x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

'People think it isn't cool to talk in Urdu'

Kahani Time is a new Urdu-language initiative for children that is garnering keen interest from Urdu-speaking parents around the UAE.

Meryum Yazdani, left, and Hiba Masood. Courtesy Kahani Time
Meryum Yazdani, left, and Hiba Masood. Courtesy Kahani Time

The Dubai-based Pakistani Meryum Yazdani, 33, is one half of the driving force behind Kahani Time, a new Urdu-language storytelling initiative for children that is getting keen interest from Urdu--speaking parents around the UAE. The other half is her friend and fellow Pakistani Hiba Masood, 30.

Kahani is Urdu for “story”. But Kahani Time is so much more than just a storytelling session.

“It’s important for kids to stay in touch with their mother tongue,” say Yazdani. “It is a way for them to connect with their heritage, understand our cultural values and develop deeper relationships with their grandparents, who often don’t speak English.”

Yazdani, who moved to the US shortly after getting married, returned to the UAE in 2007 and started to worry about the disconnect her children were developing with their mother tongue.

“I wanted my children to understand and appreciate the importance of our language and realised there were was nothing being offered for Urdu-speaking children in Dubai. I started working with Baby Arabia, which was looking to introduce more languages, and started Urdu workshops,” explains Yazdani.

Masood, a writer and a blogger, started a Facebook community called Drama Mama for Pakistani mothers to connect with each -other.

“Through Drama Mama, I share my personal essays with the aim to create a welcoming space for mothers to express themselves.” says Masood.

“When a mutual friend heard I was putting on an Urdu story session, she connected me to Meryum, who was running Urdu classes in Dubai at the same time.”

The two women spoke over the phone and immediately clicked.

“Expats not living in joint families find that their children struggle to communicate in Urdu. It’s a loss of culture, never mind the benefits of being bilingual. I had heard of someone doing storytelling classes in Portuguese, so I thought I’d do something like that for my own community,” says Masood.

“We had our first trial session in June and entry was free,” says Yazdani. “I got some friends and interested mums and their children together. Hiba used her Drama Mama page on Facebook to promote the classes. We got a guitarist on board and everything started falling into place.”

“We put on a song and dance show,” says Masood. “We’ve got lots of ‘movement’ activities, stories, songs and skill development packed into an hour and everything is in Urdu. It’s the kind of enjoyable, immersive atmosphere that parents usually don’t have the time or resources to provide.”

Both women feel it is a shame that parents these days seem to be laying more emphasis on teaching their children foreign languages instead of their mother tongue.

“Frankly, people think it isn’t cool to talk in Urdu. I am quite proud of my kids, who are 3 and 6,” says Yazdani. “They are comfortable speaking in Urdu. I love it when they go back home and are able to communicate with ease,” she says.

“My kids are young at this point and we’ve kept it bilingual in our home so that they understand both languages,” says Masood, whose kids are 4 and 1.

“So far, their language of choice is English but that’s not surprising at all, given the media they’re exposed to.

“At this point, my biggest aim is to make sure they can understand both English and Urdu.”

Time will show that Urdu can become a bigger part of a child’s life, going beyond limited conversations in their home or when Dad turns on the Pakistani news channel.

“There is a big difference between parents communicating with their kids in Urdu compared with a third person making the language fun,” Yazdani explains.

“At Kahani Time, everyone interacts in Urdu. When children watch and hear other kids speak and react in a different language, they want to learn it. It’s no longer an alien concept – it becomes relevant and fun. Why not make Urdu fun for all ages?”

• Kahani Time sessions will resume next month. Call 050 651 4580 or 050 104 0165, or search for “Urdu Workshops” or “Drama Mama” on Facebook

artslife@thenational.ae

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