Monthly Archives: November 2015

A credible plan for learning to read

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”

Stressed out about stress?

(With that kind of title, this post can only get better, right?)

This post will explain how word stress works in Dari. Stress has to do with emphasis on syllables. In English, if you rejéct someone, they become a réject.  If you convért somebody, they become a cónvert. If you you want to protést something, you may attend a prótest. Stress can change when you add bits to the word, like how gýrate become gyrátion. When people get the stress wrong, it makes it really hard to understand them.

In Dari, as in English, verbs work different from every other kind of word. This post will give you the rules.

Everything except verbs

The rule is: stress goes on the last syllable of the word. Examples:

  • [kɛtʌ́b] book
  • [afɣʌnɛstʌ́n] Afghanistan
  • [kɛlíd] key
  • [kʌmpjutár] computer
  • [tɛrmʊ́z] thermos

There are two systematic exceptions. The exceptions are two suffixes that never ever take stress.

The first is the ezafa marker, the handy little vowel that can seemingly join any two words:

  • [séb-ɛ sʊ́rx] red apple (NOT [seb-ɛ́ sʊ́rx])
  • [ʊtʌ́q-ɛ kalʌ́n] large room (NOT [ʊtʌq-ɛ́ kalʌ́n])
  • [ʊtʌ́q-ɛ sʊ́rx-ɛ kalʌ́n] large red room

The second suffix is the indefinite marker, the suffix that turns ‘man’ into ‘a man.’

  • [márd-e ʌ́mad] a man came (NOT [mard-é ʌ́mad])


For verbs with prefixes the stress goes on the first syllable. (The prefix will either be [me], [na], or [b].) Here are some examples:

  • [mé-r-ʊm] I’m going
  • [mé-raft-ʊm] I was going
  • [ná-raft-ʊm] I didn’t go
  • [ná-me-r-ʊm] I’m not going
  • [ná-me-raft-ʊm] I wasn’t going
  • [mé-xʌj-ʊm bʊ́-r-ʊm] I want to go

For verbs without prefixes, the stress goes on the last syllable of the root—i.e., not on the suffix.

  • [ráft-ʊm] I went
  • [ʌmád-ʊm] I came
  • [fʊrúxt-ʊm] I sold
  • [fahmíd-ʊm] I knew

The only exception is the perfect (“I had gone”), where the stress goes at the end. You must have learned about this when you learned about the perfect, but I don’t blame you for forgetting about it. Often the only difference between a present and a perfect is that the stress is at the end.

  • [raftém] I have gone
  • [raftá] s/he has gone

One wrinkle is that participles count as non-verbs: the stress goes on the end.

  • [raftá búdʊm] I had gone
  • [darwʌzá ra bastá kadá ráftʊm] I closed the door and left


If you want to speak clearly and have a less obnoxious accent, you need to pay attention to stress. Find a recording of a Dari speaker—or make one—and listen to where the stress go. Now record yourself saying the same things. Do you put the stress in the right place? If not, talk to a teacher about it.


There are weird little exceptions to these rules, but this covers 99.9% of the words. You don’t need to worry about the nitty-gritty, like how [bʌ́jad] and [ʃʌ́jad] have a verb-like stress pattern because they’re originally from the verbs [bʌjɛstan] ‘to have to’ and [ʃʌjɛstan] ‘to be proper.’ You may need to worry about dialectal variation. Stress can vary somewhat from location to location in Afghanistan.