Alphabets Today: Some Tips on How to Learn Them

Learning a new language is always a challenge, but even more so if you choose a language that uses a different writing system. Trying to be fluent in languages like Greek, Russian, or Arabic without knowing their alphabet is like trying to build a house without its foundations. It’s impossible to do a good job.

Let’s get started with a definition of an alphabet, that is, a writing system where each symbol represents one sound. This is the case of our alphabet (the Latin), which has 26 letters. The Chinese, for example, cannot be considered an alphabet but it’s rather an ideographic writing system. Each pictograph (symbol) represents different words and their meaning will depend on the context of use and the tone used to pronounce them (in the case of spoken discourse). Keep on reading and learn more about the major alphabets other than the Latin one that exist today and some tips on how to learn them efficiently!

Arabic

The Arabic alphabet is one of the most challenging to learn. It has 28 letters (or glyphs) and only 3 of them are vowels. 9 of these symbols do not have English counterparts. Also, the Arabic language is cursive, which means that each letter is connected to the letter before and after (except for 6 that never connect to the glyph that comes next!). Additionally, when learning the Arabic alphabet, you should bear in mind that, contrary to English, Arabic reads from right to left.

The good news is that Arabic is a phonetic language, so words and letters sound exactly as they are written.

  • The first step towards learning the alphabet is to acquire diction rules and understand how each letter is pronounced.
  • Then, try to master each letter individually before start connecting them into words. Take one step at a time!

Cyrillic

The Cyrillic alphabet has 33 letters. It shares some of them with the Latin alphabet (A, P, O), while some others are unique, such as Щ, Э, Й. But the fact that the letters look the same does not make them the same. In fact, most of them are used and pronounced differently. You may think that “нос” is the same as “hoc” in English, but the word is read as “nos” and means “nose”. Quite the difference, right?

How do you learn these letters, then?

  • Practise intensively and focus on reading. This will give you exposure to the alphabet and vocabulary in general.
  • Use the dictionary as much as possible and look words up even if they look like English ones. They may trick you!
  • Mnemonic rules can help you remember the Cyrillic symbols. For example, Ч- “ch” resembles an upside-down chair.

Greek

If you are embarking on a journey towards Greek proficiency, the largest hurdle will be learning the alphabet. Greek has 24 letters and all of them have a name you’ll have to learn, but the good news is that 13 of them are almost the same as in the Latin Alphabet, such as M (mu), H (eta) or P (rho).

Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels

Plus, if you’ve studied maths, you are at an advantage! In addition to using Pi to represent the radius of a circle, Algebra uses a lot of Greek letters like gamma or sigma to make up formulas, so you will already be familiar with how these symbols are written and called. The same happens if you work in the medical field, as many of the Greek letters are used for abbreviations.

Some tips to learn the Greek alphabet:

  • Use songs, like this one, to learn the names of each symbol and their pronunciation.
  • Download specialised programmes to learn alphabets, such as Filoglossia. It’s free of charge!
  • Write the letters as many times as possible! If you find someone to dictate you the names so you can write the symbol, much the better.

Certainly, learning whole new alphabets can be a bit discouraging at the beginning, especially when they differ so much from yours (as in the case of Arabic). However, with a lot of practice and using the correct strategies, we are sure you will weather the storm.

If you’d like to know more about how and why alphabets change, read our article and find out! And if you feel inspired to learn Arabic, Greek, Russian, or any other language of your choosing, contact us today and get started with a personalised course suitable for your needs, requirements, and preferences!

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