Read my original nature poems right here!

Read my original nature poems right here!

Learn Dari With Me: My Resources and Apps

When I booked my first trip to Afghanistan in 2024, I decided to try learning some Dari language in the 15 weeks before my trip. To learn Dari, I’ve found, you need some tools. Frankly, there’s not a lot of information on how to learn Dari out there on the internet. It’s a pretty tough language without many resources. As far as I can tell, you can’t walk into a library or bookstore and find Dari language books, unlike bigger languages like Spanish, French, or Arabic.

So I knew I’d need some tools on my journey. I was already casually learning Spanish (no real time set aside for it), so I was familiar with the popular apps for language learning, like Duolingo. Unfortunately, Duolingo does not offer Dari courses. Which is surprising, with some of the languages they do offer.

Anyway, Duolingo is great, but it has its flaws. For me, with my 300+ day Spanish streak, I find myself breezing through lessons and treating them as a chore. Yes, I’m learning a bit. But Duolingo serves as a fun reminder to practice Spanish, not my primary source of education. So I wasn’t too bummed that Dari isn’t available on Duolingo.

The Languages of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is home to people who speak many different languages. There are multiple prominent ethnicities there, too. Tajiks, Hazaras, Pashtuns, and Uzbeks are names I’ve come across while reading books about Afghanistan (I read some great books to prepare for my travels).

A quick Google search tells me there are over 40 languages in Afghanistan, but two are primary: Dari Persian (or Farsi) and Pashto. When I decided to learn the language of this mountainous land, I wasn’t sure which language was most appropriate.

Asking around (to my tutor and Against the Compass guides), here’s what I learned about Afghanistan’s major languages…

Dari vs. Farsi

Dari and Farsi are two names for the same Persian language, which is prominent in Iran and Afghanistan. In fact, the Farsi (or Dari as many Afghans call it) spoken in the two separate countries is the same, only accents and some vocabulary are different. I’m no expert, but perhaps it’s something similar to British English and American English. I found in some of the books about Afghanistan I’ve read, the term Farsi was used often, and many Afghans continue to call their official language this historically Persian word.

Confirmed! Dari vs Farsi

According to my Dari tutor, the differences between Dari and Farsi are similar to American English versus British English. He’s a native Dari speaker who lives in Kandahar, Afghanistan. For me, this is reassuring. There are many more resources online for learning Farsi, and when I’m looking for something in Dari, I usually find more Farsi resources.

This article from 2017 paints a picture of some of the tensions and historical complexities around the different names for Dari/Farsi.

In my favorite language-learning app, italki, both Dari and Persian (Farsi) are offered. Clicking either one, you’ll see some of the same teachers. As far as I can tell, they’re mostly interchangeable. Always look for a tutor who is familiar with the place you’re traveling to!

Pashto

Well, what about Pashto? Pashto is another prominent language of Afghanistan spoken by ethnic Pashtuns, who (as far as I can tell) mostly dwell in the southern and eastern regions of the country. When I was planning my trip, I was told (by my Afghan italki tutor and my ATC tour guide) that Dari was the safer language to learn. Pashto is an entirely different language than Dari or Farsi. I’d be in the northern areas of Afghanistan, and many Pashtun people also speak Dari, since it’s the official language of the country.

Maybe next time, Pashto.

A Bamyan sunset, by Farid Ershad

The Best Advice I’ve Received

When I started studying with a Mexican Spanish teacher on italki, he told me a very worthwhile piece of advice: when you begin learning a language, you are like a baby. Babies learn languages by listening, speaking sounds, and lots more listening. He told me not to write, not to read. These slow you down, confuse you, and (most importantly), they do not give you an ear for the language.

What happens when you don’t have an ear for the language?

You can’t follow conversations. Or listen and respond. You can’t communicate when you don’t begin like a baby.

I’m a big reader, and I love writing. Writing helps me memorize things. I’ve spend lots of time in my journey to learn Dari writing English phonetics (Dari words spelled in English letters) of Dari words.

But the most important thing you can do when learning a new language isn’t to read and write. “Don’t read at all!” he told me.

His guidance is backed up by this Language Learning Roadmap by Dreaming in Spanish (a very useful document for determining where you’re starting with a language). This professional, trusted guide in the language-learning world doesn’t recommend reading until you have over 600 hours of language practice under your belt.

In short, listen to Dari as you’re learning it. Nay, listen to Dari to learn it.

To learn Dari and be able to speak to the people I meet in Afghanistan, I won’t be focusing on its beautiful alphabet at all.

That’s a bit of relief, isn’t it?

Shrinks the language down to just the sounds and the meanings.

That’s how I’m being taught to learn Dari.

I’m going to break it down for you.

The Best Apps to Learn Dari

I’m using the word “apps” because it’s most appropriate, but this list is comprised of resources I’m using to learn Dari. If needed, I’ll update them throughout my journey–and hopefully it’s a long journey! I guess it all depends on how much I enjoy visiting Afghanistan. If I never ever ever want to go back, I may move on from Dari and perhaps focus on Farsi (because of the deep literature and poetry in Persian culture). But Afghanistan is full of mountains, and I love mountains, so I think Dari and I are beginning a long walk together. We’ll see.

Here is my Dari language stack, AKA everything I’m using to learn Dari…

1. italki

italki is a language learning site and app that boasts this tagline: Become fluent in any language.

And so far, I believe it.

italki is full of rock star tutors who want to help people learn languages. There must be hundreds of highly rated, professional tutors on this app & website! They have introduction videos, a bio & qualifications, and open inboxes where you can ask questions. You can even take some trial lessons with tutors, risk free.

I’ve already spent hours on italki with my Dari tutor, Ahmad. He’s a teacher by trade and tutors students around the world in Dari, Pashto, Farsi, and English.

italki is easy to use and navigate, I really enjoy just browsing the app for new language teachers.

italki is good for babies

Well, not literal babies. But did you read the above section, about the best advice I’ve been given for learning new languages? Become like a baby and listen, listen, and listen some more! Immerse yourself in the sounds of the language. italki gives you that opportunity. By connecting you with a native speaker, italki gives you direct access to real, local dialogue. With a language like Dari, a native tutor is essential.

Learning Dari with italki

There are two huge benefits to using italki to learn Dari: affordability and accessibility. The app has a very clean user interface and performs very well. I’d say it’s the perfect tutoring app, and I wish I’d found it sooner. I’m quite sure I’ll use it for more languages, too, not just Dari. Exploring the app is like walking through a brightly lit store of knowledge and treasures!

Affordability

Because Dari is a language that is spoken in Afghanistan, it doesn’t cost much money to learn it. The cost of living in Afghanistan is very low, so a little goes a long way. You’ll notice on italki that Spanish and French teachers with similar credentials and experience (and reviews) charge much more than Dari teachers. My 60 minute Dari lessons are $10 per lesson, so $10 per hour. My Spanish tutor, on the other hand, charges $16 per hour. If I spend 1,000 hours studying these languages, I’ll have spent $10,000 on Dari and $16,000 on Spanish.

Is it expensive to learn Farsi or Dari?

That’s an interesting question. I think yes, it is expensive to learn a new language. To learn it well, at least. Remember, listening is the most important piece of the puzzle.

I think Dari requires a teacher. There just aren’t that many resources online, but there are great tutoring and learning apps. It might take someone 1,000 hours to become proficient in a language enough to hold a conversation well. That’s a lot of hours! At my current rate of 8 hours per week, it will take me nearly two and half years to reach proficiency. That’s about a $10,000 investment!

However, if you’re simply taking a trip or want to learn enough of a new language to ask where the bathroom is, or how you can find your hotel, I think just a few weeks of learning will get you there.

Accessibility

Dari is a language without many online resources. If you’re a native English speaker, or European, Dari is likely an incredibly strange (and beautiful) language to you. It’s musical, it uses an Perso-Arabic alphabet script, and much of the translations are not obvious. There are many underlying religious themes to basic phrases (like Salaam Alaykum and khoda hafez, or hello and goodbye). Indeed, many of the early phrases I’ve learned in Dari for greeting are not as simple as hello and how are you?

I’m convinced you need a teacher to learn Dari (or Farsi). With italki, you’ll find many teachers with thousands of ratings and reviews, and number of classes taught. Their profiles even list how many students they’ve worked with.

Finally, italki knows how to find you the perfect tutor or teacher. When finding a teacher, you can select preferences for your teacher’s…

  • Native language
  • Where they’re from (amazing if you’re traveling somewhere specific)
  • Other languages spoken
  • Price range

So if you’re traveling to Afghanistan, like me, you’d look for Dari tutors from Afghanistan! Perhaps you’d also want them to speak Pashto, or Arabic. You’re able to make those preferences. With their photos and introduction videos displayed, you’re also able to sort of interview teachers before messaging them. Oh! Yes, you can also message them to introduce yourself and ask questions. I message a few teachers before selecting one.

I’m a big italki fan.

My Favorite Feature

My favorite italki feature is choosing where you’re teacher is from. When I started taking Spanish more seriously, I found an instructor from my wife’s home state of Guanajuato in Mexico, where we’d traveled to. Plus, I got the authentic Mexican Spanish her family speaks.

2. Pimsleur

Pimsleur is an app that rejects memorization (no note-taking, no flashcards), instead focusing on pronunciation, repetition, and internalization. In other words, Pimsleur focuses on listening and speaking. Well, don’t they all? Not really. Pimsleur compresses short conversations into 30 minute lessons, which you listen to. Throughout the lessons, the native speakers teach you the sounds and nuances of the words, while the narrator teaches you the meanings.

I have friends who use Pimsleur, and I do too, and it’s been recommended by teachers.

If you’ve used an app like Duolingo (which does not offer Dari), you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how intentional another language learning app can be.

It’s pretty amazing that Pimsleur offers Dari amongst its 50+ languages. And while the Dari course isn’t as extensive as some others (looking at you, Spanish and Japanese), it’s been an amazing addition to my Dari language learning stack. I’ve used it from the beginning, and it has walked very well alongside my italki lessons. You get 60 units to work with, so it’s still pretty dang good.

When you’re learning with Pimsleur, go slow. Pause the lesson when necessary to think and respond. Don’t race the native speakers to respond, go slow and think, then respond, then listen. You got a lot out of the app this way. And don’t be afraid to repeat lessons, if necessary, as recommended by the app.

For anyone who wants to learn Dari, purchase a Pimsleur subscription. It’s well worth the cost for access to so much language learning potential, and such intentional direction, backed up by research.

3. Podcasts to help learn Dari

Beyond italki and Pimsleur, I had to do some digging for more resources. After I was told to listen, listen often, and listen more when learning languages, I decided to try and find some resources to listen to. Frankly, there isn’t much out there for Dari. YouTube really only has this video, which isn’t very practical. It just shows you 200 phrases and how to pronounce them. I wouldn’t try to learn a language like that…

Afghan News

I listen to Afghan news to practice listening to the language. After only 10 hours of studying Dari, I was able to catch some familiar words! This is passive learning. I’m not sweating over every phrase, pausing and rewinding, and taking notes. None of those. On the advice of my italki Spanish tutor, I am just experiencing and hearing the language, like a baby!

I use a free news network (VOA Dari) to listen to native Dari speakers. You can check it out on Apple Podcasts here or YouTube here.

Voices of America (VOA Dari) is American government funded project to broadcast news in 45+ languages to over 350 million people around the world. Talk about propaganda! Only kidding, it seems to be a reliably neutral news network serving many different cultures.

Based on teachers I’ve talked to, and my own experience, you really ought to listen to some native Dari, and this seems to be one good option out there. It’s slim pickings, though.

Chai and Conversation

Chai and Conversation is actually a Persian Farsi educational podcast and website, not Dari. While I don’t pay for their premium features (because I’m not learning Farsi), but I like the podcast because I like learning about the culture of Persia, and it gives me some exposure to words used in Dari and Farsi. Plus, they talk a lot about poetry. Maybe that’s the reason I listen!

Again, Chai and Conversation is not a Dari learning platform, but I enjoy the content and exposure to new words. I can always run the words by my italki Dari teacher if I have questions.

4. Defense Language Institute Course

Whoa! That sounds serious, huh? Well, it’s a serious Dari course. For free, you can access the U.S. Defense Language Institute’s Dari course which, you can imagine, was used to train government employees and military members for their time in Afghanistan during America’s occupation.

I do not recommend too much time in this document. You can get really bogged down with the alphabet, and it’s not always relevant. However, I like to skim it here and there and see if I can pick up some new words.

Remember, listening is key! Don’t get stuck reading things slowly in your head with improper pronunciations.

But if you want to check out this comprehensive Dari language course, check out all the material right here.

Nader Khan Hill, Kabul, by Qasim Mirzaie

Dari Language Stack

Alright, so how to we pile these things up to learn Dari? Well, to start, you should practice Dari every single day, just like if you were learning any other language. Much of that daily practice should be listening. Based on working with experienced italki tutors, here’s my daily, weekly, monthly goals with learning Dari…

Passive vs Active Practice

Practicing a new language is of course an active practice, but there are lots of passive ways to learn, too. Active practice is intently listening, responding, and internalizing the new language. Here are some examples of active language practice with Dari…

  1. italki tutoring
  2. Pimsleur practice
  3. Rehearsal by yourself, or with a friend

Passive language practice doesn’t require much work, just some time and curiosity. It’s listening! It could be podcasts or Netflix without subtitles. There’s no note-taking, rehearsal, or memorization. Passive learning is all about learning like a baby: just listening and absorbing.

I was told passive exercises water the flower of language learning. Without listening (and listening often), your flower will whither and die. Not my words, but an italki tutor. So far, my only passive exercise to learn Dari is the VOA Dari podcast, mentioned above. There just aren’t tons of Dari resources out there.

1. Daily Dari Practice

To start, I listen to 30-60 minutes of VOA Dari (the news podcast I mentioned above), each day. The newscasts are all exactly 30 minutes, so one of two of these each day is perfect. I listen to this each day, whether I have other lessons planned or not. While walking, commuting to work, riding a bike, or exercising you can make great strides in Dari without much mental energy expended. After just a few weeks of studying Dari, I recognized some words on the podcast!

Secondly, I take daily Dari lessons on italki. Right now, I’m doing four tutoring sessions per week in addition to my VOA Dari podcast. italki tutoring has been huge for me. Speaking to someone from Afghanistan for an hour each day helps with pronunciation, the idioms and peculiarities of Dari, and understanding grammar. My tutor practices speaking and listening with me, gives me homework assignments that build over time, and offers consistent feedback.

Finally, I use Pimsleur each day (or 4-5 days per week, my “study days”). Pimsleur offers 30 minute intense language study sessions, all based on real, native conversation. I was surprised to find Dari on Pimsleur, so certainly take advantage of this resource.

Writing some practice sentences to approach Dari’s grammar and vocabulary from different angles is also a daily practice for me. Often this is assigned homework by my teacher, Ahmad. I internalize things very well when I write them, especially when I challenge myself with new vocab and grammar. So if your italki tutor gives homework, do it and do it well!

In summary, each day I listen to 1 or 2 episodes of VOA Dari, take a 60 minute italki lesson, do one Pimsleur unit, and complete my homework, or some casual sentence-writing to practice and internalize what I’ve learned.

2. Weekly Dari Practice

My goal for actively learning Dari is 8 hours per week. That’s 4 italki sessions (60 minutes each) and 4 Pimsleur units with practice exercises (30 minutes each), plus some time for homework and some writing practice. Additionally, I might browse the Defense Language Institute’s extensive Dari course.

But that’s all active learning.

On top of those 8 hours, I get 3-7 hours of passive listening on VOA Dari. This isn’t much more than me getting excited when I recognize one in fifty words.

Pro Tip

If you’re ever trying to figure out a word in Dari, but can’t, look up the Farsi word. There are way more Farsi/Persian resources online than Dari. Usually, the word will be correct, but you can always ask your tutor. Or ask me below in the comments and I’ll find out for you during my next session!

3. Monthly Dari Practice

So how do these daily and weekly exercises stack up into monthly goals? Well, here’s about how much I practice Dari over the course of a month, which just a bit of time and attention each day. Please note, I’ve organized these from what I see as most essential to least essential.

  1. 16 hours of tutoring with a native speaker
  2. 8 hours of Pimsleur Dari units
  3. 15-30 hours of news in Dari via VOA Dari
  4. 6-8 hours of practicing, writing (in our alphabet, not Dari’s), and internalizing what I’ve learned on italki and Pimsleur. Much of this is speaking aloud.
  5. some casual research online, YouTube, and DFI’s Dari course. As curiosity strikes me.
  6. 2 hours of Chai and Conversation podcast, mostly just because I like it

Those are my monthly Dari goals! I’m about 15 weeks from my visit to Afghanistan, so I am taking it pretty intensely. With all these added up, I expect to get about 30 hours per month of active Dari practice and lots of passive practice, which I don’t keep very close track of. That’s about 450 hours of solid practice before I leave!

My Progress Reports

Nothing yet to report. I’m still in my first month! Check back later or leave a comment below.

George
Georgehttps://georgecallahan.com
George Callahan is the creator of Pine Tree Poet. He is an author of fantasy stories and an adventure poet. He prefers mountains and pine trees to most other things, and usually takes his dog Cowboy along for the ride.

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