One of the big reasons I started blogging was to share the journey of teaching my children Urdu. Here are some tips for parents trying to pass on the language to the next generation. Maybe you have faced some road blocks as you started and feeling frustrated or maybe you are just starting and feeling nervous. I hope these tips will help your family!
Raising bilingual children is a challenging but extremely rewarding pursuit. Research has shown that bilingual children have more creative brains than those who know one language and are better at problem solving. Teaching children Urdu is also a great way to keep them connected to their cultural heritage. The benefits of bilingualism are well-established. It’s a gift you can give to your children. So let’s get started on how to teach your children Urdu.
The first and most important ingredient in the mix is respecting the Urdu language. Pass on the language because you love it. Maybe this might require you to brush up your own interest in the language by listening to some beautiful songs, ghazals and qawwalis. Think about your favorite Urdu writers, plays and dramas. Revive your interest in the language. Your children will pick up on your love and respect. Don’t let Urdu be the language they hear when they are getting scolded, or when grandma visits and wants to watch a pakistani drama.
You Are Your Own Best Tool
Before you spend money on books, apps, software, classes or CDs remember that if you speak the language, you are the best tool to teach your child. The rest of these resources are helpful but you will be the driving force. Even if your child is at school the majority of the day, or you work outside the house, a little dedicated time to the task in the week will plant the seeds of learning. Use the time in the car, giving a bath, over the dinner table or walking to school to engage in some of the activities I will suggest in this post.
Make Learning Fun
Don’t scare your children through worksheets, lessons and expectations. Have fun teaching them and make it an activity they look forward to. Sing songs to increase their vocabulary of Urdu words and play games to teach them Urdu concepts.
Here are some ideas below. You can build on these to have fun while learning.
+ Song to learn Days of the Week – Video here
+ Learn Urdu words for Feelings – Video here
+ Urdu words while doing groceries – Video here
+ Fun Urdu games for Toddlers – Read here
+ Urdu treasure hunt – Read here
+ Urdu games for a road trip – Read here
+ A fun Urdu game to increase vocabulary and learn science – Read here
Focus First on Verbal Skills
Concentrate on developing your child’s verbal skills first. This will increase their interest and confidence in the language. Introduce reading and writing skills as level 2. Urdu is a difficult language to learn, especially if you live outside of South Asia and your child is not being taught the language at school. Don’t intimidate and overwhelm your child. If they master the verbal skills, they can still write Urdu using the roman English letters (Side note: Farhan Akhtar is an amazingly talented Urdu writer/poet and only uses roman letters to read and write Urdu). If they are learning Arabic it will be easier for them later to learn the Urdu Nastaliq script. Moreover they will have greater interest to learn reading and writing once they have a better command on the verbal skills.
Talk and Teach
Don’t underestimate the value of talk. Talk to your children in Urdu. Talk to your family in Urdu, your children are listening. Point out things to them. Talk to them in the car, the drive thru, while giving them a bath and around the dinner table. Even if they don’t reply to you in Urdu, they are listening and their vocabulary is developing. You can gently repeat their English replies in Urdu.
Make it Social
Children enjoy learning with little people their own age. See if you can round up a few kids to arrange a story time. Keep it small and manageable.
Join my daughter and I as we do Urdu story time every Saturday through Facebook live videos (9.30 AM Mountain Standard Time and 9.30 PM Pakistan time).
+ Tips to arrange Urdu story time with resources – Read here
Read with them
Cuddle up with a great book and enjoy reading with your children. Books are a great way to increase your child’s vocabulary and comprehension of Urdu. I have written a separate post about recommendations for great Urdu books for children and how to find them in and outside of Pakistan. This is a huge topic so it deserved a separate post. Read it here. There are some great Urdu books available now that have fun themes, songs and stories.
Include Family & Friends
Family and friends who speak Urdu are great assets. At social gatherings encourage speaking in Urdu. Grandparents can build on your efforts whether they live close by or are far away. The stories that are passed on by grandparents are treasures for life. The patience and dedication of grandparents is priceless. Skype calls with relatives are great for long distance chats. If time zones don’t match, video messages work great. My daughter sends video messages to her cousins in Manila, and they reply back when they can.
Cooking, Crafting and Urdu
I love involving my children while I cook. They feel empowered helping out in an activity they see their mother so frequently busy in. This develops a natural learning environment to learn new Urdu words and phrases. Yes, there are messes but the benefits outweigh the hassle on most days.
+ My daughter and I making Potato Cutlets and practicing Urdu – Watch here
If your children enjoy crafting, add urdu learning to the one you’re doing. Sharing some ideas here:
+ Making Raani the Haathi T-shirt. Read here
+ Basant inspired craft. Read here
Make Urdu Visible in your Life
Don’t keep Urdu restricted just to your lessons. Show your children how it’s an important part of your life.
Here are some fun ideas:
- Display your children’s names in Urdu along with English
- Write notes in Urdu
- Keep Urdu part of celebrations like birthdays, Eid etc
- Give their toys names in Urdu
- Explain to your children how being bilingual is a special power
- List being bilingual as one of the qualities of your child when you introduce them to teachers and in class
- Read Urdu books yourself so that your children can model after you
- Introduce your children to arts and music in Urdu. Never too early to develop a taste for Qawali
+ Six ways to bring Urdu in your birthday celebrations. Read here
+ Singing the birthday song in Urdu. Read here
Notice how I have kept electronic tools at the end of my list since these alone will not help your child learn and enjoy Urdu. These are at best additional resources. Don’t rely on them alone. The primary caregiver has to be involved for learning to be engaging and effective. When your child watches the shows, cuddle up and watch with them. Later discuss the characters and the themes. This will enhance their learning.
Here are some of my suggestions for online resources:
- ToffeeTV app and website for fun urdu activities, songs and stories
- Jan show on YouTube
- Sim sim Hamara on YouTube (Urdu version of Sesame street)
- Burka Avenger show
- UrduMom YouTube channel for stories, songs and fun activities in Urdu
- UrduMom weekly story time on Facebook (Happens every Saturday 9.30 AM Mountain Standard Time and 9.30 PM in Pakistan)
Hope you enjoyed these tips. All the best in your journey to teach your children Urdu and raising them bilingual. I would love to hear from you on what strategies you use and if the ones I suggested help. Take care!