is a programme of the International Assistance Mission, serving expatriates who wish to learn the languages of Afghanistan. The purpose of this site is to make language learning materials more widely available. To that end, we aim to provide the following types of resources.

  • Online Resources. These resources, available exclusively through this web site, are completely free to download and to use.
  • External Resources. This is a select list of books and web sites that are useful to students of Dari and Pashtu.

LCP is also best known in Afghanistan for providing language lessons. You can also find information about scheduling individual and group lessons, at the above link.

A wealth of cultural material

I’ve only just discovered the Packard Foundation’s online collection of Persian texts in English. There’s quite a large number of classic Persian texts in English translation. The translations are older—just public-domain stuff—so they’ll be a little more difficult to modern ears. There are lots of translations of Persian historical documents, like the Memoirs of Humayun, the Baburnama, and the Akbarnama—you’ll appreciate your next trip to Delhi much more for having read them. There are also classics of Persian literature, like the Shahnama, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the story of Laili and Majnun, the Diwan of Hafiz (in several translations), and many others.

 

The Wikipedia Vocabulary Flood

Do you need a lot of new vocabulary about a specific topic? Then this is the post for you.

We live in remarkable times. Wikipedia provides an incredible amount of free information, and in various languages. Farsi Wikipedia has more than 250,000 articles. (Pashto Wikipedia has more than 1,000 articles—not as many as for Farsi, but certainly more than you can read!) My experience of the Farsi Wikipedia is that the text is very high quality—no typographical mistakes or grammatical mistakes. If you want to get a lot of vocabulary about a particular subject, Wikipedia is a great place to start.

Here’s the procedure:

  1. Find your topic using English Wikipedia (or your native language Wikipedia). Then look on the left side of the screen under “Languages”. Click on the link that says “فارسی” (alphabetized under “F”).
    • If you don’t see “فارسی”, then there’s no Farsi equivalent. Try looking under a more general subject—like “Economics” instead of “Inflation”.
  2. Zoom in! Try Ctrl-Plus, or holding down Ctrl and using your mouse wheel. Make it large enough that you can read the words without difficulty.
  3. Open up your flashcard program, or at least a Word document to record your new words. I recommend using Anki for flashcards.
  4. Start reading the text. Look up every word you don’t know in the dictionary. Copy/paste it into your flashcards, or your vocabulary list. Work through the grammar as well as you can.
  5. Stop when it gets too much—maybe after a paragraph or two?
  6. Review the vocabulary using your usual methods.
  7. Once you’ve got the vocabulary down, you may want to discuss the grammar with a teacher.

This will produce a lot of new vocabulary. I got 28 new words from a three-paragraph text!

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This is an activity for people who can read. You’ll probably need to be decent at figuring out the meaning of sentences for this to work. For instance, you need to be the kind of person who could learn from the LCP News Collection.

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So we’ve solved the “not enough new words” problem. Are they the right words?

Are they, for instance, too Iranian? Well, as I’ve commented before, it’s impractical to try to filter out Iranian words before you’ve learned them and listened for a while. I am more convinced of this than ever. I initially learned the word [bʌk] باک because it occurred in a 13th century Rumi  poem. Does that seem like it would be a useful word? Within a few weeks I heard it used in the lunchtime conversation.

Remember also that we’re trying to break the ice and get at some new words. People in your life are using simple words with you because they know your Dari is weak. Your co-workers are not going to be a good source of new words. You’ve got to look elsewhere.

Finally, keep in mind that the differences between Iranian Farsi and Afghan Dari are much less pronounced when you get to “higher” topics. Do you think Afghans and Iranians have different words for the chess pieces? (Spoiler: no, they don’t.)

So get out there and take advantage of Wikipedia. It’s an all-you-can-memorize vocabulary buffet!

Breaking out of your vocabulary box

This isn’t an easy blog post to write.

The truth is: we all know you’re faking it.

You can speak fluently enough, but we can all tell it’s just the same hundred words over and over.

We all know that you can get by with people who know you, but that things drop off pretty quickly outside the office. It’s no secret that a lot of what people say goes right over your head.


Okay, sorry to aggravate your impostor syndrome. That post is written to everyone, because it’s something that everyone struggles with. We’ve all got limited vocabularies. We try to work around the, but we’re stuck speaking foreigner-speak. As someone put it to me a few years ago, “We don’t really speak Dari, we speak Glassman”—referring to the grammar book and vocabulary list that for years defined IAM’s Dari curriculum.

What can we do about it?

You’ve got to break things up. You’ve got to find new words: try to understand things you haven’t understood before, try to learn things you haven’t learned before.

But wait, you say: I don’t have a problem finding new words. It’s mostly just a mass of unknown words!

Exactly right. And what will happen if you try to get new words in a conversation with your language teacher? In one ear and out the other. Next week, you’re right back to where you started.

To solve this, you’ve got to work from new texts—something that you can record and listen to, or re-read later. Maybe you’ve already got a text that would be useful, or maybe you’ve got to create a new one; any text will do, or anything else as long as it doesn’t go away. If you study the words with flashcards as well, so much the better; otherwise, you can study by listening to or reading your text.

If you have a text relevant to your life or work, that’s ideal: perhaps curriculum from your project, or a translated policy. That’s the raw material for your language lesson. Look up those words in the dictionary, talk about it with a teacher, in short: massage the text. It’ll be immediately relevant.

If there’s no obvious text for you to work with, then you’ve got to find something new. This can be written text, a TV show, a recording from the radio, a story that you record from your teacher or a friend (or a stranger!). Next post will suggest a way to get new vocabulary from that fount of all knowledge: Wikipedia!