Posted by: Christian | January 5, 2009

Learn the Languages of Afghanistan

Want to learn Dari? That’s simple enough. Just take Farsi/Persian and then figure out the rest with a visit to Afghanistan and some supplemental help from Dari conversational tools. A search of amazon will turn up a bunch of that sort of stuff. I like the English-Dari phrasebook for Aid Workers. It goes well beyond aid worker jargon like “capacity building” and whatnot.

How about Pashto (Pakhto, Pukhto, Pushto, Pashtu, etc..)? That’s a little more difficult. You can try your luck with language software such as Rosetta Stone or you can do it the traditional way, in the classroom. Dr. Benedicte Grima Santry at UPenn teaches Pashto, DLI in Monterey, California offers Pashto through the Emerging Languages Task Force (no direct link) and SOAS in London offers a year-long part time Pashto class.

My totally unbiased suggestion, however, is to attend a two-month intensive course at my alma mater, Indiana University. IU’s summer intensive SWSEEL program runs from June 19th to August 14th and offers all the languages nobody has ever heard of. If you are American (or a permanent resident) you can easily get funding (or so it was when I was there) with a decent academic record. You can study Pashto, and other languages of Afghanistan such as Turkmen and Uzbek (though for these the dialect taught will be the standard dialects pushed by the respective governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and the Persian/Arabic alphabet will not be used). Tajik is also offered, the southern dialect of which is (insert qualifier) much the same as northern Dari (same alphabet warning).

Bloomington, Indiana is a great place to spend the summer, if you can stand the humidity. The usually busy cafes, restaurants and bars are generally deserted during the summer and you can park anywhere, thanks to the fact that all the undergrads have returned to New York or their respective New Jersey turnpike exits for the summer. And the rent during the summer is super-cheap as many students have twelve month leases and are looking to find a summer sublet. I survived seven years in Bloomington, you can survive two months.

Pic: IU undergrads hard at work inside the student union.


The Tajik and Uzbek teachers are, from my personal experience, excellent. And the main Pashto instructor, Dr. Rakhmon Inomkhojaev, gets full marks from his students and is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, in addition to having a strong background in Pashto and Dari literature and language. But if you can’t make it to Indiana then you can at least check out the language material for sale and some for free produced by Indiana University’s Center for the Languages of the Central Asian Region.

All the info you need on the summer program is at the SWSEEL website. And info on Central Eurasian studies at IU and related resources can be found on the CEUS website.

Note: The application deadline is March 20.


  1. Did you do Pashto when you were there?

  2. Nope. 3 years Uzbek, 2 years Kazakh, and 1 year Tajik (and allegedly 2.5 years Russian, I don’t really remember).

    A few years back Pashto was canceled for the summer due to lack of interest. Also, at that time the funding for Pashto was iffy as it is was not included in the funding programs set aside for languages of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. But I do believe some money was thrown at Pashto a couple of years ago and it got an ROTC enrollment boost as well. Now with the predictable panic about Afghanistan I imagine its funding is quite safe.

  3. I shoulda gone when I had summers off–now that I have a job, a luxurious 10-week vacation in lovely Bloomington is probably not in the cards.

  4. Obviously I’m totally unbiased too and can objectively recommend a summer in B-town.

    On a more serious note, FLAS funding for SWSEEL is greatly reduced this year, and SSRC funding is non-existent, too – so, no, the ‘predictable panic about Afghanistan’ isn’t helping matters. Better get those apps in pronto!

    Alternatively, the Critical Languages Institute at Arizona StateU is also offering Tajik/Persian and Uzbek, with a follow-up immersion period in Dushanbe.

  5. Really? They used to give SSRC funding to anybody with a pulse.

  6. I believe it’s the first time in 15 years there’s been no SSRC funding. I think an appeal may be underway. I hope it’s successful, as part of SWSEEL’s appeal has been the easy availability of funding


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