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Top ten tips for Zen Peacekeepers No 1: How to learn a new language

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 by Marianne Elliott

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  1. Ask your colleagues to speak to you in their own language as much as possible.   
  2. Slowly
    and sadly come to accept that you are not going to learn by osmosis.
  3. Find
    a language teacher and arrange for him to come to your guesthouse for
  4. Find
    a chaperone to join your lessons in order to protect your reputation (I asked a male colleague to join me in the lessons, he ended up becoming my boyfriend, I'm pretty sure that is not how chaperones are supposed to work).
  5. Pay
    attention in your lessons and do your homework. But be careful not to pay
    too much attention or your teacher may think you fancy him and start
    getting you to repeatedly practice sentences like “I love my teacher”.
  6. Listen
    to your colleagues as you all eat lunch together and pay attention to
    words and sounds that you hear often. Ask them what those words mean, or
    guess and ask them if you are right. You probably won’t be, but you might
    make them laugh.
  7. Practice every chance you get, speak Dari to the cook (even if means only being able to ever ask for the same meal over and over again) and speak Dari to guards (but not too much, see tip 5).
  8. Practice
    by running through verb tables with your driver in the morning (notice
    that he knows enough about verb tables to be considered well-educated in
    Afghanistan and wonder why this is the best job he can get).
  9. Practice
    by talking to yourself (seriously, I do it all the time. See also “Top
    Tips for How to Survive Living Alone in the Middle of Nowhere”)
  10. If
    in doubt, use an Arabic word. This might not work so well with French but
    there are plenty of them scattered through out Dari and even if it was not
    right, I found people thought it was pretty cool that a non-Muslim
    foreigner knew a little bit of the language of the Quran.  

[I'm planning to scatter these lists of "Top Tips for Zen Peacekeepers" through the book – as a way of talking about some themes in a more light-hearted style and in keeping with the idea of the book as a "manual" about the "art of peacekeeping"] 


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12 Responses to "Top ten tips for Zen Peacekeepers No 1: How to learn a new language"

  1. Harry Rud says:

    A year and a bit in Afghanistan and I’ve got as far as number 2, plus a bit of 6 (the making them laugh bit). And number 9, but not in Dari. Oh dear.

  2. Mandi says:

    Great list! I have to say that with only slight modifications does it also apply to learning German. 😉

  3. ash says:

    good advice. thanks….all things i should heed as there are languages i’d like to learn…besides english and spanish….

  4. mel says:

    i LOVE it! your playful personality really comes out in this list and it made me smile–and want to learn a new language!

  5. Wendie Lee says:

    Fantastic list, it made me giggle but also understand how hard it must be. I am loving seeing how your writing is evolving and eagerly await more.

  6. Mary says:

    Love this!

  7. Alanna says:

    That’s pretty much exactly how I learned Uzbek, all the way down to substituting Arabic words and getting smiles.

  8. Swirly says:

    LOVE THIS!! A great idea for the book and a wonderful way to inject a bit of lightheartedness throughout your stories. You are amazing my friend.

  9. Asiyah says:

    Love this! Especially #5. I ended up with an older female teacher…

  10. susanna says:

    Great tips and with a good sense of humour. 🙂

  11. [a} says:

    Heehee. You’re awesome.

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