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How To Learn A New Alphabet And Writing System

Aug 18, 2007
Not all languages can be learnt at the same pace. If you're English for example, and try to learn German, you can jump right into improving vocabulary and practicing pronunciation and orthography, since the two languages use the same alphabet (for the most part), writing system and share almost the same grammar rules. The same goes for anyone speaking a Latin language as their mother tongue, trying to learn another Latin language (French - Italian for example). But when you're trying to learn a language that has different rules on every single step of the way, you're going to have to put a lot more effort into it.

From an English speaker's point of view, these languages include Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Russian and Arabic, to name just a few. For each of these languages, you'll have to start out from scratch with grammar, alphabet and writing system but fortunately, there are a few good ways to make this extra hurdle easier to jump over.

When learning a new writing system or alphabet, you'll have to start out by learning a few symbols at a time, transliterating them to your own alphabet to see what letters they sound like. In some languages, particularly Russian, you'll find that some of the letters look and sound just like their corresponding letters in your own mother tongue but make sure you don't fall for "false friends". False friend letters are letters that look the same, but sound completely different. For example, in the Russian alphabet, the letter "B" is not pronounced "Bee" like in English, but rather "Vee". Additionally, H is N, C is S and P is R.

Your next step is practicing writing the letters you just learnt. This won't just help you learn the actual writing style of that language, but it will also help you memorize these letters better. Some languages have a harder writing system for English speakers. For example, Chinese and Japanese require a lot more attention to detail when writing, than say, Russian, whose alphabet still resembles that of our own language.

After you've got some grip on writing words in your new language, practice it out by transliterating the words you write in your mother tongue, than back into the secondary language and so forth. One more "trick" to use is writing words in your own language, with the help of the new alphabet. This is a fun exercise but it's not available for all languages.

Reading in your new language also helps writing stuff down and learning how to spell words correctly. Obviously, reading a text in a secondary language requires a bit of experience with it already, so this is more of an intermediate step. But when you get to the point where you can understand a text by reading it, do it as often as possible as it is crucial to be exposed as often as possible to the new language. Reading will also offer you a solid vocabulary increase and if you read out loud, you'll also improve your pronunciation.

Last but not least, practice as often as possible and whenever you can. Try keeping a journal in the new language, even if it's a "fake" one just to help you study. Write down a few sentences each day, it doesn't matter for how much time. Just don't let what you just learnt "cool off" or it will be harder to get back on top of it. 10 sentences each day can keep the writing level intact in your new language, if not increase it.

If you're having trouble remembering the characters in your new language's alphabet try this small trick: associate shapes or objects to each letter. This is harder to do for Japanese, Korean or Chinese, but rather easy and fun with Russian languages.

Once you've mastered the new alphabet and writing system, you can start learning that language like any other. Of course, it will still be difficult since it will have different grammar rules and maybe a different vocabulary setup than your own native language, but at least you've conquered the hardest battle, that of writing and understanding the new language and its alphabet.
About the Author
Increase your foreign language vocabulary at http://www.InternetPolyglot.com by playing online games. The site contains thousands of lessons in different languages from English, Spanish, French, Russian to Hindi, Turkish, Ukrainian and many others.
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