How I learnt ‘I can’t speak Urdu’ is not cool

Published: April 17, 2013

What’s embarrassing is, I was born and brought up in Pakistan and Urdu should come naturally to me, but ‘hey English has always been the cooler language’ – right? ILLUSTRATION: IMAAN SHEIKH

I had recently shifted to the web desk at The Express Tribune and much to my amazement, it was only fun up until I had to translate breaking news into English!

I didn’t really learn how to speak Urdu as a child, and never did well in that subject at school either. Guess what, it’s come back to bite me on my backside!

Make no mistake, Urdu is not just a problem for me. There are lots of societal “burgers” out there who struggle with the language at all times and do absolutely nothing about it. What’s embarrassing is, I was born and brought up in Pakistan and Urdu should come naturally to me, but ‘hey English has always been the cooler language’ – right?

We’re not doing anything for the language by not speaking it, yet I still always hear:

“Laila, please don’t speak in Urdu!”

I have to admit my Urdu vocabulary improved after marriage with my husband’s vast ‘maila’ vocabulary, but you know what? He can’t read Urdu either!

So I guess we’re just a bunch of Urdu illiterates.

My sisters-in-laws, brothers and cousins all between the ages of 15 and 17 are struggling with the language in school. The trouble is not the way it is being taught – it’s just not “cool” enough.

I know this because when I was in school I never thought twice about Urdu. I mean why would I? I would never really need Urdu, right? It was always about getting those high distinctions in English.

Now, regret is slapping me in the face each time I try to remember what tabdeeli (change) means.

Urdu is slowly becoming a forgotten language not just for me, but for many of us. The schools we attend do not give importance to it anymore, and neither do our parents. I don’t see kids taking tuition for Urdu anymore either. It’s all about maths and other compulsory subjects, but what people forget is that just like it’s so super awesome when you can speak French, being able to speak, read and write in Urdu is just as awesome and useful when we exit the bubble many of us live in.

It’s sad that I have to witness the demise of Urdu in my lifetime. I hope to do myself a favour and work on my Urdu skills – maybe I’ll take some tuitions, or something.

This post originally appeared here.

Read more by Laila here.


Laila Dharamsey

Associate creative manager at Red Communication Arts. She tweets @LailaDharamsey1 (

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