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Urdu As A Modern Language In The Uk Education Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5002 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The study was designed to investigate the future of Urdu in the UK. British born Asians were the population of the study. The study was a survey type which was delimited to the schools of Lancashire, Midlands and West Midlands and one school from each was the sample of the study. Questionnaire was used as a research tool and forty five questionnaires were distributed to collect data from which forty responses could be possible. Parameters of interest were, ages, background (Natural), mother tongue, gender, places of study, education levels and use of Urdu. After analysis of data, it was found that future of Urdu in the UK is bright and it enjoys still most commonly used community language among Asians. Finally, areas of consideration are suggested that will allow us to enhance the study of Urdu and also make it an instrument of social development (health, social care etc).

Research question and context:

“Urdu is a living language and has a bright future in the UK”.

During the author’s PGCE placement at School, the head teacher said and generally believed that Urdu is losing its appeal to British born Asian learners as; parents prefer to teach a language other than Urdu to their Children. The author also realized and observed that pupils have had less motivation towards Urdu as compared to other languages. So, in the light of the author’s observations and the head teacher’s views the author conducted a survey to get a better picture about the future of Urdu in the UK. There may be a lot of reasons behind this lack of motivation but the author focused on following questions:

Why is Urdu less appealing to British learners?

What are the sources of learning Urdu in the UK?

What are the interests of British Asians for learning Urdu?

How do British Asians use Urdu language in their daily life?

Which writing script of Urdu is preferred by British Asians in the UK?

How is it possible to promote and preserve Urdu through electronic and print media?

Does Urdu need a modern pedagogy to cope with modern requirements?

Literature Review

Language seems to have many uses like, a means of communication, an instrument of transmitting knowledge and an expression of cultural and creative urges of a community. “A language is the emblem of its speakers. Each language determines a unique way of viewing the world. It encapsulates the laws and traditions and beliefs of its ethnic group.” (R.M.W.Dixen.1997:135). So is the case with the language of Urdu as, according to George Weber’s article Top Languages:

“The World’s 10 Most Influential Languages in Language Today, Hindi/Urdu is the fourth most spoken language in the world, with 4.7 percent of the world’s population, after Mandarin, English, and Spanish”.

Urdu is a South Asian language spoken in Pakistan as a national language (Qaumi Zabaan). Urdu is also one of the officially recognized languages in India and has official language status in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and the national capital, New Delhi. In Indian administered Kashmir, Urdu is the primary official language. It is the only state in India where Urdu has been given such a status.

According to Mehrab on line report on International Urdu Conference “Urdu has no boundary and has its roots all over the world”. BBC Urdu website states:

“Urdu is closely related to Hindi. Urdu is spoken as a first language by over 60 million people (including 10 million in Pakistan and 48 million in India)”.

Masica (1991: 22) describes “Urdu as having no specific territorial base, in the sense that there is no locality or set of localities in the Indian sub-continent that can be pointed out at as an Urdu-speaking area.”

However, Urdu is demographically significant in another way as well. It is widely used as a second language throughout the Muslim communities of South Asia. As Schmidt (1999:16) says, “Urdu is also spoken in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal, and has become the cultural language and lingua franca of the South Asian Muslim diasporas outside the subcontinent”.

Urdu in Britain

The relationship between Urdu and Britain is not new; it started around three and a half hundred years ago when the British entered into the sub-continent as a trader and established the East India Company. British studied in depth the culture, linguistic, social and economic background of the sub-continent and they realised that to obtain full political power they needed to learn the language of the land. To fulfil this purpose they established Fort William College in Calcutta. It was founded on July 10, 1800.

According to Wikipedia “Fort William College was an academy and learning centre for Oriental studies established by Lord Wellesley, then Governor-General of British India”.

Gilchrist was named head of the college and he produced a lot of literature in Urdu. Queen Victoria hired an Indian Muslim to teach her Urdu and his portrait can still be seen in the Royal Palace. Manama Afkaar Printed “Urdu in Britain” special number and on the title page there is a picture of Queen Victoria with Munshi Abdul Karim (the Queen’s Urdu Tutor). (appendix1)

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John Joshua Keterlaer, the Dutch ambassador to India, wrote Urdu’s first grammar circa 1715. Written in Latin, it was named ‘Grammatical Indostanica’, as Indostan, Indostani, and Hindustani are among the different names Urdu has had through centuries. In 1741, Benjamin Schultz, a German missionary, wrote ‘Grammatica Indostanica’ in Latin. The first-ever grammar of Urdu in English was written by a MrGliston. John Gilchrist had also written a grammar book of Urdu himself but it was a British military officer named Hadley who was credited with writing and publishing the first-ever grammar of Urdu in English.

There were two national Urdu conferences held in the UK. The first was held at the SOAS on Saturday, 8th December, 1979. The second Urdu national conference was called by the Urdu Majlis (UK), the centre for Multicultural Education and it’s took place on April 24th-25th, 1981 in London. Both conferences were a huge success towards the role of Urdu education in the UK.

Professor Ralph Russell was a British scholar of Urdu literature and his scholarly research earned him a unique and abiding place among great names of Urdu literature. He did tremendous work to promote and make Urdu popular in the UK.

According to Community languages in higher education report 2008 Urdu is top of the chart and it is most widely spoken community language in the UK. See chart below:

Source: Community languages in higher education report 2008, p11.

Urdu is a language spoken either as a first or second language by a section of British Asian people, particularly those of Pakistani heritage. It is widely spoken in the UK by immigrants and their descendants. As stated by the BBC Urdu website

“The Urdu community in the UK numbers about one million speakers.”

The Urdu community in the UK is very much larger than the Hindi community. Most of those who identify themselves as Urdu speakers use a variety of Punjabi as the language of the home, and speak Urdu as a second language for religious and cultural reasons. The overwhelming majority comes from the west Punjab and the Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir, but smaller groups of Gujarati Muslims from both India and East Africa also use Urdu for religious purposes as mentioned on the BBC website. David Mathews mentioned in his speech at the five-day International Urdu Conference held in Islamabad. “Urdu is recognized as the fourth international language in the UK”.

The version spoken in Britain is heavily laced with Punjabi and Mirpuri (which is evident in my survey) words and terms. The reason for this is that the majority of UK residents who are of Pakistani descent originally came from the Mirpur district in northern Pakistan which is also next to the Punjab.

The Pakistani community is the second largest of the three South Asian communities in Britain, with a population estimate of 899,000. Over 92 per cent of Pakistanis in Britain identify themselves as Muslim. Whilst a large proportion of the community is concentrated in London, it is more evenly spread across the country than most other Muslim populations, with major settlements in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West.

According to CILT survey 1995 Urdu is the most widely used community language in England and 69 local education authorities are offering Urdu education.


Methodology is a picture of process which can be explained as suggested by

(Cohen et al, 2003:44), “the range of approaches used in educational research to gather data which are to be used as a basis for interference and interpretation, for explanation and prediction” For the purpose of my research I have preferred to use a survey as it can be “used to scan a wide field of issues, populations, programmes etc. In order to measure or describe any generalised features” (Cohen, 2007:206).

According to Sapsford (1999), preparation of survey involves four different stages; of problem definition, sample selection, design for measurements and concerns for participants, therefore I took into the account to cater all the four stages. The first stage of research involved the pilot survey as it is “a preliminary piece of research conducted before a complete survey to test the effectiveness of the research methodology”. It was decided after the suggestions made by the Curriculum and Professional Mentor to carry out the Pilot study which was accomplished in December 2009. A survey was prepared to ascertain the chosen data collection method and to gain some preliminary findings. I chose closed ended questions for my survey as Fink (1995) urges that “they are easy to standardise, and data gathered from closed end questions lend themselves to statistical analysis”.

For this purpose I produced a questionnaire using the likert-scale, multiple choice and ordinal side of closed end questions which required attention towards sampling as well as to ensure that the information on which the sample is based is comprehensive. The research questions for this study asked how people used Urdu in their daily lives. After the suggestions to the pilot survey, the development of the entire survey questionnaire was done together with the suggestions made by Stephen Toll (Email, Appendix2) and Professor Itesh Sachdev (Email, Appendix3) to validate the pilot survey questionnaire.

In conclusion, the research will provide me as well as the readers with a clearer picture of the Urdu’s Future as a Modern Language in the UK and will raise motivation towards Urdu study. The observations were made to verify the result of the research and proposals were made to increase the motivation and popularity among Urdu learners in the UK.

The surveys were completed towards the end of the winter term 2010. A total of 45 questionnaires were sent out to three different schools, one in Lancashire, one in the Midlands and one in West Midlands. Of the 45 surveys sent out only 40 responses were received (89% response) of which 8 were over 16(20%) and 32(80%) were under 16.

Findings and Analysis

Figure (Gender)

In terms of gender it is clear the sample is not indicative representative of population. Since only 10% of that population surveyed were women. It is evident that the survey needs to be modified and expanded since it is non conformist, i.e. only 10% of the surveyed of were female. From formal experiences it is evident that a large population of females tend to express interest in languages than males. So to get a more viable picture of the future the survey should have been conducted in two phases:



It is therefore suggested that the present findings will be biased since 90% of the group were males, who do not tend to show interest in languages study.

Figure (Location)

It is also evident that a disproportionate amount of those surveyed were learning Urdu language in a private establishment for example at a mosque. From these results it is clear that due to large number of males surveyed the results are biased. From my own experiences I find that more girls tended to study Urdu at school than boys. Therefore, it is clear that of the survey was extended a clear picture of the number of male students would be obtained.

In terms of level of Urdu being studied 98% of these individuals studied to GCSE level with only 2% going further to study A/S level.

Figure (showing Education Level)

Another factor which needs to be born in mind is the age groups surveyed, since the present research took into account only those studying GCSE’s (i.e. – 16). This needs to be extended to include a large number of posts 16’s. Since this is the group which will lead to make greater use of the Urdu qualifications.

Figure (showing Mother tongue)

Use of Urdu language in

Daily lives

Importance on a scale of 1- 5 with 1 is the most and 5 is the least.





Using it with members of family





Using it in the community.





Using it for travel. Visiting Pakistan and India.





Using it for friendship and social networking.





Reading newspapers, magazines and books in Urdu.





Cinema, TV, internet and Radio





Figure for non Urdu speakers studying Urdu shows a wide range of nationalties studying Urdu language. These ranged from languages of the Indian sub-continent, Africa and Europe.These results are very interesting in that they show that the number of students studying Urdu came from a variety of backgrounds, in terms of their mother tongue.It can be inferred that Urdu has same interest in a variety of nationalties and this can be extended further with exposure of the language to other backgrounds.

Results for How do you use Urdu language in your daily lives?

The survey asked to describe the use of Urdu language in their daily lives and rank these statements in order of importance on a scale of 1- 5.

The most interesting and telling set of data are obtained from the ‘Use of Urdu’ (Table 1).

From initial inspection of the data it seems that 50% of the group surveyed do not give much credence to the use of Urdu. However closer insight shows some interesting trends, these are outlined below:

65% of the group uses Urdu in the home, probably due to the fact that the parents and grandparents find it easier to converse in Urdu rather than English. Also the cultural aspects of the communications are easily communicated in Urdu than English.

From the use of Urdu in the community it seems that most of the group members seem to give most importance to Urdu in the community. This may be due to the biased nature of the survey, i.e. 98% males. From a cultural point of view the male’s role in that of bread winner so if he is working all day there is little need for him to use the language to communicate in a way as to get things done. I believe a more thorough survey will show that when female views are taken into account this criteria will show different results.

Travelling trend will show the highest use of Urdu, and indeed this is the case. Even here I believe the extension of the survey to include more females will result in an even higher number who use Urdu when travelling.

Social networking has a significant number of surveyed groups who use Urdu for communicating, but it should be born in mind that the Urdu used is written in Roman script for online communication!

It is with some sadness that we note that use of Urdu seems to be on the decline in media and entertainment.

Thus from an initial look at the results it would seem that Urdu is decline in the UK, but one needs to bring in other factors and shortfalls in the survey to fully understand the state of affairs.

Figure 5 (studying Urdu as a subject at degree level)

Of the 40 surveys completed questionnaires answered 12% responded positively to this question whilst 35% stated that they did not consider to study Urdu at degree level and 53% were unsure to study Urdu at degree level. Figure shows that 35% of respondents want to study Urdu as a single subject whilst 65% expressed that they want to study Urdu combined with other subjects.

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Survey of the possibility of studying Urdu at higher levels shows that a very large numbers would like to study Urdu at higher levels, in some form. I believe Urdu as its own would be selected by very few individuals, but when given a choice of having under as a combined module a large number showed interest. This ties in with how Urdu can be made more available to the whole community in different area: health, education, social services etc.

Which Urdu writing script is easy to read and understand?

Figure 6 (Which Urdu writing script is easy to read and understand: Traditional/Roman.)

An overwhelming majority found Urdu written in Roman script to be easily read and comprehend, whereas only 65% thought that traditional Urdu script was easy to read and understand.


The present research has highlighted important issues regarding the future of Urdu as a ML and the future of Urdu in the community. On first glance it appears that Urdu is losing its grass root importance. This can be understood if one takes into account the continued changing of the population of the Urdu speaking groups. Obviously the first generation group which give much importance to the Urdu Language since it is the language of their kin and it is a language in which they have had their formal education or have grown up being surrounded by the use of the language (i.e. their formative years). The second generation immigrants held on to the use of Urdu in the home due to strong ties with their relative in the native countries. As the immigrant population became educated their use of Urdu at home and within the networking socialising circles decreased. This sidelining of Urdu has led to many British immigrants of “Urdu descent” not being able to speak Urdu fluently; even within the home. However, initial groundwork suggests that Urdu still seems to be spoken widely among the male group for reasons of culture and their roles. Thus Urdu is still being studied in schools but the majority of the students studying Urdu are males or students in religious based schools of Indo-Pakistani origins.

From my discussions in schools and the community it is apparent that Urdu is again gaining popularity possibly due to the fact that there are significant changes occurring in the states of the immigrant population from India/Pakistan. Firstly, there are a large number of people reaching old age (60+) who have to adjust to a non-nuclear family. There has been a large increase in old people’s homes housing Urdu speaking immigrants. By necessity they have to adjust from living away from their families which has repercussions for their careers. The elderly prefer to communicate in their native tongues, so the health careers need to be able to understand and communicate accordingly. This obviously means that these professionals who can understand and use Urdu can look after this population more effectively. This obviously means that the importance of Urdu can be enhanced by targeting individuals who work in these areas. Limitations of the present work of this document do not allow an in depth discussion of all points, but the author suggests the following points to enhance Urdu and secure its future:

Highlight the richness of Urdu literature.

A global market of present times can allow entrepreneurs to use the various opportunities to expand business into areas where Urdu is still widely used.

NHS will need to cater for a growing population who will need to use Urdu to communicate with a group which is now growing and needs healthcare.

Social welfare groups need to be ready for the time when large number of Urdu speaking population will require assisted housing and care.

The importance of higher education courses that offer study of Urdu alongside the major subjects. E.g. Medicine with Urdu, Pharmacy with Urdu, Dentistry with Urdu, Nursing with Urdu, Healthcare with Urdu etc.

Evaluation and Implications for Practice

This section deals with the significance of main findings of this study for the author as well as for others and, how the findings relate to the literature cited in the section of ‘Literature Review’. Actually the main focus of this study was to investigate the future of Urdu as a Modern Language in the UK. The usage of Urdu by British born Asians in their routine matters of daily life was also investigated and there was some focus on to find out their preferences of learning Urdu. The main findings present a clear picture of the future of Urdu not only for the author but also for future researchers conducting some study in this area. According to this study, the future of Urdu in this country is very bright and usage of Urdu may be enhanced with some strategies suggested in the section of ‘Recommendations’ as, data show considerable thirst for learning Urdu whether it might be as a single subject or as a combined subject. In addition to it, a large number of participants desired to learn Urdu at higher levels also. The point of view may be supported by the reference quoted earlier in the section of Literature Review which describes CILT survey 1995. According to the survey, Urdu is the most widely used community language in England and 69 local education authorities are offering Urdu education. So, Urdu still seems to be an important language in this country. Significant first generation Urdu speakers are still alive and are working, still requiring health and social care advice. They will end up in old people’s homes due to changes occurring in the nuclear family in the UK. Where you need youngsters to look after them in terms of nurses and careers (people around them) and those youngsters must be equipped with Urdu language to create a comfortable atmosphere. Thus, it may also be easily concluded acording to Community languages in higher education report 2008, “Urdu is top of the chart and it is most widely spoken community language in the UK”.

Source: Community languages in higher education report 2008, p11.

In addition to it there is found a positive attitude of youngsters towards Urdu learning and usage. The author’s self created figure below shows the attitudes towards learning the Urdu language in the UK. There are three inner drives which motivate the British learners to study Urdu. Interest in the Urdu is due to its rich history and literature. Interest leads towards ability and ability brings good career opportunities.

Inner Drivers towards studying Urdu




There will be some external influences also which may play a vital role towards Urdu learning. Parents are the first point of contact or communication and if they speak the language at home, learners will automatically pick up the language. Parents also can raise and enhance motivation towards Urdu study. Teachers also influence the learners and media also plays an important role to learn and make any language popular. The author’s above mentioned point of view is described in the self created figure below:

Still there seems some need to enhance the interest of young generation towards Urdu learning. If young generation appears not to pay any serious attention to the Urdu language, it is due to lack of interest and opportunities they do not know, Urdu has a wealth of literature and has produced great scholars.

External Influences towards Urdu





Urdu has wonderful poetry, Novel, Fiction and Prose. So, the process of learning Urdu may take place in educational institutions. Here is the author’s self created figure which shows the role of school, teacher and classroom in the learning of Urdu language.


School Leadership

Interest in Languages

Relationship with community

Motivational Environment


Teacher Academic Skills

Teaching Methodology

Teacher Experience

Professional Development


Course Content



Class Size


Student Learning of Urdu Language

In the light of above mentioned evaluation and implication for practices, there is a need to make Urdu the language of employment and professionalism. There is also a need to introduce higher education courses in Urdu combined with Historical Studies, Language and Linguistics, Film Studies, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Literary Studies and Drama and Sciences and Psychology, as well as medical professions and health and social care. In the light of above mentioned realities, the study may be declared very successful having a considerable value for the author as well as for others interested in the area to draw some conclusions about the future of Urdu in the UK. The worth may be due to some reasons in which the major reason describes a remarkable number of youngsters having Urdu as their mother tongue and their motivation towards Urdu learning even at their degree level. The study is exactly according to the expectations of the author and fears of the head teacher and the author about the declining situation of Urdu proved not to be true. However there is need to provide opportunities to young generation to learn Urdu. The author was much focused during study as the survey was of personal interest of the author and so, concentration and focus remained target oriented having no digressions.

This study seems casting very significant influences on the author as, now the author is much determined to apply such techniques while teaching in classroom which may be more and more helpful to create interest for students in Urdu learning. Equipped with the overwhelming trends for Urdu learning, the author may create and enhance taste for Urdu learning better than before in classroom and thus may contribute to make Urdu a living language in the UK.


The future of Urdu is quite bright in the UK and it’s proved by my survey. Majority of peoples took part in the survey considered Urdu as an important language. They think it’s important for communication with parents, for interaction with community and for being able to speak Urdu during travelling number of countries where you can go to is quite large.

The importance of Urdu can be further enhanced by developing courses which incorporate the Urdu language. The mother tongue plays a very important role in shaping the future of a child. Shaping the future of the Urdu language is in the hands of the parents. If they realize this most important duty and sow the seeds of the mother tongue in the childhood years, the future of the Urdu language takes a promising shape. The duty for preserving Urdu in UK falls onto the shoulders of parents, community, and existing educators.

As Gopi Chand Narang rightly said in his speech during International Urdu conference 2005, held in Islamabad (Pakistan) “Urdu is a functional language and functional languages do not die. Urdu past was glorious, its present is safe and its future assured. Urdu is unstoppable precisely because this is the language that quenches society’s cultural thirst.”


On the basis of this study and survey, I would recommend the following:

The need to develop an institute of Urdu research in UK. (For employment and CPD).

To enhance and highlight Urdu teaching programmes for British Asian learners through native British Urdu exemplars through radio or internet.

The use of non-commercial broadcasting targeted to all and will enhance motivation among Urdu learners.

Bilingualism is becoming increasingly important for economic innovation and growth. Urdu business courses should be introduced in schools and colleges.

Train Urdu Language Teachers using the internet and ICT.

E-Learning teacher training Courses should be launched in the UK.

To save the future of Urdu in the era of Computer technology, there is a need to run and introduce specially designed programmes to cater everyday life in Urdu and to make Urdu a language of the internet.

To relate Urdu to the cutting-edge research and usage of Urdu to the modern information and communication technologies in education and businesses.

To introduce Degree, Master, M.Phil and Ph.D qualifications in Urdu with other subjects.

To enhance Urdu popularity Urdu books should be readily available in Roman Urdu and Traditional Urdu writing scripts.


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