In this post I want to suggest a plan for learning to read independently, based on the materials that LCP has produced.
Excursus: I want to acknowledge that LCP has placed a lot of emphasis on learning to read and write in this space (and in the resources that we’ve developed). Learning to read is only one part of learning Dari, and it is not even an essential part of it. The recent emphasis on reading has come about because 1) previously there were few resources for learning to read, so we’re making up for that, 2) the lack of resources contributed to an incorrect perception that learning to read was only for advanced learners, and 3) learning to read has helped me a great deal personally, and I think it will help others as well. But none of this is to say that you have to learn to read.
We need to begin with a vision of what you want to achieve. This is how I would define success in being able to read: “I will be able to read any Dari text, looking up only words that I do not know, and hesitating only over complex grammar.”
Note that having to look up new words is still part of being a mature reader. I still look up words in my native language!
Stage 1: Learning the basics
The first step is to learn how reading and writing works. There are three routes.
- The guided tour: get the Let’s Become Literate books from LCP. Go through those books along with A workbook for reading and writing Dari with a teacher, finishing in about 10 weeks. You might want to read A guide for expatriates learning to read Dari to get the big picture.
- Roughing it: Read A guide for expatriates learning to read Dari for the big picture. Get the Let’s Become Literate books from LOP, and plough through it yourself. Ask you chaokidar for help if you need it.
- The rugged individualist: Get the Let’s Become Literate books from LOP. Figure it out. (Not recommended unless that’s the sort of thing you enjoy!)
Your goal at this stage is to be able to make sense of its spelling. You need to be able to look معروف and understand how that is a possible spelling for [maruf] ‘famous.’ You also want to be aware of some of the differences between the spoken and written forms.
Don’t get lost at this stage. Many people get bogged down in the final pages of Let’s Become Literate, but those are actually the least important letters (i.e., the ones you see least often in print). If you get stuck there, move on to Stage 2 to shake things up.
Stage 2: Developing fluency
Your goal at this point it to start recognizing whole words. You want to see frequent words like شما [ʃʊmʌ] and recognize them immediately. You should start to be able to recognize verb endings without having to think too much about them. This stage might be no more than reading over the Let’s Become Literate books over and over. You might want to move on to short passages that are familiar to you, such as LCP’s fairy tales, or other familiar texts.
Don’t worry if you’re still struggling over the weird infrequent letters. They will come with practice.
You’re ready to move on to this stage when reading the same passages over and over is easy enough to become boring. When you feel that your lack of vocabulary is the limiting factor in your reading, you’re ready to move on.
Stage 3: Building vocabulary with guided texts
At this point you need to overcome your limited vocabulary. It’s amazing how many more words there are than the ones you hear and use in the course of your day. It’s also far easier to miss new words in speech than it is on the printed page. All of this means that learning to read will be a nasty reality check.
What you want to do at this stage is to learn a lot of new vocabulary. Working with a set of flashcards that are based on Dari (or Persian) script is one way to do that. You could also just print off some text that you think would be interesting, and go through it with a dictionary, but looking up words really slows you down. A good intermediate is to use a collection of interlinear texts—such as the LCP News Collection—which expose you to a lot of new vocabulary without the hassle of looking them up in the dictionary.
Stage 4: Into the wild
Once you’ve got a reasonable base of vocabulary, you’re ready to move into the wide world of texts. Striking out on your own doesn’t mean that reading will be easy, but it should mean that your limitations are your knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, rather than your ability to read. That is, ultimately your time spent learning will become pure language learning time. You’ve arrived at the beginning. 😉
Forming a reading group
I suggest forming a reading group—a weekly gathering of two or more people at different-but-similar reading levels. I have been involved in several, and it has always been an enriching experience—and it’s resulted in me reading more Dari than I would have. The best groups I’ve been a part of have involved each person reading the same short passage ahead of time, looking up words, and then coming together to read it again together and discuss it. Since no one is at exactly the same level, more advanced people need to be patient and helpful, and less advanced people need to be patient with themselves and willing to ask questions. There is an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”