UCL BiLingo


Multilingual Londoners Share Their Voice



My name is Madiha and I am from Pakistan. I have lived in England for 12 years now and really enjoy the rich culture and diversity of this country. I am a native speaker of Urdu and English and can speak, read and write with advance fluency. It is usually thought that multilingualism promotes cognitive processing and the ability to multitask. However, I think that knowing more than one language has more benefits on a personal and tangible level. It enables me to understand and appreciate cultural references and nuances. I take notice and appreciate the things that are sometimes lost in translation. In a multi ethnic city like London, it is extremely useful for me to know Urdu as it enables me to connect with the South Asian community, particularly Pakistani population. Once I speak to families in Urdu language, they open up to me and can talk to me about anything. For example, as part of a research study about cancer screening in south Asian women, I facilitated a focus group of women. Majority of them were Urdu speaking and had little or no knowledge of English. I spoke to them in Urdu and this made them feel comfortable to answer very personal and sensitive questions. We collected very rich data and I was able to interpret / translate that into meaningful themes for the research study.

I am one of those parents who firmly believe in giving strong roots to their children. I have worked very hard to develop a strong sense of ethnic identity in my daughter. Of course, language is a key component of this and I am very proud of the fact that I have taught my daughter how to speak, read and write Urdu. It is hard work for sure (and sometimes challenging) but it is worth every second of it! It gives me great satisfaction to see my daughter fluent in Urdu and how she uses it as a natural form of identity. She feels empowered, very confident and skilful when it comes to languages. She can communicate with her grandparents and her cousins back in Pakistan very easily. Moreover, when she visits Pakistan, she feels very much at home because there are no language barriers. I have worked very hard to develop a sense of connection with our heritage, history and family.

On a day to day basis, it is very helpful to know an additional language. It helps me to strike a bargain with the street vendors! I often visit my local GP’s surgery and volunteer as language interpreter. We enjoy watching Urdu / Hindi movies (spoken language is same) and listening to music. Lastly, I must mention the most beautiful and rich heritage of Urdu literature of which I am a passionate reader. Some of the best things I have ever read are by Urdu writers and poets – and I am very fortunate to have the ability to appreciate this wonderful language in so many forms and shapes!


My name is Eshal Sajid, and I am 12 years old. I come from Pakistan and my mother tongue is Urdu. I also speak English, French, Spanish and Mandarin. Being multilingual is a great asset to my life. It gives me many skills which I wouldn’t get otherwise. Recently, I participated in a study that looked at whether multilingual people are better problem solvers or not, and I must agree! Knowing two languages means your brain easily slips in between two phrases. It helps you understand the task better and you can solve it easily and quickly.

Urdu is my mother language and I am very fluent at speaking, reading and writing in Urdu. It helps me communicate with everyone around me, including my family. My grandparents usually use Urdu to speak with me and it gives me happiness that I can talk to them in the same language. It makes me feel close to them. Sometimes I use Urdu as a type of secret code between my Mum and me for example, when we go to someone’s house and I don’t want to eat anything, then I tell my mum in Urdu that I don’t feel hungry but I also don’t want to sound impolite!

I started learning Urdu at the age of 3, but I am a native speaker. I practise very regularly with my mother. I am learning how to compose grammar structures, poetry, prose, sentence construction, story writing and summary writing. I also watch Urdu movies, read Urdu books, listen to Urdu music and use many other ways to help improve my skills. Urdu helps you understand other languages, like how the written form is the same as Arabic and the spoken form is the same as Hindi. When I went to school in Pakistan, my teachers frequently praised my Urdu skills. Learning Urdu has made me fluent in Arabic and that is very important for us because the holy book of Muslims, the Quran, is in Arabic. There are 30 chapters in the Quran and I am on chapter 29 now. Very soon I shall be finishing it and then it will be a very happy occasion.

Because I know Urdu, I am more connected with the history and culture of Pakistan. There is no language barrier between my cousins and I, which means we communicate very well. Urdu literature has also produced some beautiful poetry and prose, which my mother is constantly praising. My friends here in London are frequently impressed by my multilingual skills, because most of them cannot write in their native language. It makes me very proud that I am well and truly connected to my roots in Pakistan.

Speaking Urdu makes me feel like an important part of Pakistan. It makes my parents proud, it makes me proud and it makes Pakistan proud.


Video of a reading of the poem 'Search for My tongue' by Sujata Bhatt