A Shortcut to Learn Foreign Writing Scripts (Guest post by Teddy Nee)

Whenever I discuss about language learning or read abundant of articles about this field, the subjects are mostly not far from learning methodologies, motivations, success stories or about the “hottest” languages in this year.                                

I thought once to scriptsLearning to write the scripts is in fact a part of language learning. Let’s say you are a speaker of a Latin-based language learning Mandarin or Russian, then you must also learn how to write Chinese characters for Mandarin or Cyrillic for Russian.

Perhaps, learning foreign writing scripts is not seen as the priority compared with learning vocabulary and grammar, which might be more useful in real conversation, that could be why not many articles discusses about this.

The Relation of Writing Script and Language

I have two native languages–Indonesian and Medan Hokkien. Indonesian uses Latin alphabet which was introduced by the European during colonization, and it was actually written in the beginning in accordance with Dutch spelling.

Meanwhile, Medan Hokkien or Hokkien language of Medan variant does not have any writing system. It was brought by the Southern Chinese migrant traders and coolies from Fujian Province in China, which also had been spread to other places outside Mainland China, such as Taiwan, The Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, etc. In Taiwan, they use Chinese characters to write Taiwanese Hokkien.

From these two examples, you can see that one writing system can be utilized by several languages and it also evolved like languages. Indonesian spelling has been reformed several times to be what it is today. Some languages even have several writing scripts because of external influences, such as political and historical influences.

Kazakh language has been written in Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic scripts throughout the history. Urdu and Hindi are said to be the same or similar language but written differently. Urdu utilizes Arabic script, and Hindi utilizes Devanagari script. Some minority languages have even adopted other writing scripts instead of their original ones.

Writing Makes Perfect

coke_my_polyglotAfter learning several writing scripts, I finally realized that it is more interesting to learn to write foreign scripts than learning foreign languages. It might be because of the quick improvement that I could have in short time after learning to remember several letters in the alphabet. The feeling of being able to read a foreign script is like that of being able to speak a foreign language. This is what I find as the most rewarding.

Although the workload of learning to write a foreign script is lesser than learning the language, it does not mean that there is no challenge. Latin-based languages form syllables by having consonants followed by vocals on the right side, however, languages like Thai and Korean form syllables by placing the vocals at the other sides of the consonants, it could be on top, left or below of the consonants.

Worry no more because nowadays there are many memory apps to assist you to remember. I like to use this kind of apps but I find it not quite effectively helpful yet. Instead of learning each letters repetitively, I learn them through reading.

So, my learning technique works by reading words written in the target writing script, and then, I shall try to “decipher” it based on my understanding. A list of the letters of that writing script will also be useful in the process.

This kind of technique helps me to learn random letters by reading example of how this string of letters are written to form something meaningful. Please note that there is writing script like Arabic where one letter have 3 variations based on its position in the word. So, the letter “ب (b)” in Arabic will be written differently when it’s at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the word.

It is best if you can also write or type the foreign writing script, instead of just reading it. The more senses you use, the faster you will remember. You can also use mnemonic technique to remember, it means associating the objects you want to remember with something memorable, it could be a story, shape, color, feeling, etc. For example, the letter “ت (t)” in Arabic that resembles a smiling face.

teddTeddy Nee is a language enthusiast and blogger at Nee’s Language Blog (www.neeslanguageblog.com) He knows various languages and he uses most of them on daily basis. When he has free time, he likes to read books or chat with his online friends. You can chat with him in Medan Hokkien, Indonesian, English, Mandarin, Spanish, Esperanto or Portuguese.