This is a guest post by Arjumand Azeemi, co-founder at Qurtaba, maker of mobile apps.
Language defines culture and culture defines identity – Urdu learning for kids in the digital age.
I came to United States in the mid 90’s and was at the age where I was very fluent in Urdu. After spending about six months, taking initial ESL classes, I was able to speak English fluently. My father, however, kept a strict rule at home that we speak Urdu 99% of the time. Now fast forward to 2007, this is the year when I became a father to a beautiful son. I remember that I was constantly thinking about the upcoming generation and the responsibility that had been bestowed upon me and my wife as parents.
That responsibility being: how to keep our kids connected with our culture, while keeping American values. If you are living abroad and away from your country, it is really challenging to keep your family and cultural values intact. In fact, I have witnessed many Pakistanis who are Pakistanis by name only. After living in the Unites States for some time, they have lost their Eastern cultural values, and they often complain about their kids as to why they are so “out of control.” I believe that it is not about “controlling,” rather, it is more of a communication problem that they have with this generation. They speak a different language their kids speak a different language, literally and figuratively.
I met Mudassir Azeemi in 2004 when he was working as a Software Architect and I was working as a Network Engineer. In 2008 he was blessed with a beautiful daughter. I remember he came to me to share his experience and thoughts and discuss his own concerns about our language and cultural values. After hearing his thoughts and concerns I felt relief and at the same time was happy that my friend was also thinking along the same lines as me. We then embarked on a journey together, which we named “Qurtaba.” The name is inspired from Masjid-e-Qurtaba in Spain, a symbol of innovation and excellence amongst Muslims. We wanted to rekindle the passion of research and innovation among our young generation.
Now fast forward to 2010 when I noticed that my son really loved using the iPhone. I downloaded a lot of learning apps for him, mainly in English, even though my wife and I encouraged him to speak Urdu at home. I remember my son would often ask us a question, “papa is ko (iPhone ko) Urdu kyu nahi ati?” (Papa why does this (iPhone) not know how to speak Urdu?). That was the time we started to focus on iPhone and iPad application development for kids specifically for Urdu speakers. You may ask why not try to build the app for young adults? Our primary reason for keeping focus on kids is that they adapt to new tools and language more rapidly as compared to Adults.
Our first app was Alif Bay Pay. Purpose of this app is to familiarize kids with Urdu alphabets. After the launch of our second app Urdu Nursery Rhymes, my son is singing the rhymes, and he loves it now since his iPhone can speaks Urdu.
At Qurtaba, we believe that it is just another way to increase cultural awareness in young children with the use of technology that they love. Qurtaba is a pioneer in this industry, as there were no Urdu apps in the iTunes app store until Qurtaba decided to develop the Urdu apps. We will be launching more Urdu apps this fall rekindling the love for Urdu among children and their parents.