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Learn Pashto | ROSETTA STONE®
Learn Pashto, the language of the Pashtuns spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with immersive Pashto language lessons.Try Our Free Demo
Pashto (پښتو) is an official language of Afghanistan and the native language of the Pashtuns, an Irani ethnic group that primarily lives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The language not only represents the Pashtun people but also supports a major tenet of their culture called Pashtunwali, a traditional set of ethics guiding individual and communal conduct. The Pashto language has about 60 million speakers who primarily live in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Iran. Pashto has two main dialects—northern Pashto (Pakhto) and southern Pashto (Pashto). Northern Pashto is spoken in eastern, northeastern and central Afghanistan and in cities like Kabul, while southern Pashto is more common in the southern and western regions of Afghanistan surrounding Kandahar.
Learning Pashto is essential for those who participate in some of Afghanistan’s most important industries. Afghanistan is famous for the intricate artistry of their handmade rugs, but the region also produces some of the best gemstones in the world. Pashto has deep cultural roots that are almost 3500 years old and anchor it as the traditional language of the Afghan people. The Pashto language is spoken at government functions and taught in schools.
Rosetta Stone has always believed that learning a language is about more than knowing the words. Learning Pashto puts you in a unique position to better understand the Afghan culture and its people. That’s why Pashto lessons from Rosetta Stone are built to teach words and concepts in the context of everyday situations and real-world conversations. This method, called Dynamic Immersion®, gets beginning language learners beyond Pashto language translation and into an immersive environment that makes connections to deeper levels of learning.
The Origins and History of the Pashto Language
There is a great deal of disagreement among scholars about the origins of Pashto, but it’s clear this ancient language has been heavily influenced by neighboring languages, including Greek and Persian. Pashto has also mingled quite a bit with several northwestern Indian languages including Urdu, Prakrits, Balochi, and Sindhi. Because of its deep roots and extensive and prolonged contact with other languages, there are approximately 5,550 loanwords that make up a sizeable portion of the Pashto vocabulary.
Which countries speak Pashto?
The majority of Pashto native speakers reside between the northern part of the Indus River in Pakistan and the Hindu Kush in northeastern Afghanistan. Pashto speakers, often referred to as ethnic Afghans, comprise about 40-55% of the population in Afghanistan. Estimates for the number of Pashto speakers falls somewhere between 45-55 million worldwide, but most native speakers reside in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. Pashto has been an official language in Afghanistan since 1936. Today, it is spoken alongside Afghanistan’s other official language, Dari.
Pashto pronunciation for beginners
Pashto is not a tonal language, but pronunciation can be challenging because, like other Indo-Iranian languages, Pashto uses different parts of your mouth and tongue. The two main dialects in Pashto, northern and southern, have distinct patterns of pronunciation. Southern Pashto preserves traditional sounds like /sh/ and /zh/ sounds while northern Pashto replaces those sounds with /kh/ and /gh/ sounds instead. Pashto also has consonants whose pronunciation requires speakers to curl their tongues so that the back tip touches the roof of the mouth.
If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry. There are many things beginning language learners can do to help get familiar with Pashto pronunciation.
1. Pay attention to stressed syllables
Pashto has stressed syllables, and it’s important to get them right because stressing the wrong syllable could result in a word with a completely different meaning. For example, the word áspa (with stress on the first syllable) means "mare," while the word aspá (stress on the last syllable) means "spotted fever." You wouldn't want to get these confused if you were bartering with a local for a horse to ride through the countryside.
Rosetta Stone believes pronunciation is the cornerstone to learning to speak a language with confidence. To ensure you get plenty of practice speaking the Pashto language out loud, a patented speech recognition engine called TruAccent® is embedded into every Pashto lesson. By comparing your accent to that of a native Pashto speaker, the engine gives you real-time feedback until you can say it like a local.
2. Immerse yourself in Pashto
One of the best ways to accelerate your language learning is to immerse yourself in Pashto. Although Afghanistan might be a world away, there are still lots of ways to expose yourself to Afghan culture. Find Pashto videos on YouTube, listen to Pashto music, or look for groups of Pashto speakers on social media. There are also a few scattered Pashto-speaking communities in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia.
3. Learn Pashto in context
Rather than memorizing lists of vocabulary, it’s vital that you learn Pashto words and phrases in context. That’s why Rosetta Stone teaches Pashto in an immersive environment with plenty of audio and visual cues that mirror everyday situations. These commonly used phrases become the building blocks of real-world conversations and the more you practice, the more confident you’ll be in interactions that don’t follow a script.
Here are just a few Pashto words and phrases beginners may learn in their first lessons.
- Hello (As salam ‘alaykum)
- Good-bye (Khuda hafiz)
- Please (Meharbani)
- Thank you (Deyra manana)
- Excuse me (Bakhana ghwaarom)
- Yes (Ho)
- No (Na)
Is learning Pashto difficult?
Learning any language can be a challenging endeavor, but it’s worth the effort. Pashto has a grammar and sentence structure that may seem difficult for native English speakers, but with practice and a little patience, you can make steady progress towards speaking the Pashto language. Here are a few things beginners should know about Pashto.
Pashto grammar can be challenging
In English and many other European languages, word order is usually subject-verb-object, but in Pashto, the verb comes last. For example, the Pashto word for "dai" means "is" in English. If you wanted to say "this is a book," you would say "Dā Ketāb dai." Look at the word order, “dai” comes last. You're literally saying "This book is." This sentence structure is found throughout Indo-Iranian languages and even some Asian languages, so once you get used to Pashto grammar, it will get easier to decipher the same sorts of sentence structures in other languages.
Pashto is similar to Arabic
Pashto has 44 letters in its alphabet, most of which are similar or identical to Arabic script. There are also a few letters that have Arabic pronunciations but are written differently in Pashto. If you have some familiarity with Arabic script, you’ll find Pashto will be a little less challenging and vice versa.
Pashto borrows words from English
If you are a beginning language learner, it helps to look for the similarities in a language and leverage the familiar to grow your confidence. Pashto has lots of loanwords from other languages, and increasingly, English words are being incorporated into the language, especially by the younger generation of Pashto speakers in Pakistan. Focusing on some of this vocabulary can help you feel less overwhelmed as you gradually add Pashto words and phrases to your repertoire.
Benefits of learning the Pashto language
There are many advantages to learning any language, but Pashto may be a good fit for you for a number of reasons. Whether you’re traveling to the region for pleasure, conducting business in Afghanistan, or just trying to learn more about the Pashtun people and their culture, learning Pashto can be an invaluable asset.
Here are a few more reasons you should consider Pashto as your next language learning journey.
Pashto is widely spoken
As a national language alongside Dari in Afghanistan and widely spoken in Pakistan, you’ll get good mileage out of your language learning if you travel to the region. Learning the Pashto language will also enable you to better understand facets of Afghan culture.
Pashto makes travel or business in Afghanistan more convenient
Learning Pashto makes it easier to interact with the Afghan people, whether it’s for business or pleasure. There are also many humanitarian organizations, NGOs, and international coalition forces like NATO working in the region who find those who speak Pashto as a second language an asset.
Pashto can help you learn other languages
Pashto is influenced by many other languages, specifically Arabic and Persian. Because of the extent of borrowed vocabulary, knowing Pashto may make it easier to learn other languages written with Perso-Arabic script such as Baluchi, Kashmiri, and Punjabi.