Whenever someone talks about Urdu pronunciation, I am immediately reminded of a Bollywood Hindi movie starring Shahrukh Khan, titled My Name Is Khan. Set in the USA, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Khan’s character is seen correcting people’s pronunciation of his Urdu name throughout the film: “My name is Khan. Khan (pronounced) from the epiglottis.”
Now, the debate on the factual correctness of this dialogue is a different matter altogether. But the movie left me with a renewed perspective on the Urdu language and pronunciation (Talaffuz – تلفظ). So, if like me, you are also interested in learning proper Urdu pronunciation and diction, read on.
Urdu Alphabet And Pronunciation
Phonetics is quite an important part of the language. It greatly influences how you write and speak that language. Speaking a language like its native speakers requires a keen eye for detail with regard to how they utilize their various speech faculties to pronounce specific sounds.
Now, Urdu belongs to the Indo-Aryan group of languages, like Hindi, Gujarati, Bangla, Punjabi, and so on, and shares the same sound system as that of Hindi. But additionally, it also has non-Indo-Aryan sounds derived from Arabic and Persian, like the fricative sounds. Fricative sounds are produced by partially obstructing the airflow through the oral cavity.
Learning to pronounce words with these fricatives is a challenge that many people face, especially the ‘Kh’ and ‘Z’ sounds. So, many of the North Indians are able to produce these non-Indo-Aryan fricatives, particularly in the Delhi and Lucknow regions of north India, where Urdu is still quite prevalent as the everyday language. But as you move down south or toward the east, familiarity with these sounds decreases – Khan becomes Kaan, and Azaadi (freedom) becomes Ajaadi.
Learn How To Pronounce Urdu
Let’s take a close look at the Urdu alphabet here!
|Urdu Alphabet||Urdu Alphabets In Roman Script||Equivalent Sound In English||Example||English Meaning|
|ا||Alif||A as in Arnold||Akhrot||Walnut|
|ب||Bē||B as in baby||Billi||Cat|
|پ||Pē||P as in pastry||Pech||Screw|
|ت||Tē||T as in the French pronunciation of ‘Thomas’||Takiya||Pillow|
|ٹ||Ṭē||T as in tap||Tamatar||Tomato|
|ث||S̱ē||S as in same||Sahar||Dawn|
|ج||Jīm||J as in juice||Jahaaz||Ship|
|چ||Cē||Ch as in chapter||Chaman||Garden|
|ح||Baṛī Ḥē||H as in hammer||Halwa||Pudding|
|خ||K͟hē||Kh as in the French pronunciation of Croissant||Khamoshi||Silence|
|د||Dāl||D as in Therefore||Darwaza||Door|
|ڈ||Ḍāl||D as in day||Doli||Palanquin|
|ذ||Ẕāl||Z as in zoo||Zindagi||Life|
|ر||Rē||R as in rat||Ret||Sand|
|ز||Zē||Z as in zebra||Zaheen||Intelligent|
|ژ||Zhē||Y as in Yellow||Yaqeen||Trust|
|س||Sīn||S as in summer||Saanp||Snake|
|ش||Shīn||Sh as in shimmer||Sharbat||Cold drink|
|ص||Ṣwād||Sw as in sold||Saabun||Soap|
|ض||Ẓwād||Zw as in those||Zaeef||Weak|
|ظ||Z̤oʼē||Z as in that||Zaroof||Dishes|
|ف||Fē||F as in fan||Fawwara||Fountain|
|ق||Qāf||Q as in queen||Qainchi||Scissor|
|ک||Kāf||K as in carrot||Kutta||Dog|
|گ||Gāf||G as in garden||Gadha||Donkey|
|ل||Lām||L as in lock||Lal||Red|
|م||Mīm||M as in milk||Mausam||Weather|
|ن||Nūn||N as in noon||Namak||Salt|
|ں٘||Nūn G͟hunnā||N (nasal)||Larkiaan||Girls|
|و||Wāʼo||W as in vow||Watan||Homeland|
|ہ||Choṭī Hē||H as in height||Hauz||Stepwell|
|ھ||Do-Cashmī Hē||H as in horn||Haathi||Elephant|
|ی||Choṭī Yē||Y as in year||Larki||Girl|
|ے||Baṛī Yē||Y as in way||Kapray||Clothes|
*Note: Hamzah is the glottal sound when two vowels glide into each other, except for the vowel ‘a’ (Alif). For example, in مسئلہ (Masla, which means problem).
Your Ultimate Urdu Pronunciation Guide
Once you have cleared your hands on the theoretical aspect of the Urdu alphabet and vocabulary, it is time to get down to practice. Below are some tips to help you learn how to perfect the Urdu accent.
#1 Make Use Of Your Bedroom Mirror
Practicing in front of a mirror is an age-old exercise to gauge your level and spot your mistakes. It comes in handy especially when you are practicing pronunciation. Keeping a watch on how your lips and tongue move to produce different sounds helps you memorize it better and then reproduce it better.
#2 Use An Audio Recorder
It is always a good idea to record your own voice and then play it back to spot the errors in your pronunciation. Developing this habit speeds up your learning quite efficiently.
#3 Make Friends With Native Urdu Speakers
When you talk to a native speaker, you gain a lot of validation and confidence in your language skills. They not only help you with necessary improvements but might also be able to share certain tips and tricks to make your learning process a lot easier. They can also help you contextualize your learning by sharing cultural aspects of the language.
#4 Train Your Ears
Yes, training your ears to pick up subtle inflections or tone changes is integral to learning Urdu pronunciation. For instance, in Urdu, the word for the dawn is ‘Sahar’ while a similar sounding word, ‘Sehr’, means magic. Thus, it is important to remember that a slight inflection in the tone has the ability to change the meaning.
Want To Learn More About Urdu Pronunciation?
Learning Urdu pronunciation might seem a tad difficult at first. But hey, no gain without pain, right? Learning the correct pronunciation of Urdu alphabets, words, and sounds is an important aspect of language learning that can help you gain more proficiency in this language. Moreover, once you are on your path to learning this beautiful Indo-Aryan language, it is hard to trace your steps back, as so magnetic is its pull. There are many helpful blogs and lessons here at Ling that can help you take the first step toward language learning.
Try Learning Urdu With Ling
Apart from the Ling website, there is also a Ling app that offers a gamified experience of learning more than 60 languages. Its memorable exercises and fun quizzes add a lot more to the user experience as well. Learning Urdu has never been this easy!