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Learning alphabets

February 25, 2012

As with most things language related, saying precisely how many alphabets I can read and write isn’t easy. I learnt the

The spreading of main alphabets in Europe and ...

Image via Wikipedia - spread of the main alphabets used in Europe.

Latin alphabet before I remember, by the age of four or five, for English and Irish. That also sufficed, with the addition of a few more accents/diacritics (modern Irish has one, the fada) for French and the ß for German. We got introduced to a few of the Greek letters in studying maths and sciences, but I still haven’t gone through and learned the whole thing properly, although I suppose I should.

Learning the Hebrew alphabet happened in fits and starts over several years. I first tried as a child, from a book that was meant for younger children in a taught class, and wasn’t really very friendly for learning alone, so I only got about half the way through. I really got it as a young adult, when I had more personal motivation, and sat down and just did it over a couple of days. That’s been the strategy which later worked for Braille (BAUK) about three years ago and Cyrillic most recently. I had a go at Cyrillic a few years before, on a two week visit to Bulgaria, but it didn’t stick until I started using it lately. (And yes, Bulgarian Cyrillic is slightly different from Russian Cyrillic, although I don’t at this moment recall exactly how.)

Venn diagram of Greek, Latin and Russian Cyril...

Image via Wikipedia - Venn diagram of Cyrillic, Latin and Greek capital letters.

So that’s the strategy I’d suggest: don’t make it a major big deal, but when you are motivated and will get the practice because you’ll be trying to read, and maybe write, regularly, simply take a few days and go over your chosen alphabet, a few letters at a time. Take advantage of the strong similarities in order and beware the sometimes false similarities in shape, and don’t worry if you make mistakes and ‘silly’ mix-ups between letters.

I haven’t yet tried learning a non-alphabetic script. How do those who have find they compare?

  1. I agree. Whenever people find out I study Russian, they’re always interested to know how hard the different alphabet is. But really, after the first two weeks of classes, it wasn’t a big deal anymore. I still read fairly slowly, but it’s not because I can’t remember what the letters sound like. Russian verbs are wayyy more complicated than the Russian alphabet.

    • So I’m discovering! Learning an alphabet (or any writing system I can think of) really is just memorisation and practice.

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