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Urdu is a living language which, according to estimates, is spoken by close to 100 million people around the world. It is the official language of Pakistan, a status which it shares with English. It is also spoken and understood in parts of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Middle East, and many other countries around the world where Pakistani communities have settled.
In India, Urdu is spoken in places with large Muslim communities or cities that were once power centers of Muslim Empires. They include parts of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Kashmir, Bhopal and Hyderabad. Some Indian schools teach Urdu as a first language and have their own syllabus and exams. The Urdu community in the UK numbers about four hundred thousand speakers. Urdu grammar, word construction and sentence structure are very systematic; however, Urdu presents some challenges.
Urdu uses formal and informal verb forms and each noun has either masculine or feminine gender. Don’t worry if you mix things up at the beginning – as a learner you will be forgiven.
For those whose mother tongue is written from left to right, one of the challenges of learning Urdu is getting used to reading right to left. The closest relation of Urdu is Hindi. Spoken Urdu and Hindi are almost identical at the day-to-day functional level, apart from certain words. After learning Urdu, you’ll find it much easier to speak and understand Hindi but written Hindi will remain a mystery as it’s written in a different script.
Other languages written in the same script as Urdu include Pashto, Kashmiri and Panjabi, although Panjabi is also written in a script called Gurumukhi. The Urdu script is over 90% similar to the Persian and Arabic scripts as well, so learning Urdu will help you to read the Arabic and Persian alphabets. Urdu vocabulary also borrows about 40% from Arabic and Persian.