Over the last few years, I’ve been slowly learning Hindi to help me assimilate into my home in North India. If you can’t speak Hindi in North India, you’ll always be on the outside and won’t be able to interact with the common man on the street. And in my case, if I can’t speak Hindi, I can’t speak with my wife’s family.
It’s exactly the same situation for me in Pakistan. If I can’t speak or read Urdu while I’m travelling there, my experience is frustrated by not being able to read menus and less rich as I can’t interact with the locals.
So I decided to learn to read and write Urdu! Spoken Hindi and Urdu are nearly the same – except Hindi has more words from Sanskrit and Urdu has more from Arabic and Persian. But ~80% of the daily speech is the same. So I specifically needed to focus on learning Urdu reading to help me in Pakistan.
Don’t turn away if you can’t speak Urdu though, because the first step to learning Hindi or Urdu is to learn reading and writing! If you skip learning the alphabet, it’s more difficult to grasp pronunciation. So spend the time upfront learning to read.
How to begin learning Urdu
I learnt Urdu reading in one month going at a slow pace. Here’s how I did it. The first thing I had to do was find a teacher. As far as I’m concerned, a teacher is a must for language learning.
So on Fridays, I took a private 2-hour Urdu lecture with Todd at EarthDiverse.
Week 1: We began learning Urdu’s 40 letters. We got through half the letters. During the rest of the week, I spent 1 hour a day memorising these letters.
Week 2: We learnt the other half of the Urdu alphabet. The rest of the week I spent memorising the entire alphabet.
Week 3: We moved onto Urdu vowels. I memorised them and began doing worksheets translating Urdu to English to help me recognise the alphabet letters.
I can speak Hindi too, so at the same time, I transcribed Urdu in Hindi just for my own Hindi practice.
By the end of week 3, I’d learnt the alphabet and vowels! One caveat though, because of my knowledge of Hindi, it was much easier and faster for me to learn Urdu.
If you’re not familiar with Hindi, then you need to double the time it’ll take you – because you have letter pronunciation to learn (Hindi and Urdu pronunciations are very similar). This is why I recommend using a teacher; they’ll pace you and correct you when you make mistakes.
Week 4: I began to read words and easy sentences with Todd! From now on I’ll spend time translating signs, menus, and short stories.
After 4 weeks, 8 hours of lecture, and about 30-40 hours of study, I was able to read basic Urdu.
My writing is a real mess, but that’s fine because I will probably never have to write in Urdu in my life.
My study space for learning Urdu
I had the following setup in my study space:
- Urdu alphabet chart
- Urdu numerals chart
- Urdu alphabet to English and Hindi translation chart
- I’ve got an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil which are wonderful for practising languages and making notes. I use the GoodNotes app. But you can do just as well with pencil and paper!
- There’s always chai too.
Resources I used to learn Urdu
When it comes to learning the Urdu alphabet and vowels, I’ve posted the best videos for that.
If you’re looking for Urdu kids books to practice reading, download the eKitaab app. It’s an app by the Government of India’s National Council For the Promotion Of Urdu Language.
Once you’ve learnt the alphabet, reading, and writing, you can move onto spoken Urdu and all the various tenses.
Good luck, and once you master Urdu, consider learning Hindi as it’ll come very quickly to you.