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Improve your Urdu pronunciation

Let’s talk about Urdu pronunciation!

So I’m assuming that most of the users of Foreigncy are native English speakers. I’m a white American native English speaker and started learning Urdu when I was 18, well beyond that range of time popularly believed you are supposedly very receptive to learning a second language. I think adults are just as capable as children and teenagers of learning a second language, but they have to go about learning in a different way. Pronunciation may not be as easy for adult learners and reducing your English accent is often a major goal when learning a second language.

One obstacle to reducing accent is vowel pronunciation. Depending on the accent, English can have anywhere from 14 to more than 20 vowel sounds which, until you go into the linguistic patterns and origin of words, do not have a consistent way of being written. On the other hand, Urdu has 10 vowels sounds which are neatly categorized into 3 short vowels and 7 long vowels and, if we include the short vowel diacritic marks, are pronounced exactly as they are written.

My biggest obstacle was learning to differentiate between pure vowels and diphthongs, as Urdu uses 6 pure vowels and 4 diphthongs. For example, او “o” in Urdu is pronounced like the “o” in English “order” not English “oh.” Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between o and au. For example, I pronounced the word نوَکْریِ “job” like “nokrii” for a long time. It is pronounced “naukrii” with the “au” sounding like English “au” in “Australia.”

Two words that can be difficult to differentiate between are میَں maiN “I” and میں meN “in.” Another pronunciation you have to get down is the pronunciation of 3rd person singular ہَے “hai.” It is pronounced like the “he” of English “help” not like English “hey.” These words are so common and pronouncing them correctly is imperative to improving your Urdu pronunciation.

One more tip, learn how to roll your Rs. Urdu has rolled Rs. It might be difficult as an American English speaker to learn to roll your Rs; some people are never able to roll their r’s, even native speakers of languages with rolled Rs. That aside, I’ll give you a couple tricks that may help you. So the rolling r sound is made by relaxing your tongue and vibrating it against the back of your teeth or palate. Try saying “put it away” or “putter-up” and notice that your tongue pushes against the back of your front teeth. This is the position your tongue should be in when rolling your Rs. Another method you can try is saying “butter,” “ladder,” or a combination of the two as fast as you can over and over. Eventually, the “tter” or “dder” part of the words should start to sound like a rolling R.

Happy Urdu-ing!!

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