Can Pakistanis not speak in fluent Urdu anymore?

Published: July 18, 2015

I appreciate the Pakistan government’s decision to push Urdu to the forefront again.

I am not proud of my inability to read and write Urdu well. Growing up overseas, I did not have the opportunity to study the tongue, and English became my first language. As a result, it takes me far longer to read Urdu words than it should. This is not a good thing, and when I speak in Urdu, which I do well, I try to use as many Urdu words in my speech as possible, hard as it can be with English having infiltrated the language tongue so heavily.

Surprisingly, when I moved to Pakistan later in my life, I realised that many who had grown up in the country, educated in their own schools, couldn’t speak Urdu without heavily resorting to English words. If you think about it, it is actually very difficult to do. It is also not limited to ‘burger’ classes. Speak with most in the country in Urdu and you’ll notice that 10 per cent of their speech consists of words from the English language, words which have perfectly good replacements in Urdu.

Whenever my uncle visits from overseas, we try a game. As he also enjoys speaking in Urdu, we try to have a conversation purely in the language, without a single use of an English word. It is extremely difficult. I want you, the reader, to give it a try with someone. The same conversations can take significantly longer as you struggle to find the right words in the Urdu vocabulary. Although when it works well, you end up sounding like PTV’s khabarnama.

Urdu’s corruption is an issue with our mind-set. We judge the language, and we judge those who speak it. An example is Saeed Ajmal, whose courageous attempts to speak English were mocked across social media. Then there is Meera, who is consistently set up by Pakistani celebrities to fail in English interviews. The poor actress is regularly targeted by her peers so that they can have a good laugh.

I’ve spoken to these celebrities and perhaps they don’t realise how poor their English is. For some reason, we shame those who can’t speak in a foreign language, yet find it perfectly acceptable to struggle with Urdu.

I still remember listening to Imran Khan’s speech, where he tried to shame Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for being unable to speak English fluently. This was startling, as Imran was addressing the working classes in the crowd, most of who were unlikely to speak English as well either.

When I would visit Pakistan as a child, I clearly remember that there was still some respect for Urdu. Adverts in Urdu were written in Urdu, while adverts in English would be written in English. Today, it is difficult to find a sign or an advertisement written in Urdu at all. And when it is, it is written in English, which is simply shocking.

Yes, it seems the language is dying a slow death when the giant companies in the nation choose to write Urdu in English alphabets.

This is why I appreciate the Pakistan government’s decision to push Urdu to the forefront again. Reportedly, the government plans to deliver speeches at home and overseas in Urdu, and to publish official documents and the like in Urdu as well.

There are so many nations which pay respect to their national language across the world, even on international platforms, so I don’t see why Pakistan cannot either.

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.