Igniting the love for Urdu in America

Published: August 20, 2011
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New technology can help support old traditions PHOTO: REUTERS

This is how my story begins. I was blessed with my first born, a beautiful daughter, in June 2008. On this special day, my Bhaijan, a close relative who is like a father to me, gave me an important piece of advice:

“Apnay bachoon ko apni madr-e-zaban sekhana – agar nahi sekhai tu future may tum chahaye 10,000 dollar bhi kharach karo gay tu kuch hasil nahi hoga, aur wo apni zaban asi nahi sekh sakaingay jaysay tum bachpan may sekhao gay”.

(If you don’t teach your children their mother tongue, then in the future, even if you spend 10,000 dollars, you won’t achieve anything, and your children will never learn Urdu the way they would have learnt it if you would have taught them when they were younger.)

My Bhaijan has been my guardian, my coach, and my mentor after the death of my beloved father. Hence, his advice means the world to me, and I have always kept it close to my heart. Bhaijan believes that culture is strongly associated with language, and we ought to do as much as we can to teach our young ones our language.

Fast forward to June 2011. My daughter is now 3-years-old, and I have also been blessed with a son.

So what did I do during these 3 years?

I embarked on a journey and I started my own small company, here in Fremont, CA, with the help of my best friend Arjumand Azeemi. We call it “Qurtaba”, as we want to rekindle the passion of “Innovation, Invention and Deep Research” amongst young Muslims, and specifically amongst children of Pakistani descent.

The motivation behind starting this company was an observation I made when my daughter was  12-months-old. I noticed her fluently humming the ABC song with gusto. After a few months, she was even able to recognize the English alphabets. The reason behind this, I later understood, was due to the influence of applications on the iPhone, iPad, Android, and other mobile devices. In addition to this, I realized that YouTube streaming directly on to our house, is really impacting the life of toddlers and children. My daughter, I realized with dismay, could not hum Udru nursery rhymes or recognize the Urdu alphabet.

Bearing this enlightening insight in mind, my business partner and I worked hard to launch some Urdu Apps for children. The first two apps we came up with for the iPhone and iPad are related to the “Alif Bay Pay”, the Urdu alphabet.

We spent countless hours crafting the details and also performing usability testing among our children. My friend and partner, Arjumand Azeemi, also has a 3-year-old son. Thus, it became natural for us to collect feedback from our children. This, henceforth, became a personal project for us and we were immensely driven to achieve success.

This success came from the eventual launching of Urdu apps on the iPhone and iPad. Even though this step is a relatively small one, it is a vital beginning to ignite the love for Urdu in youngsters living abroad. I gauged my achievement, with tears in my eyes, as in the months to come; I began to notice my children humming Urdu nursery rhymes. My children are now at the stage where they are learning to write the Urdu alphabet on a whiteboard at home.

However, I must be clear on one fact. Our efforts to launch Urdu apps are in no way a ploy to demote the English language or any native language of the country where an expatriate Pakistani is situated. Living in a country other than Pakistan, it is understood that the language spoken there becomes the default language, and a child learns it regardless of whether he/she is taught it or not. However if you observe Chinese, Indian, Italian and Russian families alike have kept their respective cultures alive in the countries they are living in, by teaching their children their mother-tongue. It is for this very reason that Chinese or Russians living abroad are very much in sync with their respective cultures and in touch with their roots.

We, thus, believe that language defines one’s culture and one’s culture defines one’s identity. I think we are now ready to help expatriates by building Urdu apps for mobile phones to keep the love for Urdu alive amongst young children. Our efforts will, at least, bring the upcoming generation a little closer to their culture whilst they are living abroad. Although they will be known as “American”, “British”, “Aussies” and so on, they will still have a part of the that is Pakistani.

Learn more about the apps:

 Alif Bay Pay helps young children to become familiar with the Urdu alphabet. This app has an alphabet jingle at the end.

Urdu Nursery Rhymes is great fun and an excellent educational tool used to familiarize young children with the Urdu language at an early age. The app has six beautifully sung nursery rhymes for children.

Mudassir.Azeemi

Mudassir Azeemi

Mudassir Azeemi is the co-founder of Qurtaba LLC which focuses on iOS App Development, specializing in childrens apps. His Twitter handle is @mmudassir

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