Resources for learning Urdu as a Foreign Language

Choosing the right materials or resources make a huge difference when learning a foreign language. For all of us Urdu learners, I have some good and some bad news. Let’s start with the bad news: until now there are few quality online and print resources for learning Urdu as a foreign language. This is especially true for adult learners, such as businesss men or students intending to live, work or study in Pakistan. No non-academic text book or curriculum exists until now. Now for the good news: You are not the first person learning Urdu – and there are some resources that can be helpful.

Purpose of this page

The challenge is finding the good resources – and knowing what is a waste of time (and money) and what is really worth the investment. This is what this page is for. All online and print resources listed below have been reviewed and tested by real Urdu language learners as well foreign language teaching experts.

Please leave a comment and let us know which resources you have found most helpful or feel free to send us a note with a recommendation. We wil continually update this list.

Listening (intermediate/advance)

free resources  (includes classical stories such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin)

paid services:

Writing/Reading for Beginners

To learn the Urdu script (for beginners): a complete free online course; you just need to create a free account. Includes all letters, vidoes/animations how to form each letter and how to join them. Each unit includes a short quiz. Highly recommendable for complete beginners. 

Reading & Listening (intermediate/advance)

BBC Urdu – this is kind of self-explanatory. For those who are not so interested in politics or current affairs, check out the “Science” Section for interesting articles. The website also includes videos, often with Urdu subtitle.

Vocabulary (beginner/intermediate)

Select your mother tongue and then Urdu on the top of the page; then select a topiuc (e.g. beverages, emotions) and get started. Includes pictures, audio, transliteration in Roman script and Urdu script of each word. A great resource for increase your vocabulary. The only downside is that is basically just a list of new words and you need to find your own way to remember and review the new words.

NOTE: some categories (e.g. animals) do not include translations and so some words are ambigious or hard to understand. One pictures shows a dog bitting something and the Urdu word given is “to bite”. Our advice: if in doubt, ask a native speaker, double check in the dictionary or simply skip the word.

Text Book

Beginning Urdu: A Complete Course

Published by Georgetown University Press and available at:

Overall is is pretty good course, with great grammar explanations, audio recordings, and activities to practice. But it is quite academic in nature. No surprise, as it is intended for 1st year Urdu langauge students at the university level in an English-speaking context. If you are academically minded, like detailed grammar explanations and translation activities, then this is for you. It is great for self-study when you do not have the luxury of a native langauge tutor. Also, while it is quite heavy on the grammar-side, it doesn’t focus as much on vocabulary.

My big critique is that the majority of the book is in English, i.e. is is not as helpful for non-native English speakers wanting to learn Urdu. And even for English speakers, it keeps you focused on thinking in English, rather starting to think in Urdu (more on the subject of the usefulness of using your native langauge and translations in language learning will follow in another blog post).

Another note: this books is based on the course book “Beginning Hindi” by the same authors. They do a good job at trying to make sure the Pakistani variant is included, but don’t always succeed. This is especially true when it comes to issues of respect and appropriate titles. Our advice: check with a native Urdu speaker from Pakistan to be on the safe side.

Spelling (beginner/intermediate)

Hangman online game:

This is a fun way to practice the spelling of some basic vocabulary. You can choose a category (e.g. vegetables or cities) and then practice both your spelling and basic vocabulary.

Reading (advance)

This website includes a huge range of books that can be downloaded as pdf or read online. It is one of the websites that not only offers Urdu literature and poetry, but also computer books (e.g. MS Office 2010 in Urdu), books related to general interest, health topics as well as some famous series (e.g. Inspector Jamshed Series).  On a not so positive note, there is definitely some copyright infringement going on there..