When I moved to Canada the first time I was 7 years old and fluent in both Urdu and English. With each passing year my fluency in Urdu waned. When we returned to Pakistan at 11 years old I had to relearn to read and write in Urdu. My spoken skills were marred by a Canadian accent and my grammar was terrible. I was exempt from taking regular Urdu classes in school provided I took ‘easy urdu’ and slowly transitioned back to my grade level. Determined to fit in and annoyed to be referred to as the ‘foreign-return’ I tried hard to mask my accent and worked diligently on the language till I proudly sat for my O-Levels (grade 11) along with the rest of my class year and achieved an 80%+ or B grade in the international Urdu exam.
To this day I can read, write and speak in Urdu although English is the language that comes most naturally to me. However, depending on who you ask my spoken Urdu fluctuates from average to atrocious when it comes to my grammar. I still have not mastered masculine and feminine nouns. Urdu is similar to French when it comes to gender words.
As with any language, fluency comes with frequency of use and how natural it comes to you depends largely on what your parents spoke to you at home. My parents with their respective families frequently relocated between countries during their key formative years and were exposed to Farsi, Bengali and Gujrati in addition to Urdu and English. At the end of the day however they too are most comfortable speaking in English.
This brings me to our 4-year-old daughter and our ability (or lack of) to teach her a language that my husband and I feel is important to help her cultivate a continued link to her …