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The struggle of not being able to speak Urdu fluently in Pakistan

The struggle of not being able to speak Urdu fluently in Pakistan

Mehreen Zahra-Malik
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Growing up, I never properly learnt how to speak Urdu. For a plethora of reasons, the main one being my upbringing in a foreign country, it wasn’t something I ever caught onto even after I joined my Lahori private school. This could be because it was an English medium school and even outside of class, everyone spoke in English.

Today, my younger 11-15 year old cousins are still struggling with Urdu in school, not necessarily because the coursework is exceptionally difficult, but rather it just isn’t a language that they care very much about given that it’s rarely spoken among their schools or families anymore.

During my adolescence, I had the same mindset. When I was in school and struggling with the language, both in class and outside of it, I never thought twice about the repercussions this may have in the future. A major reason for this is because we were always taught that the superior language is English. Even in class, the focus was always about getting high grades in English, no one was lauded for doing particularly well in Urdu. Today, however, I feel regret at my mediocre Urdu skills and struggle everyday when it takes me a few seconds to remember what the word “siasat” means while at work.

I know I’m not the only one slowly forgetting Urdu. It’s becoming a dying language in our nation as schools and families refuse to give it any importance anymore.

This is not to downplay the importance of English. It is, however, important to realise that detaching ourselves from Urdu has cost us heavily. Studies on education systems have repeatedly shown that primary education of all subjects must be given in the mother tongue as the child is best able to absorb it at that age. However, because we have not done so, due to our inferiority complex derived from our colonial mindsets, we have failed to develop even a liking for Urdu among our current generation.

Other than that, Urdu is the insignia of our culture. The unfortunate dilemma is that we find it ‘cool’ or trendy to dissociate ourselves from it. If we compare ourselves to other non-English speaking nations, such as Germany, France, China, and Japan etc, we can easily identify a deep sense of belonging instilled in them — one that we lack today because we are so confused.

Universities in these countries make sure that their courses are taught in their national language, with very few exceptions even up to the level of a PhD. Scholars from these countries are accepted, credited and appreciated all around the world.

Unless we start to take some pride in our national language, and derive a sense of belonging and unity from it, we will always be a confused nation on the brink of success, but never really there.

No nation has ever progressed by working in someone else’s language. It is important for us to realise that just as it’s so impressive that a person can speak Spanish; being able to read and write in Urdu is equally impressive and should we valued just as much.

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