With some 64 million native speakers worldwide, Urdu is one of the 20 most common languages spoken globally. Classed as the national language of Pakistan, Urdu is also spoken in Bangladesh, India, Mauritius, Nepal and South Africa, as well as by expatriates living on other continents.
If there is one thing many Urdu native speakers are known for, it is their maximal exposure to English provided by their education system.
English is the co-official language in many of the nations where there is a major Urdu speaking population (such as Pakistan, India and Mauritius). Although Urdu shares many features of neighbouring regional languages such as Hindi, Arabic and Farsi its similarities to English are few.
English and Urdu both belong to the Indo-European language family but they stem from very different branches. English is classified as a West Germanic language. In contrast, Urdu belongs to the Indo-Iranian group of languages. Where English applies a latin alphabet, Urdu has its own unique alphabet and sound system. In fact, it is very hard for Urdu words to be written out with English lettering, as Urdu contains many sounds that are not present in English. And vice versa. As a result, the sound code of Urdu heavily influences how English is spoken by Urdu native speakers in the region. This is what can account for communication breakdowns with other international dialects and accents of English.
Although an Urdu accent is a legitimate accent of English in its own right, a few adjustments may be required when speaking English with non-native Urdu speakers to ensure that you get your message across clearly and effectively. Try these English pronunciation tips to reduce your Urdu accent.
English pronunciation tips to reduce your Urdu accent
1) Make sure that you have all the sounds needed for neutral English pronunciation.
Urdu has many sounds that overlap with English (such as p, b, m, and more). Be careful though as there are several sounds of English that are not present in the Urdu sound code. As a result, you may be substituting an Urdu sound for a unique English sound.
These following 3 sounds are just a few of the many sounds you will need to address to ensure clear English. Speak with us at Voice Science for more information on the other key sounds needed according to a comprehensive assessment tailored to address your current accent.
Make sure that the following sounds are clear and well produced:
This sound is the first of two options for th. You would know that it is not present in Urdu. This first version of th is produced with the tongue between the teeth. Ensure you give the correct duration to this sound. It must not be too short or it will sound like a t.
Try drilling these words:
This sound appears with a g or j. Although it is present in Urdu, take care that when you produce this sound it sounds nothing like a ch, especially at the end of words. A /dʒ/ sound normally occurs with the following spelling patterns : g+i (as in giraffe), g+e (pages), j (as in Jack), –dge (as in edge) , or dg as in (lodging).
Try drilling these words and make sure they are correct:
This sound is also absent from the Urdu sound code which can account for any difficulties you have experienced with this sound in the past!
A /v/ sound is made by rounding your lips inwards ensuring that the bottom lip touches the upper teeth gently. Fortunately this sound will only occur where a v appears with the exception of 1 word : of. Make sure of ends in a v sound. This is very important as it is the major way by which we can distinguish between off and of.
Try these words:
2) Create English Speech Melody and Intonation Patterns
One of the key factors to devote time and practice to is the rhythm and intonation of English. Listen for the way in which the words of English create a rhythm in sentences. English inflection and rhythm is very different from Urdu. For example, in Urdu the stress of a word is likely to occur on the second last vowel of the word. Each vowel is also given a relatively equal and predictable length. This is why Urdu is categorised as a syllable timed language, meaning that each syllable (or beat within a word) will hold the same duration. English however has stress patterns that fall in a variety of word positions. Syllable lengths are unpredictable and varied. This is why English is referred to as a stress timed language. Where Urdu has a consistent stress pattern, English features uneven word rhythms and patterns that are important to meaning making.
Listen to the inflections of English native speakers. One of the major indicators of accent difference, on top of sound errors, can be incorrect intonation patterns. It is not uncommon to apply the speech intonation of the mother tongue onto the target language. Work on linking your words together in English phrases and try to replicate the melody and rhythm of English native speakers.
See more info on Accent Reduction and English Pronunciation Training here.
Accent reduction takes time and practice. It is not uncommon to still have an accent even after years of expatriate life. An accent can be an asset that sets you ahead. Listeners soon realise you are multi-lingual. Sometimes an accent can interfere with your message. Speech breakdowns can occur and it can be harder to express thoughts clearly to your listener. Don’t give up! Work on your pronunciation weaknesses strategically and practice daily to improve your English.
Many non-native speakers opt to consult with a Speech Pathologist to reduce the impact of a foreign accent.
See more accent reduction tips for non-native speakers here.
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