West of the Indus River in Pakistan and south of the river Amu Darya in Afghanistan, the ancestral homeland of the Pashtun people awaits you.
The ancient origins of the Pashtuns are unclear, but their cultural identity is strong. Pashtuns live by the Pashtunwali, a rigorous and ancient code of honor that is over a millennium old, far predating the formation of the modern states of Pakistan and Afghanistan where most Pashtuns live.
With roughly sixty tribes and over 400 sub-clans, the Pashtuns have a rich and diverse culture that is best expressed through their own language: Pashto.
Table of Contents
- About the Pashto Language
- How to Learn Pashto: Hacking the Language for English Speakers
- Easier Aspects for English Speakers
- Challenges for English Speakers
- Your Plan for Learning Pashto
- Resources for Learning Pashto
- Pashto Language Courses and Apps
- Other Pashto Learning Resources
- Online Pashto Dictionaries and Dictionary Apps
- Typing in Pashto
- Blogs and Websites for Pashto Learners
- Pashto Language Exercises, Games and Flashcards
- Pashto Media
- Pashto Books
- Pashto News Online
- Pashto Music and Radio
- Pashto Podcasts
- YouTube for Pashto Learners
- Pashto Television and Movies
Pashto is an Indo-Iranian language. It’s closely related to Farsi, Kurdish, and Balochi, among other languages.
Pashto is native to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are smaller groups of Pashto speakers in Tajikistan, as well as Iran.
You might hear the Pashto language referred to as Pukhto, Pakhto, Pashtu, and Pushto. In Persian literature, it’s sometimes called “Afghani.”
The Pashto language is divided into three standards, or dialect groups.
The language’s “soft” dialects, which retain the age-old /zh/ and /sh/ sounds, are known collectively as Southern Pashto—and spoken by about six million people in Afghanistan.
Conversely, the Northern dialects are sometimes called either Paxto or Pakhto. These dialects are sometimes called the “hard” dialects, since they use the /gh/ and /kh/ sounds in place of the older /zh/ and /sh/ sounds. Northern Pashto counts about 9.6 million speakers in Pakistan.
Northern and Southern Pashto are the two primary standards. There’s also a set of Central Pashto dialects, Bannuchi, Waziri, and Dzadrani, which are spoken along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Some sources put the total number of native Pashto speakers in modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan as high 18.5 million.
The Pashtun diaspora has brought between 40 to 60 million Pashto speakers to the shores of many countries all over the world — such as India, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Iran, Germany, Japan, Australia, and Russia.
The disparity between the number of Pashtuns in Afghanistan and the attitudes toward their language is a delicate subject.
Pashto is a regional language in Afghanistan, and one of the country’s two official languages. The country’s other official language is Dari (Eastern Persian) — which many of its speakers still prefer to call Farsi, or Fārsī-ye Darī. Afghan Pashto, which shares some vocabulary with Persian, is a literary language with a rich written tradition of poetry.
Varying numbers of Pashto speakers in Afghanistan are reported. Some sources say the number is as low as 18% of the population; others claim that it’s as high as 48%. (It’s unclear whether these numbers represent just native speakers, or some speakers who use Pashto as an auxiliary language.)
Ethnic Pashtuns make up the single largest Afghan ethnic group, accounting for about 42% of the Afghan population. Traditionally, they have also held much of the country’s political power.
Despite all of this, Fārsī-ye Darī holds linguistic sway in Afghanistan. About 80% of the country’s communications, from print and electronic media to official government directives and records, are in Fārsī-ye Darī. It’s largely the language of government and of higher education.
Indeed, many Pashtuns are bilingual in Fārsī-ye Darī, which also serves as a common language between several of the country’s ethnic groups. The Pashto language is less likely than Fārsī-ye Darī to be spoken as an auxiliary language by those outside of the Pashtun ethnic group.
Pashto is not an official language in Pakistan.
Roughly 15-20% of the Pakistani population speaks Pashto as their native tongue. Like Punjabi, Balochi, and Sindhi, Pashto is recognized by the Pakistani government as a regional language.
Most of Pakistan’s Pashto speakers live in the northern part of Balochistan province and in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which sits above Balochistan on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. (A particularly famous Pashtun and Pashto speaker, Nobel prize winner ملاله یوسفزۍ (Malala Yousafzai), is a native of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s scenic Swat Valley.)
The language is also spoken in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, among other Pakistani cities and towns.
Pashto is the second most-spoken language in the country, with about half as many speakers as the majority language, Punjabi.
However, Urdu and English are the two official languages of Pakistan. Pakistani Pashto borrows some words from Urdu.
Pashto in Pakistan tends to be more of a spoken language, rather than a literary one. Because it is not given state support to promote its use, many speakers do not learn to read and write it in school.
If you’re an English speaker trying to learn Pashto, you might initially feel a bit overwhelmed by how different it is to English.
However, even languages as different from each other as English and Pashto do have some similarities. By keeping these similarities in mind as you study, you can give yourself a few shortcuts to learning Pashto.
Similarly, we’ll touch on a few of the differences that can make learning Pashto a challenge for English speakers. Being aware of these challenges can give you a bit of a head start in understanding Pashto and help you better plan your studies.
After our sneak preview of a few Pashto basics, we’ll talk about how you can optimize your learning time and create the support and structure you need to successfully learn Pashto.
Although Pashto and English are like fifth cousins twice removed on the Indo-European language tree, there are still a few “family resemblances,” which might make Pashto a little easier for English speakers to learn.
Like English, adjectives in Pashto go before the nouns they modify. When you describe people or things in Pashto, you can put a descriptive word in the same place you would in English — right in front of the noun.
Both are pronounced quite similarly to their English counterparts. In these examples, though, the stress is on the second syllable in Pashto — the opposite to the stress used in English.
Similarly, خوړنځی (restaurant) derives from the Pashto words خوړل (to eat) and ځای (place)…a “place to eat.”
As you progress in your studies, you might start to see simpler Pashto words forming compound words.Use what you already know to help you decode new vocabulary.
Let’s look at some of the possible stumbling blocks you may face on your journey to master Pashto.
Pashto is written and read right-to-left.
The Pashto alphabet incorporates a Perso-Arabic script that’s very similar to the ones used by Farsi (Western Persian), Fārsī-ye Darī (Eastern Persian), Kurdish, Tajik, and Balochi. So, if you’ve already studied any of those, you may have an easier time with Pashto.
Pashto has its own numeric script, based on the Arabic-Indic numerals. Some of them may remind you of the Arabic numerals we use in English and other Indo-European languages.
Pashto letters change when they are connected to one another — generally, much more than Latin letters might when written in a cursive script.
For example: If you were to write the word for “notebook” in Pashto, leaving a space between each letter, it would look like something this:
ک ت ا ب چ ه
However, if it were written properly, with no spaces in between the letters, it would look like this:
Notice how several letters change as they are joined together, some of them contorting to connect to neighboring letters.
Once you’ve gotten a firm grip on the isolated forms of the Pashto letters, take a look at this Pashto alphabet table, which shows the three contextual forms — initial, medial, and final — for each letter.
Pashto grammar will not be a cinch English speakers. Here are some of the main concerns you might have.
Pashto sentences don’t follow the same word order as English.
In English, we use a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order. In the sentence, “You learn Pashto,” the word “you” is the subject, “learn” is the verb, and “Pashto” is the object.
Pashto uses a subject-object-verb (SOV) word order. So, if you were to reconstruct the example sentence, using Pashto word order with English words, it would read, “You Pashto learn.”
In English, we often use the same verb conjugation for the subjects I, you, we, and they. So, we almost always need to specify who’s doing an action.
Pashto verbs conjugations tend to be more varied than English. Because the verb changes reflect their subjects so well, it’s quite acceptable in Pashto to drop the subject of a verb.
Pashto incorporates two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. Like English, it has both singular and plural forms of words.
Nouns and adjectives in Pashto use declension, or form changes, to signify gender, number, and case. These changes are made so that words “agree” with one another in gender and number. For example, if the noun is masculine and plural, any adjectives describing it must be in their masculine and plural forms also.
Words can take on other changes in Pashto, based on their position and function in a given context.
Native English speakers may have some difficulty distinguishing similar sounds in Pashto. What seem like nearly identical sounds to anglophone ears can signify very different word meanings in Pashto.
Pronunciation of consonants can be a problem. Pashto often combines more consonants into a single syllable than English would.
Like English, and many other languages, Pashto uses word stress, communicating different meanings by accentuating certain syllables of a word. And, just like English, the stress is generally not written.
However, if you happen to see a phonetic transliteration of a Pashto word, you’re in luck — the word stress is often marked with an acute accent. For example, the word اوږه (shoulder) is rendered in the Latin alphabet as úẓ̌a, with the stress on the first syllable (ú-ẓ̌a).
There are several things you can do to make your Pashto study time more efficient, more effective, and more enjoyable.
Before you try memorizing a Pashto textbook or signing up for a twelve-week intensive Pashto immersion course, ask yourself a few questions about your goals.
Why do you want to learn Pashto? Is it for work? For recreational travel? For social reasons?
How will you use the Pashto you learn? For written correspondence? Chatting with acquaintances over the phone? Securing lodging and meals while traveling? Or do you aspire to become a Pashto translator or interpreter?
If you’re using it for travel, you might only need to learn a few key words and phrases to get around. Of course, the more you learn, the more deeply you will experience the culture and the better you will be able to relate to the people you meet.
Other uses for Pashto will require more thorough, dedicated study. Your goals for learning Pashto will help you figure out where to focus your efforts and what level of fluency you would need to meet your goals.
Do you want to learn one of the Southern Pashto dialects of Afghanistan or a Northern dialect spoken in Pakistan?
Even though these are essentially all the same Pashto language, there are also a lot of differences in pronunciation between the different dialect groups. Switching repeatedly between one dialect group and the other could stymie your learning efforts, especially as a beginner.
Again, your planned use for the language—where and with whom you’d like to speak Pashto—will help you find your direction.
Once you have the answers to these questions, figure out your time frame. Then you can realistically plan how to achieve your desired fluency, given how much study time you have.
Maybe you can only fit in a couple of hours of study on the weekends. How can you make that time really count?
Pashto will take many months — possibly, many years — to learn well. It will not happen overnight.
You must be patient with yourself as you learn. Learning any language can be demanding, and Pashto is not the easiest language for an English speaker to learn.
Give yourself time to learn and absorb the language. Commit to consistent study, which helps you grow your knowledge slowly and powerfully.
You don’t want to overwhelm yourself. You want to build, little by little.
Pace yourself, but maintain your momentum. One small achievement will get you primed for more challenges and more learning. Celebrate your victories. Keep a language journal and write down what you’re learning as you go along.
If you keep your learning commitment and study steadily, you’ll be amazed by all that you can learn in a relatively short time.
If you’re serious about learning to write in Pashto, consider practicing writing it longhand. Learn to write the isolated letters in the alphabet, then move on to writing Pashto words.
Studies have shown that writing in longhand has distinct benefits for engaging the brain. It stimulates memory and learning. Like writing in cursive, writing in Pashto script requires concentration and eye-hand coordination.
Writing by hand strengthens your grasp and memory of the new script you’re trying to learn in a way that typing cannot. When you’re typing, your fingers strike any key using the same basic action. Your brain doesn’t make the complex associations it would to produce each particular stroke of a handwritten letter, or to connect letters together in a script.
To practice writing Pashto’s Perso-Arabic script by hand, jot down new Pashto vocabulary in a journal. Use a small whiteboard to write the same words, over and over, like Bart Simpson doing his chalkboard penance in his 4th-grade classroom. Not only will writing in Pashto become easier and more natural to you, you’ll also get a chance to reinforce your memory of individual words.
As you write out new words, try using the four Pashto diacritics (accent marks), which serve as helpful pronunciation reminders for students. You won’t see these in normal Pashto text, but they can be invaluable when you’re learning pronunciations.
To learn correct pronunciation, expose yourself to as much Pashto speech as possible. We’ll look at some authentic sources for Pashto audio — like radio, music, podcasts, and television.
Listening is the foundation for good pronunciation. After all, how can you speak Pashto well if you don’t know what it’s supposed to sound like?
Once you have confidently learned some basic conversational phrases, you can start to engage in conversation. We’ll look at a few ways you can find Pashto conversation partners, or maybe even a one-on-one tutor to improve your listening comprehension and speaking skills.
Setting out to learn Pashto might remind you a bit of Robert Frost’s poetry: It is a road “less traveled by.”
In the magical world of internet interconnectivity, there are nearly unlimited resources for English speakers learning languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Mandarin, and German. By contrast, resources for English speakers learning Pashto seem scant.
Despite a fairly large number of speakers — in the neighborhood of 50 million worldwide — the internet is not teeming with Pashto courses.
The scope of the Pashto curriculum on Mango Languages is limited. There’s only one unit for Pashto, called “Basics.” (Compare that to Mango Language’s Latin American Spanish course, which has five main units, plus six specialty units.)
Still, Mango Languages can be a good pick for absolute beginners. The Perso-Arabic script is very clear and easy to read in Mango Languages, which is a bonus for beginning learners. Even after repeating just a few words in the opening dialogue, I felt as though I could pick out the letters for certain sounds, such as the characters corresponding to “m” and “l.”
Mango Languages’ Pashto lessons include cultural notes about Pashtunwali, the ancient code of honorable conduct in the Pashtun culture. These pieces of advice may serve you in good stead, should you choose to speak Pashto with natives — especially in one of its native countries. For example, you’ll know not to offer your hand for a handshake if you’re greeting someone of the opposite sex.
An app like Memrise takes a different approach to language learning than some other learning methods. Its offerings are called “courses,” but it does not teach its curriculum in the more traditional manner favored by resources like Mango Languages.
Rather than presenting lessons with grammar and cultural notes, and explaining new concepts and vocabulary step-by-step, Memrise is more like a gamified set of quizzes. Memrise’s spaced repetition system gives you repeated word exposure, which can be a great tool for reinforcing your retention of Pashto words. You’ll show your recognition and recall of Pashto words in different ways through Memrise, doing multiple choice and fill-in-the-blanks exercises.
There are numerous Memrise Pashto courses for English speakers. The community-created study decks can give you a wide variety of choices. However, since anyone can freely contribute a course through the Memrise platform, the course designs, included features, and quality standards may vary. Some courses lack audio; others use phonetic versions of words, rather than the Pashto alphabet, to write vocabulary.
You can try a few different courses to see which ones best suit your needs, without spending anything but a little time. All course materials are accessible with a free Memrise membership, and some premium features — like “Learn with Locals” (video of native speakers) or “Grammarbot” — aren’t yet available for several of the Pashto courses.
This well-known program can be particularly good for boosting oral language learning. Currently, Pimsleur offers a monthly Pashto plan with a free trial.
Pimsleur’s Pashto courses, which teach the Afghani standard of the Northern dialect, are also available as MP3 or CD packages. Each level contains thirty lessons; if you’re between levels, you can go à la carte and buy just five lessons at a time. Pimsleur has recently added interactive exercises and reading lessons to its strong oral language foundations, as well as some interesting options like Driving Mode, household lesson sharing, and integration with Amazon Echo.
Instant Immersion does not rank highly as compared to more modern resources. That said, it could be a low-budget alternative to Pimsleur for beginning Pashto learners who want to focus on listening and speaking. There are also some games and exercises included in this downloadable software, as well as virtual flashcards and pronunciation practice.
Instant Immersion teaches Pashto as it’s spoken in Afghanistan. The program, while topically organized, doesn’t offer the type of curriculum that will give you a strong foundation in the grammar or syntax of the language. In addition, it does not appear to have a linked mobile app.
At first glance, the Pashto lessons on ILoveLanguages.org may look much like those found on MyLanguages.org and Learn101.org: All three sites use a similar organizational interface, with left-hand sidebars and simple tables for navigation. Lessons on all three sites consist largely of Pashto word lists with English translations. (The ILoveLanguages’ site is a bit more colorful, with a cleaner, more striking aesthetic.)
However, ILoveLanguages offers something more, and it’s an important difference: For almost every word or phrase, there’s matching audio, recorded by a native speaker. While the other sites may provide some audio — MyLanguages.org, for example, has downloadable MP3s for the Afghani or Pakistani versions of their Pashto Audio Lessons — it’s unclear how these correspond to the written lessons on the site.
ILoveLanguages has nicely integrated the audio clips into the vocabulary and grammar tables of the lessons, so it’s very clear which clips match which words and phrases — all you have to do is click on the green “speaker” icon on the same line of the table with the vocab you’re studying.
The site lacks a lot of features, such as interactive exercises or a way to practice speaking. It can, however, help you with pronunciation and learning a lot of basic, useful words and phrases.
There are a few Pashto learning apps for Android and iOS that don’t have corresponding web-based courses. They generally teach basic words, phrases, pronunciation, and a bit of grammar through the convenience of your mobile device.
Bluebird Languages is a language-learning app that boasts phrasebook-style lessons for over 160 languages, including Pashto. The Pashto curriculum only includes Core Vocabulary (by category) and Powerful Phrases. There appear to be no Daily Lessons, Creating Sentences, Conversations, or Essential Verbs units, as there are for other languages on the app. If you’re using the app on a free plan, the Powerful Phrases unit is locked.
Nonetheless, you can still learn some basic Pashto vocabulary with Bluebird Languages. There are images to illustrate words, which may appeal to visual learners. There’s also native-speaker audio to help you learn the proper pronunciations, in an approach that’s reminiscent of both Pimsleur and Mango Languages. While much of the lessons consist of learning phrases, some of the phrases you’ll memorize could be useful for tourists and travelers.
One minor learning impediment may be that the Pashto text is fairly tiny on a mobile device. Since there is currently no web version of Bluebird languages, you may have difficulty learning the spelling of the Pashto words if you’re still familiarizing yourself with the Perso-Arabic script.
Qvyshift LLC offers Learn Pashto: Pashto (Pak.) Basic Phrases for Android users, but it hasn’t been released for iOS yet. With a simple, white-on-black interface to teach Pashto as it’s spoken in Pakistan, the app focuses on military phrases. For those still learning the Pashto alphabet, phonetic versions of the words in the Latin alphabet are included, as well as audio to help with pronunciation. The emphasis seems to be more on speaking than reading, since the Perso-Arabic script is only about half the size of the English translations.
The Qvyshift app may not be the best pick for visual learners, since its rather plain presentation lacks images to represent any of the words.
A more colorful choice for Android users would be Learn Pashto by Maihan Nijat (Sunzala Technology). With words organized by categories, this app includes simple illustrations, audio, grammar, and quizzes to test your Pashto progress. It even breaks down the Pashto alphabet into its contextual forms, helping you to learn how letters look in different positions (initial, medial, and final).
There seem to be fewer Pashto learning apps for iOS users than for Android users, although there are numerous Pashto dictionary apps for the iPhone or iPad.
- Basic conversation
- Offline audio dictionary
Like many Pashto-learning apps, Cyber Designz’ efforts offer a phonetic version of Pashto words and phrases, written out in the Latin alphabet.
Those with Apple devices can take their Pashto learning on the road with Learn Pashto via Videos by GoLearningBus. This app organizes words and phrases into different “buses” for different levels, such as a “school bus” for beginners, and a “college bus” for more advanced students. It includes a visual dictionary, audio for pronunciation, flashcards, and quizzes.
One feature that particularly stands out in the GoLearningBus app is the writing practice, which helps you to learn to write Pashto by tracing individual letters with your finger or stylus. User reviews of this app were mixed, though, and much of the content is only accessible after you purchase the app. Another caveat is that the app does not appear to have been updated since 2016, and may not be compatible with your device.
The following apps do offer some Pashto curriculum. However, we did not feel that the quality of these programs was likely to make them good learning resources:
When you’re learning to speak another language, there’s really no substitute for a conversation partner.
Depending on where you live, though, it may not be easy to find people who speak the language you’re studying. This can be especially true for a language like Pashto, which doesn’t have a plethora of learning resources in the English-speaking world.
We’ve reviewed language exchange apps like Tandem, Hello Talk, and Speaky, all of which can help you find Pashto conversation partners online. The Tandem experience is particularly personalized; when you sign up, you’ll be asked about your favorite topics, your ideal language partner, and your learning goals. Similarly, Speaky will ask you to pick your personal interests from a list, with the goal of finding compatible conversation partners.
My Language Exchange doesn’t have a fancy interface — but it has plenty of Pashto speakers looking for conversation partners, so it’s worth checking out.
Since Pashto in Pakistan is spoken somewhat differently than the standard used in Afghanistan, you may wish to scan for speakers based in areas where your desired dialect is spoken.
You can find Pashto tutors on eithefr site. Verbling makes it especially easy to find a tutor who speaks the variety of Pashto you’re studying; just look for the globe icon with each teacher’s profile to see where they’re from. On italki, you’ll see a small flag icon overlapping each tutor’s avatar. The flag indicates the tutor’s country of origin.
In addition to language courses and learning apps, supplementary Pashto learning resources — such as dictionaries, typing tools, flashcards, and blogs — can enrich your language-learning experience.
You can find one of the more extensive lists of Pashto language resources on The Afghanistan Analyst website. It features various types of resources, including textbooks, dictionaries, television, radio, and university language programs. (As of this writing, it had last been updated in May 2017.)
The Lexilogos site also hosts a page with a list of Pashto language resources, such as dictionaries, essays, online lessons, and a few antique grammar textbooks.
Rely on a good Pashto dictionary to help you understand and learn new words. Many of these are free, so you might try a few to see which you like best.
Android users might enjoy the Pashto Dictionary app developed by Maihan Nijat. This app is customizable, allows you to keep a list of favorites, and has an integrated conversation feature for sending definitions to friends.
This English Pashto Dictionary app for Android can help you find word meanings while you’re out and about. It gives English meanings for Pashto words, and vice versa. The app includes automated pronunciations, a study plan, a word game, auto-suggestions for words, and an offline mode. Some users reported that a few of the definitions were incorrect; others felt that the word bank was limited in scope. Even so, most users seemed satisfied with this dictionary app.
Qamosona.com is home to Pashto dictionaries providing translations for a multitude of languages — including Chinese, English, German, Japanese, Indonesian, French, Spanish, Swedish, Russian, and even Latin. Learners with an Android device can also enjoy the matching Qamosona app.
Part of a non-profit project, thePashto.com offers an online Pashto-English dictionary, as well as both an Android and iOS dictionary app.
To type in Pashto, you’ll need a special keyboard. You can access a few Pashto keyboards online through your web browser, or use a Pashto keyboard app for your favorite mobile device.
Try several different keyboards to find the ones you like best. The more comfortable you feel with the keyboard interface, the more likely you’ll practice writing texts and emails in Pashto.
Web-based Pashto keyboards:
- Pashto Keyboard Online from TypingKeyboards.com
- Pashto Keyboard from Branah.com
- Online Pashto Keyboard from TypingBaba.com
- Pashto Phonetic Keyboard on thePashto.com
- Multilingual Keyboard: Pashto (beta) on Lexilogos.com
Various virtual Pashto keyboards are available for both Android users and those with iOS devices. Some of them incorporate emojis for the full texting experience. Many of them are free.
Blogs are a casual way to learn about everything from common Pashto expressions to core cultural customs. They’ll bring flavor and nuance to your language learning.
The Pashto Language Blog from Transparent Language explores numerous topics, such as polite words and phrases, vocabulary words, verb conjugation, learning to read Pashto script. It also delves into Pashtun culture, particularly in Afghanistan. While you’re visiting the blog, check out the Pashto Word of the Day, complete with audio and an example sentence.
While no longer active, the Learn Pashto Language blog is an archive of dozens of articles. Learn Pashto words for computer and internet terms, ponder Pashto proverbs, and enjoy poetry. Bear in mind, though, that some of the links in this blog may have expired.
Intermediate and advanced learners may enjoy Pashto Zeray, a website providing access to spoken Pashto poetry, music, radio, television, and the Christian Bible in Pashto, in audio and written form. You can look at the site in either English or Pashto.
In addition to blogs, there are websites devoted to the study of the Pashto language. Advanced learners in particular might appreciate the efforts of the Pashto Academy. Based at Peshawar University in Pakistan, the Academy undertakes scholarly study of the Pashto language, and works to promote the study and use of the language. (Their site is viewable in both Pashto and English.)
The Pashto Academy publishes a Pashto language journal, appropriately called Pashto. It comes out twice a year, and is Pashto-English bilingual.
Here are a few interactive learning tools that will help you practice Pashto without pressure. They might even entertain and relax you, allowing your brain to absorb more.
Unfortunately, the Internet is not rife with Pashto language exercises. Even standby Clozemaster, which we’ve found to be a reliable source of intermediate vocab exercises, does not yet count Pashto among its dozens of languages.
One of the few sites to offer Pashto language games is Digital Dialects. These cover basics such as colors, days and months, fruits and vegetables, and numbers. The design is a bit ‘90s retro, but the games in this internet nostalgia trip are still useful for learning fundamentals.
Jokes are an entertaining way to learn Pashto vocabulary and get more experience with sentence structure. They have the added benefit of showing you what Pashtun culture finds funny, which can give you insights into the mindsets of some Pashto speakers.
Both Anki and Brainscape have a small handful of Pashto flashcard desks. Brainscape’s interface has many features in common with Anki, but with sleeker aesthetics. Anki is extremely customizable, but has a more utilitarian interface and a steeper learning curve for new users.
These flashcards can be helpful for learners trying to memorize written Pashto. However, none of the Pashto decks for either app seem to have any audio. If you need any help pronouncing these words, you might consider using Forvo, which currently has audio files for over 1,500 Pashto words.
The good news is that both applications give you the tools to make your own multimedia flashcards. So, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can create your own Pashto flashcard decks with audio clips and images. Sources like the aforementioned Forvo can supply native audio. Use your imagination and a royalty-free image site like Pixabay or Pexels to find pictures to go with your new words.
To put your flashcard vocabulary into context, you can try a site like Tatoeba, which has crowd-sourced sentences that are then translated into multiple languages. Currently, the site brings you a few dozen sentences in Pashto.
When you’re learning any language, it’s a good idea to round out your studies with other kinds of media besides courses and apps.
By incorporating media such as books, news, radio, and television into your routine, you will learn more about Pashto as it’s used every day by native speakers.
Your Pashto vocabulary will broaden and become more nuanced. You will grow to understand more about Pashtun culture.
Perhaps equally as important, your interest in learning the language will be regularly stimulated — especially if you focus on topics that you enjoy.
For a light-hearted approach to learning the Pashto alphabet, try My First Pashto Alphabets. It’s illustrated, with an example for each Pashto letter. Contrasting colors highlight the letter being taught.
Dr. Rahmon Inomkhojayev, from Indiana University, has written a series of Pashto textbooks based upon the Afghan standard of Pashto. There’s an elementary-level textbook in two volumes, followed by an intermediate textbook. (Inomkhojayev’s elementary-level textbook is the required text for the Online Pashto Course hosted by the Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region at Indiana University, Bloomington.)
A reprint of an older text, Introduction to Pushtu: An Official Language of Afghanistan by Qazi Rahimullah Khan, gets mixed reviews. As it was originally published in the 1930s, some learners feel that a lot of the language and examples are outdated. However, it can still provide a fairly solid — albeit somewhat stilted — introduction to the language. Logical-mathematical learners, who prefer to learn in a structured manner, might appreciate the systematic approach this volume takes.
Bilingual books are a great choice, especially for beginning and intermediate Pashto learners. The Hoopoe Teaching-Stories series, largely based on traditional tales and authored by Idries Shah, can ease you into reading Pashto while entertaining you with folk stories such as The Lion Who Saw Himself in the Water, The Stranger’s Farewell, and The Boy Without a Name.
The Pashto Reader, published by the Center for Applied Linguistics in 1992, may be read online via the Internet Archive, or downloaded as a free PDF or ebook in the Kindle, ePub, DAISY, or plain text formats. Intermediate learners may find this reader a particularly helpful and convenient resource, as it includes vocabulary lists, tips on language usage, historical and cultural information, and analytical notes for detailed reading. There are also jokes and poetry, which were primarily sourced in Pakistan. All of these features will assist learners in reading Pashto more thoroughly, as well as getting a better grasp on Pashto language and Pashtun culture in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pashto Stories presents Old and New Testament stories from a Pashto perspective. There are downloadable audio and video versions accompanying the texts. In addition, you can download PDF versions of short books, such as A Treasury of Knowledge and Daily Strength.
For intermediate and advanced learners, Bookmaza presents free PDFs of scanned Pashto books. (Many of these appear to be older, public-domain-type texts.)
Additional Pashto novels, poetry, and short stories can be found on Pukhto.net. Like the texts on Bookmaza, these can also be read online or downloaded as PDFs.
Advanced learners may appreciate the opportunity to learn other subjects through Pashto, using these Pashto school textbooks from the Afghan Ministry of Education.
The BBC hosts a Pashto news page, with information about events in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as international news.
The Daily Wahdat is based in Peshawar, Pakistan. It appears to be Pakistan’s primary written news source in Pashto.
There are a few Pashto-language news publications in Afghanistan; most of them also have an English version, which can be helpful for learners:
- Afghan Government News Source
Khyber News TV, branded as “the only Pashto news and current affairs TV channel in Pakistan,” is a good choice for intermediate Pakistani Pashto learners. In addition to its YouTube channel, it presents video and written content in both an English version and a Pashto version on its website.
Streaming Pashto radio stations are limited in number. There are a few, though. Some broadcast news exclusively; others are dedicated to Pashto music.
Radio Free Afghanistan has a news site on which you can stream current broadcasts live — just look for the “speaker” icon at the top of the site. You can also read articles and watch news videos. In addition, the site hosts a few podcasts.
Voice of America broadcasting has a similar setup to the Radio Free Afghanistan site.
Pashto Radio, a music station based in Toronto, Canada, is streamable through TuneIn.com. (Recently, an update to the Google Chrome web browser made it incompatible with TuneIn, but you can still listen on TuneIn’s “pop-out player” on Chrome — or you can use the Firefox or Microsoft Edge browsers.)
A few different archives of Pashto music reside on Soundcloud, including Surspeen’s Best Music Best Pashto Tapy, Waya Waya Pashto – PTI Songs, and salman buledi baloch. These are largely Electronica and dance.
Spotify has a small selection of Pashto music, including a playlist of about 100 songs from Pakistan. These songs are largely adult contemporary, with a combination of traditional and electronic instruments accompanying the vocals.
Pandora hosts Pashto radio and music, including Zakir Hussain’s Pashto Radio. The search for “Pashto” can be a little fuzzy, though, resulting in hits that have nothing to do with Pashto language or culture.
You can find hundreds of Pashto songs on YouTube, in a variety of styles.
Patari claims to have the “biggest collection of Pakistani audio.” Some of this is in Pashto; it includes both music and podcasts. You’ll need to create an account to sign in and explore the collection.
Podcasts in Pashto give intermediate and advanced learners the opportunity to focus on listening comprehension. They deal with many topics and come from a variety of sources.
SBS Australia streams an extensive and frequently updated Pashto podcast series. It includes news from both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Both BBC Pashto and Voice of America Pashto have archived some older podcasts on Soundcloud. While these no longer provide current news, they might still be good practice for intermediate or advanced learners, who might already have some knowledge of the events discussed.
Faisal Khan and Shafeeq Gigyani produced a limited, eleven-episode podcast series: Pashto Podcast on Education & Economy.
YouTube is one of the richest sources of Pashto learning materials for English speakers. Videos tend to be a dynamic learning modality. They can appeal particularly to both auditory and visual learners. Most of the Pashto-learning videos on YouTube are intended for beginner and intermediate learners.
Intermediate and advanced learners, though, have a lot of Pashto music and other content to explore.
Alliance Bay Realty hosts an older YouTube channel for the now-defunct American Pashto Academy. It features a tremendous number of videos for beginning Pashto learners to acquire the Pashto alphabet, basic vocabulary, and grammar. Most of the Pashto is paired with an English translation, as well as a phonetic (Romanized) version of the Pashto words.
The series also includes cultural notes, a group of videos to help you read newspapers in Afghani-standard Pashto, and even a playlist of Pashto music videos. The singers in these videos are largely accompanied by acoustic and traditional instruments. (Unfortunately, several of these are marked “deleted” or “private” at this time, probably due to copyright issues.)
MilitaryLinguist presents about a dozen no-nonsense lessons for learning Pashto. Pashto words are presented in both romanized phonetic versions and Perso-Arabic script. The phonetic versions of the words use acute accent marks to show word stress, and the Perso-Arabic script has been annotated with the diacritics to indicate the short vowels. There’s also an English translation for each word. The audio is only in Pashto.
A newer channel with fairly frequent updates, English to Pashto Learning eschews the phonetic representations of Pashto words, and only displays them in the Pashto alphabet. Presenter Kashif Momand includes English translations, although there are noticeable errors in some of the English used.
Since much of the commentary in the videos is in Pashto, rather than English, this might be a better channel for intermediate learners — absolute beginners would probably be very quickly lost.
The channel has particularly rich content for learning grammar, with a special focus on verb tenses and modal verbs (such as should, will, and might.)
For intermediate and advanced learners, PB (“Pashto Beats”) Studio Music, based in Pakistan, has a wealth of Pashto songs — many from Pakistan, with a few from Afghanistan. They also post about one high-def, full-length Pashto film each year, such as Ilzaam (2017) and Gandageer (2018).
LemarTV is a particularly good find, in that it’s one of the few exclusively Pashto broadcast channels, based in Afghanistan. It may be best to enjoy the content through YouTube. (If you’re using the Chrome web browser, the station’s website will automatically push out an Adobe FlashPlayer install, which you might want to avoid. This appears not to be an issue in the Microsoft Edge or Firefox browsers, however.)
1TVNewsAF, from Afghanistan, has literally hundreds of videos from news broadcasts and the station’s morning magazine. There are political programs, news reports, sports coverage, and debates. Much of the content is in Pashto, but there is also some in Dari. The channel has an app for both Android and iOS, so you can watch videos whenever you have a few spare moments.
When it comes to finding Pashto films and TV programs on streaming channels, you might need to go beyond more mainstream options like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. While all three of these services — Netflix in particular — are known for carrying some international programming, Pashto learners may be disappointed by the lack of Pashto fare. In addition, searches for “Pashto” and “Pashtun” shows on these platforms can be misleading. Often, such searches will yield a list of programs with English, Arabic, Urdu, or Hindi language options — but little, if any, Pashto.
Similarly, Sling, AT&T/DirecTV, and DISH Network, all of which have a plethora of international television packages, aren’t offering Pashto packages at this time.
Roku, a popular streaming device with hundreds of channels you can add, comes through with multiple possibilities for Pashto learners:
- Northbay TV caters to an Afghani audience, with content in Pashto, Dari, and Farsi
- Almahdi TV hosts religious programming in Pashto
- Afghan TV Procast may have some Pashto programming
- PakistanTV likely has local programming, possibly with some in Pashto
As with many international channels on Roku, additional monthly fees may apply for each channel you add. That said, the fees are usually in the neighborhood of a dollar per month, per channel. So, depending on your Pashto level and your learning goals, you may find such channels a worthwhile investment.
Ariana Afghanistan International Television can be streamed live online. Some content will be in Dari or Farsi, but some is in Pashto.
Darya is a movie and television channel featuring programming in Pashto, as well as Farsi and Dari. There’s content from Afghanistan, Korea, Turkey, India, and other countries. These shows include cartoons for kids, sports, documentaries, music and talent shows like Afghan Star (similar to Pop Idol or America’s Got Talent), and news broadcasts. You can watch Darya on both Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices.
The Afghan Live TV website is a streaming gateway for various Afghani channels. There are a few television channels and radio stations with Pashto programming, normally mixed with shows in other languages. You may run into streaming restrictions for certain channels, based on your location.
Pollywood has been used to refer to Pashto films that are from Pakistan — specifically, from the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Pashto is most spoken in that country. Confusingly, “Pollywood” can also mean Punjabi cinema, as you might discover when searching for that term on Amazon or other video sources.
Afghanistan has its own Pashto cinema, which — largely due to changes in the country’s political climate — has grown considerably since 2001.
At this time, it can be hard to find Pashto films outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan, although you may find a few films on YouTube channels like the aforementioned Pashto Beats.
As the Pashto saying goes, که غر لوړدی په سرلارلري (“Even if a mountain is very high, there is a path to the top.”). Keep climbing, take the road less traveled, and it can make all the difference in your quest to learn Pashto.