We always knew we wanted our kids to speak at least some Urdu at home. There was the cultural importance, our desire for them to enjoy the beauty of the language as they got older, and even just the fact that it has been so well researched that there are several cognitive benefits of being bilingual.
Living in Canada, the US or UK can have its challenges when it comes to encouraging a second language at home. For us, our kids are not exposed to the same level of Urdu at home or in school as they are exposed to in Pakistan, or in the environments many of us were raised. We speak fluent Urdu, but we met each other at a young age (a story for another time) when we spoke English to each other, and that has continued. Finding fun resources (books, games, etc.) to teach Urdu to children in Canada, the US or UK can also be very challenging.
That said, we still do have a desire to continue the tradition and have our children be comfortable with the language. We have struggled with this ourselves but after applying some of the techniques below, have started seeing improvements - so, we wanted to share them with you!
1. Speak Urdu to them when you can, even if it is for a little bit every day
I know this sounds a little insultingly obvious, but we couldn’t write a blog post about encouraging Urdu without mentioning this. In an ideal world, we would all speak Urdu at home all the time, we would serenade each other with Urdu poetry every morning, I would read Urdu novels before bed and my kids’ Urdu would be speaking Urdu bilkul rawani kay saath. But for our household, that’s not a realistic goal - so even a little bit will do. Speak as much as you can, even if you struggle a bit yourself. Kids are listening to everything!
2. Get them to start incorporating short words into their vocabulary
“Mujhe bhook lag rahi hai”, “mujhe paani chahiye”, “mujhe khelna hai” or “mujhe bathroom jaana hai” - even if it's just these 3-5 sentences to start. Get them comfortable with the second language and build their confidence so that they are more willing to try longer, more complex sentences. We have recently started doing this and we are seeing benefits already. There is something very heartwarming about your child asking something in Urdu, especially when you’re not expecting it.
3. Expose them to more sounds (and videos) in Urdu
Maybe you guys are that ideal family that has pulled off the “no screen” really well, in which case, we are very impressed. For the rest of us where phones and ipads are still part of our daily routine, why not use it to our benefit? There are several good channels on YouTube such as Sim Sim Hamara and Toffee TV that have interesting videos for kids, in Urdu. Urdu Mom talks about this as well, along with many other tactics, in her post on teaching kids Urdu.
4. Read in Urdu
From a young age our son loved being read to. We would read to him often - both during the day and before bed at night. We tried incorporating Urdu books but it was challenging because most kids books for Urdu are fairly complex. My husband had the additional challenge of not being a fluent reader, so we didn’t get very far with Urdu books. We tried bilingual books and dual language books. The challenge with those books is that they are just simply translated, so you still need to be able to read Urdu script (and the more complex words).
This has always bothered us, which is why we came up with the idea of transliterated books - Urdu books written using English alphabets. You can check out our books here.
If your Urdu reading is strong and your child is more advanced, there are many other options. Reem Faruqi has compiled a great list of Urdu resources here, including books, Youtube channels, and some apps.
As our son got older, practicing with fun worksheets has really helped. There are many visually appealing worksheets available online (most for free) that you can use to help your kids understand basic concepts. You can simply google a bunch or you can head to our site here where we provide some free Urdu-English bilingual worksheets to get you started. Again, our approach has been to incorporate “Roman Urdu”, or English letters, to help our kids grasp the language faster.
These are some of the techniques we have tried and seen success with. We hope some of these work for you as well. What about you - what have you tried? Let us know in the comments below!