Learn to Speak Uyghur – at Home

September 14 | 19 Comments

A Uyghur man studying by the light of a candle**This article has been updated as of April 2014. For further information on studying the Uyghur language, I highly recommend this comprehensive Uyghur resource guide or if you’re looking to study at a university in Xinjiang, read more here.**

You won’t find any dedicated Uyghur phrasebooks at your local bookstore and nobody produces a “UyghurPod” podcast for students.

Basically if you want to learn Uyghur outside of Xinjiang you will need to attend one of the few universities that offer Uyghur classes…or you’ll have to teach yourself.

Either way, the following is a great reference to help you decide the best way to move forward in your study of the Uyghur language.

Institutional Study

Believe it or not, it is possible to take Uyghur language courses in US classrooms. The options are limited but most people aren’t even aware that they exist. If you feel this list is incomplete, please contact me with your suggestions.

Kansas University

Kansas University logo The East Asian Languages and Cultures program at Kansas University is quite impressive. In addition to Uyghur there are also options to study Mongolian, Tibetan, Korean, Japanese and…of course…Chinese.

On top of the classes that they offer, there’s also some great free material for use in self study that I’ll talk about in the next section of this article.

For more info on Uyghur studies at KU, contact the following: [email protected]

Indiana University

Indiana University LogoIndiana University claims to be one of the first universities in the US to offer three levels of Uyghur study: two semesters each of introductory, intermediate and advance.

If that sounds a bit overwhelming to you they also have other options. They allow you to substitute a Central Eurasian language for your language requirements or you can choose Uyghur as your minor.

The program is probably one of the more well-known outside of China and their professors have written one of the best Uyghur textbooks for beginners available.

For more info on the Indiana University program, contact the following: [email protected]

University of Washington

University of Washington LogoThe University of Washington offers plenty of Central Asian language courses, including Uzbek, Kazakh and Uyghur. Of the Uyghur courses you can take Intensive Elementary Uyghur all the way up to Advanced Uyghur.

Classes are also offered during the summer term for those who can’t fit it in their regular semester schedule.

For more information on the programs offered by the University of Washington, contact them at: [email protected]

Harvard University

Harvard University SealWhile not necessarily the easiest or most cost-efficient way to learn Uyghur, it is good to know that even Harvard offers Uyghur language courses, along with many other east Asian languages.

Classes range from beginner to advanced, all taught by the same professor, so there should be an option for every level of student.

For more information on the programs offered by Harvard University, please refer to this admissions page.


If you don’t live near any of these universities or you can’t afford to pay the tuition fees, all is not lost! Many of the above institutions offer free Uyghur resources that will get you started.

The amount of free material offered by the aforementioned institutions is incredible. Don’t believe me? Then check this out:

  • Kansas has a free downloadable introduction to Uyghur textbook.
  • The University of Washington has a whole page full of free Uyghur resources including audio, video, and Uyghur fonts for computers. (Update: the audio and video files are now locked for UW students only, but they still offer Uyghur fonts for free here).
  • If you’re like me you usually prefer an actual book in your hands. The Xinjiang University Press has printed a beginners’ textbook for Uyghur available on eBay and Georgetown University Press has produced one of the best beginner Uyghur textbooks available.
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Learn Uyghur: Additional Resources

If you’re just looking to have a basic understanding of Uyghur for a short trip to the region, I recommend you take a look at the FarWestChina Uyghur for Tourists podcast that features audio clips of a native Uyghur man speaking some very useful phrases. There is also a Uyghur phrasebook published in late 2013 that is geared toward travelers.

For those that already have a basic understanding of the Uyghur language and want to dive deeper into their studies at home, check out this incredibly useful Uyghur resource guide.

Uyghur dictionary and phrasebook    Uyghur: A Beginner Textbook by Georgetown University Press   Beginning Uyghur, an English textbook

A few of the many Uyghur resources available.

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Well I’ll be darned the bookstore has all its information up on Google maps. So here is the precise scoop on the consistently awesome Shengli Shudian or Ghalibyet Kitabxanisi: http://bit.ly/9BsqDV. It’s a pretty sweet place to get regularly published Uyghur materials. For out of print stuff which tends to be even more awesome you have to dip into the shady and exciting world of private booksellers.


  2. A great post. I know both IU and UW programs since I was a student at both universities. They are great places to learn Central Asian languages in general.

    I really enjoy reading your blog. I wished I had blogged back in 1997-1999 when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan. I met several Uyghurs there and can speak Kazakh.


  3. Introduction to Modern Uyghur, by Hamit A. Zakir, is a ridiculously awesome introductory textbook written in English. It is extremely thorough, so grammar lovers will love it. It’s printed by Xinjiang University Press, ISBN 7563120777.

    Buy it at 胜利书店 (Ghalibiyet Kitabxanisi) on Shengli Lu in Urumqi, near Xin Da, for 30 RMB. It’s located here http://bit.ly/9l7GMu … approximately. Just ask a Uyghur person on the street where Ghalibyet Kitabxanisi is.

    Also, barnone best online dictionary is http://dict.yulghun.com. It is sweet. And tri-directional.


  4. There is a set of flashcards for use with the downloadable Uyghur textbook from the University of Kansas. First download Anki (http://ichi2.net/anki/). After you’ve installed the software, go to File –> download –> Shared Deck. In the Search box, type “Uyghur.” Aman bolung


  5. There are also two other Englisch – Uyghur textbooks, published in the Netherlands:

    Uyghur. A Manual for Conversation, Frederick De Jong, Muhaemmaetrehim Sayit and Raeyhanguel Aehmaed, Utrecht 2005, 292 pages and CD-Audio
    (ISBN-10 9080104078 and ISBN-13 9789080104075)
    Price € 43.50


    A Grammar of Modern Uyghur, Frederick De Jong, Utrecht 2007, 290 pages
    (ISBN 978-90-801040-8-2)
    Price € 57.50



  6. Rock… Chalk… Jay… Hawk… K… U…

    I didn’t go to the University of Kansas, but have always loved the place growing up about 30 minutes from Lawrence.

    KU is also home to a Confucius Institute.

    Middle America can actually be a great place to study the Middle Kingdom!


    Josh on September 17th, 2010 at 1:50 am

    Isn’t that odd? Of all places where you can study Uyghur…Kansas, Indiana and Washington. Seems so random.


  7. I studied Uyghur in Kansas in 2000 — not as an official program (don’t think there were any in 2000), but with a Uyghur grad student I found in another U in Kansas by the grace of the U of Iowa. Spent some time in Indiana too — they excel in CAsian language.


  8. Hi There:

    I think this is a great starting point for learning Uyghur!

    Don’t forget that there are also online series on learning Uyghur on chinese sites such as Youku!

    The best idea for people outside xinjiang would be to find some uyghur penpals on QQ!


    Ali Farrokhrad on July 20th, 2013 at 4:11 am

    I am Ali From IRAN and would like to learn Uyghur language.
    Please let me know ,if there is any opportunity .
    Best regard
    [email protected]


  9. Go to YouTube, search for uyghur lesson and click on the videos with a young man (can’t paste link for some strange reason on my iPad). His name is Ali M. Faaaantastic!! He has inspired me so much. I have just ordered the Gulisa… Book and unfortunately I am all alone learning so keep fingers crossed for me. I am learning because I’m really interested in Uyghur culture and dream of travelling to XUAR. Love, jenny


    Josh Summers on September 10th, 2014 at 4:20 am

    Good luck to you, Jenny! I’m excited for your learning process and hope to hear that it all goes well for you.


  10. Unfortunately you have to have a password from univ of Washington to access their resources – they are NOT free…


    Josh Summers on September 28th, 2014 at 5:13 am

    Thanks for pointing that out, Jenny. Apparently they’ve locked it up since I wrote this, which is unfortunate. I’ll make note of it here.


    Diana on March 28th, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Hello Guys, I don’t understand what’s going on here. I am desperate to learn Uyghur and I could not find this Guy on YouTube. What happened? I live in China but the resources I could find are so poor.

  11. Hello,

    Does anyone have the audio files for the U Kansas textbook in MP3 format? I can not seem to download the ones they have put up on the website in a way that I can listen to them. Also, streaming does not work