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Urdu (لشکری), sometimes referred to as Modern Standard Urdu, is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan, but it’s also widely spoken across the subcontinent, especially in India. The Urdu language has a rich historical context that is derived from Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Sanskrit but is most closely associated with Hindi. It is the 19th most widely-spoken language in the world and has over 60 million native speakers and 43 million more who speak Urdu as a second language. The Urdu language unites a people from one of the most ancient regions in the world and its influence in historical works, especially literature, philosophy, and poetry is profound.

At Rosetta Stone, we understand that the goal of language learning is to feel comfortable speaking in everyday situations. That’s why our Urdu program, build with a methodology called Dynamic Immersion®, focuses on getting beyond English to Urdu translations and applying vocabulary in context. You’ll learn to speak the Urdu language in an immersive environment that uses audio and visual cues to stimulate deeper connections.

The Origins and History of the Urdu Language

Officially, Urdu is considered a register of the Hindustani language, and while it is the lingua franca of Pakistan, it’s also widely spoken in India alongside Hindi. The Urdu language is recognized in the constitution of India and enjoys official language status in the Indian states of Delhi, Kashmir, Jammu, Bihar, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Jharkhand. The Urdu language is also considered an official regional language in Nepal.

While Urdu does have some specialized vocabulary, spoken Urdu closely resembles Standard Hindi, and there has been discussion throughout history of whether the two should be considered registers of the same language. Around 75% of Urdu words have roots in Sanskrit while about 25% of Urdu's vocabulary is derived from Arabic. From the 13th to the 18th century, the Urdu language was commonly referred to as Hindi, and the first known use of Urdu was by the poet Ghulam Hamadani Mushafi around 1780. Beginning with British rule in the region, there have been various attempts to purify the Urdu and Hindi languages by purging Arabic, Sanskrit, or at times Persian words from the language. A majority of the new vocabulary in Modern Standard Urdu is derived from Persian and Arabic, but is also heavily influenced by English.

Which countries speak Urdu?

Most of the 100 million native speakers of Urdu reside in Pakistan and India, but there are also sizable populations who speak Urdu in Saudi Arabia, The United Kingdom, The United States, Catalonia, Australia, and Bangladesh (although there it is called Bihari). In Pakistan, 93% of the population speaks a native language besides Urdu, but the Urdu language is also written and spoken in all Pakistani provinces.

Modern Standard Urdu has borrowed words from other languages in the region, giving it a specific feel that differentiates it from Hindi. Despite these vocabulary differences, speakers of Urdu and Hindi can usually understand each other with minimal confusion. Many newspapers are published in Urdu in both Pakistan and India, and some Indian schools teach Urdu as a first language. Urdu is described as “soft” and, because it is not a stressed language and doesn’t have tones, the pronunciation can seem a bit more natural than other languages.

Getting the hang of pronunciation is the cornerstone to building confidence speaking a language, so Rosetta Stone makes sure you get plenty of practice. A patented speech recognition engine called TruAccent® is embedded into every Urdu lesson to provide feedback on your accent and compare it to that of native speakers. As you focus on perfecting your pronunciation, you’ll find your confidence speaking the Urdu language grows.

The Urdu language for beginners

Urdu is a language rich in history and regional linguistic influences, and like any language, it has evolved. The Urdu language you find in written texts from centuries ago might have vocabulary you won’t encounter in Modern Standard Urdu. Here are a few tips for beginners to keep you focused on what matters as you scale towards understanding and speaking the Urdu language.

1. Urdu is written right to left

Like Arabic, Urdu is written right to left which can be an adjustment if you never attempted to learn a language with this orientation. This is why focusing on the spoken language as you gradually introduce yourself to Urdu script can ensure you don’t get overwhelmed.

2. Urdu is heavily influenced by other languages

Because Urdu is so closely related to Hindi and has a wealth of vocabulary from other languages like Sanskrit and Arabic, it’s exceptionally approachable for language learners who already have some familiarity with those languages. Pay attention to cognates and other cues that can help you spot patterns in Urdu.

3. Ignore Urdu script for now

With 58 letters, the Urdu alphabet can seem like a lot to swallow at first, but if you already know the Arabic or Persian alphabets, you’ll recognize quite a few letters that are the same. Urdu has 39 basic letters and the rest are digraphs that are made by attaching variations of consonants. Get familiar with the alphabet and script of the Urdu language, but don’t get bogged down in the details until you have a better understanding of the basics of spoken Urdu.

Is learning Urdu difficult?

Modern Standard Urdu has a rich vocabulary with many borrowed words that can be challenging to learn at first. Like any language, however, the endeavor is worth the effort. If you look hard enough, you’ll find many aspects of Urdu that feel familiar. Here are just a few reasons why you shouldn’t find Urdu, the language of Pakistan, overwhelming.

Urdu grammar is similar to English

Urdu sentence structure and basic grammar, including punctuation, are nearly identical to English with the exception that the language is written right to left. Once you’ve gotten used to this orientation, then the rest will come more naturally.

Urdu pronunciation is consistent

While there are regional differences in vocabulary, Urdu’s pronunciation is remarkably consistent. This is one of the things that makes Hindi and Urdu speakers able to understand each other easily, and it’s a comfort for beginners trying to develop an Urdu accent.

Urdu is very close to Hindi

As we’ve mentioned several times previously, the differences between Urdu and Hindi are minimal and entirely focused on regional vocabulary. If you understand and speak Hindi, you can also understand most spoken Urdu and vice versa.

Urdu shares a significant amount of vocabulary with English

Modern Standard Urdu has welcomed a wealth of English words into their vocabulary recently, but you can also find quite a few English words that are also derived from Urdu. Focusing on the cognates can help beginners feel more confident with Urdu vocabulary.

Benefits of learning the Urdu language


There are many reasons to learn a language. Being bilingual has both professional and personal benefits that make the challenge and commitment of learning a new language worthwhile. Moreover, the process of learning a language can present opportunities to expand your horizons in unexpected ways.

Let’s explore what specifically makes Urdu an attractive language for learners and what advantages speaking Urdu can bring.

Urdu is widely spoken

With more than 100 million speakers in India and Pakistan alone, learning the Urdu language will enable you to communicate with a large portion of the population throughout the subcontinent. It’s also considered a critical language and scholarships exist to promote learning Urdu.

Urdu makes travel to both India and Pakistan easier

There are many local or regional languages in Pakistan, but because it’s a lingua franca, Urdu is considered a language that unites the Pakistani people and can be an asset if you’re traveling to the country. Also, because it’s similar to Hindi, it can make adventures in certain Urdu speaking regions of India a little more convenient.

Urdu can help you learn other languages

Speaking Urdu can provide an advantage if you’re looking to speak other languages in the region such as Hindi, Arabic, Sanskrit, and Persian. Throughout the subcontinent, you’ll find both Hindi and Urdu widely-spoken and mutually intelligible.