Pre-Deployment Fun: Learning Some Dari

One of the things I’ve been struggling with endlessly – or so it seems – during this ‘get your ass to Afghanistan’ project is a gem of a little requirement for me to expose myself to the primary language of Afghanistan: Dari (not pronounced like dairy). This stems from an Army-wide self-analysis (i.e., belly-button meditation) on how to do better at our ongoing efforts in that country.

Some background: Dari is the ‘official’ language of Afghanistan, mainly by light of the fact most government offices and officials speak it as their primary language. The other major language is Pashto, spoken mainly in the Southern regions. There are as many as 30 other smaller languages spoken at various points around Afghanistan, depending on the region and tribe you’re interacting with. Dari is derived from Persian (Farsi), and the two are nearly interoperable. Notably, Dari has only been seriously put into written form and structured within the past 50 years. Up until then it was an unrecorded dialect of Farsi.

Going over there, I’m required to learn some stock phrases and familiarize myself with Dari. Even with cutting-edge, web-enabled instruction provided by the Army, this is a challenge for someone who’s still struggling to nail down English after over 40 years. The old saying about learning languages early is apparently true: I recall more Spanish from watching PBS kids shows and high school in SoCal than I do Russian, which I bludgeoned myself with in college. Da, russkiy.

At this point, I’m nearly done tashakur (thank you), but my head is jammed full, and that funny Arabic phlegm-hacking sound is prominent in Dari, which makes things fun and moist as I practice. I was pleased to note that “please (lotfan),” “hello (salaam),” and “thank you” were provided in the instruction before “Drop your weapon (salaayata bendaaz!),” “Hands in the air (dasthaa baalaa!),” and “Surrender! (tasleem show!)” Mom always did say you get farther along on politeness than anything else. I’ve been making little study-guide cards all along using the transliteration, because the written form is completely incomprehensible to me. Soldiers call it “squiggle.”

Some of the other important phrases I’ve been programmed with are:

Is this food safe to eat? – Ee ghezaa taaza as?

Do you have any ammunition? – Too kordam mohemaatee daaree?

Where is the enemy camp? – Kampe doshman kojaas?

Is this lamb, goat, or beef? – Eey goshte gosfand as, yaa goshte boz, yaa gaw?

Who, What, Where, When, Why – Kee? Chee? Kojaa? Che waKht? Cheraa?

Where is the latrine? – Tashnaab da kojaas?

I’d note the transliteration I copied from the Army web site didn’t even sound as it was pronounced (by a cyberdude ripped from Call of Duty 3, fully animated), so I’m probably set up for moderate failure. Armed with my cards, though, I think I can avoid embarrassing situations like I had as a noob in Germany, when I apparently told a young lady I wanted to take her to dinner wearing fried potatoes and leather pants.


32 Responses to “Pre-Deployment Fun: Learning Some Dari”

  1. That’s pretty cool man :D. I totally agree on learning them early. Malayalam (supposed to be my mother tongue) and hindi both of which I learned before grade 8, I can speak write and read, somewhat. French which I learned through 9th and 10th has only left with me ‘tu est tres grosse chienne’ and ‘putain’ . So yeah, good luck.
    Btw, ‘taza’ means fresh in hindi….. Actually the same in most of those languages I suspect.

  2. I want to study Russian next year! The way you say it, scares me though. But maybe it’s different for me: as a Belgian person, I will get nowhere without learning other languages so I’m spending my time on that now. Four languages to be spoken, Latin to be read. I like studying them :).

  3. Get your priorities straight, man. You need to learn how to say “cheeseburger.”

  4. I took 3 years of Spanish in high school, and all I remember is “Donde esta Pepito? Donde esta?”

    Turkish, OTOH, I learned a few years back when I was teaching ESL primarily to Turkish students. I can pick words out when they are speaking, and I know many of the cuss words. I had a couple of girls teach me those when I realized the guys were dog-cussing me to my face in class. They stopped when I started interpreting what they were saying to them. 😀

  5. Problem #1…sure you can ask those things…but can you understand the answers when they are speaking a mile a minute and trying not to pee themselves with an automatic weapon shoved in their face?

  6. whiteladyinthehood Says:

    Is this lamb, goat, or beef?…..yikes! (could NOT eat goat) Yes, keep your cards handy at all times..(note to self: when sending pin-up of Salma include several boxes of Cocoa Puffs, too)

  7. Hey Buddy, if you would like, I would be happy to pass along an email address for my cousin, who is a fellow tanker, just back from his 18 months in Afghanistan….I’m sure he would be happy to pass along any useful tips and advice that might make life over there a little more bearable. Just drop me a note and I’d be happy to hook you two up… to speak….. you know what I mean…..

  8. Interoperable! *ding! TEN POINTS*!

    You’re doing pretty damned well in English. You seem to understand the theory of language. Now, about the pronunciation, and reading “squiggle”….

  9. You said you do it quick and simple….or was it Mrs. Rants who said that?

  10. Transliteration can definitely be rough, best of luck with that! I started my inundation into the Russian language with some transliteration until I learned the alphabet – with embarrassing results as well. My teacher fell over laughing when I attempted to say “I read” and ended up saying “I peed”.

  11. Seems like hard work… whatever important phrases you can’t remember, put on 2″ x 2″ flash cards.. and string those flashcards around your neck… or something..

  12. Try It’s an awesome site for learning vocabulary.

  13. Once made myself understood in a turkish airport using a comment card in turkish on one side, english on the other.
    Instead of speaking it, maybe you;d be better off waving flashcards at the people…

    Looks to have some decent dictionary pages with audio to help you learn a bunch of basic and specialty phrases in Dari

  15. John Erickson Says:

    You might want to add “dog” and “cat” to the “Is this lamb, beef, or goat” question. And don’t you DARE admit to eating any goat, or I’ll find a way to air-drop Blackjack on your backside! 😀
    You can go out to and find the “squiggle” equivalents of phrases (it’s a site with dozens of translator languages). I think it might have a “hear this spoken” feature as well.

  16. roohullah Says:

    How about phasto ?

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