Dari and Pashto: Languages of Afghanistan

Today Carol Felicio from Language Lizard gives us more information about the two official languages of Afghanistan, Dari and Pashto, and where we can find bilingual books...

by Carol Felicio

In the United States the Afghan immigrant population has grown faster over the last decade than many others.  In fact, over 55,000 Afghan refugees arrived in 2021 alone and 44% of those refugees housed temporarily at US military bases are children. With the spotlight on Afghanistan this year, we wanted to take a look at the languages that are spoken in the country, interesting facts, and bilingual resources for these new immigrants. 

Languages of Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, much of the country identifies as bilingual and there are over 40 different languages spoken altogether. While the lingua franca of Afghanistan is Dari, both Dari and Pashto are considered the official languages of the country. Since 1964, the Afghan government has politically promoted Dari as the official term for the New Persian language spoken in the country. Pashto is spoken by roughly 50% of Afghanistan, mostly ethnic Pashtuns. Interestingly, the Afghan national anthem is in Pashto. 

Interesting Facts About Dari and Pashto

Both Pashto and Dari are written using the Arabic alphabet.

Until the early 20th century, only Pashto speakers were considered Afghans. The rest of the Afghan population were called by their ethnic or tribal designations.

“Dari” comes from the Persian word “darbar” which means royal court and it is used because it was the language of the Central Asian and Moghul Indian courts.

Dari is the accepted Afghan dialect of Persian and it is considered one of the oldest languages in the world. Not only can many people who speak Dari understand poems written over 1600 years ago, but they can also understand Farsi (Western Persian) and Tajik, a modern variety of Persian spoken in Tajikistan and other parts of Central Asia.

There are two main dialects of Pashto, the “hard” and the “soft”. The first can be referred to by Peshawari or Pakhto while the latter can be called either Kandahari or Pashtu.

Bilingual Children’s Books in Dari and Pashto

You may want suggestions on engaging bilingual children’s books, if you interact with children who speak Dari or Pashto, or are learning these languages. Some fun story books with text in both English and the Pashto language include: Be Kind, We Can All Be Friends, Happy After All, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Walking through the Jungle, and Who Are We? For bilingual children’s books in both English and Dari, you can find these titles: Be Kind, We Can All Be Friends, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Sports Day in the Jungle, and Who Are We?

If you want to learn more about diverse languages, Language Lizard has a Language Spotlight series that showcases interesting facts and resources.  

Carol Felicio holds a Master of the Arts in Education Policy and Social Analysis from Teachers College Columbia University and joined Language Lizard to continue her passion for early childhood and bilingual education. Previously, she has taught as an ESL instructor in both Spain and South Korea. At Language Lizard, she manages the blog, newsletter, and social media accounts.


To find more info on Language Lizard and other places to buy or borrow bilingual books, check out this World Kid Lit resource page.