https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Murnik

Reading a Script Different from Your Native Tongue and Effects on the Brain?

I haven't been able to find anything that I've experienced anywhere on the internet, so I wonder if anyone will understand what I have to write. My native language is English even though I emigrated from Estonia when I was 4. My family is Russian-speaking, but I never truly acquired the language as a native. I ended learning English as a native language since I moved to America at such a young age. My formal education was entirely in English.

Many years later, when I was 14, I finally got around to learning the Cyrillic alphabet and was then able to read and write in Russian. However, the Russian alphabet to this day still trips me up, even though I've been literate in the language for almost 9 years. I find it to be more difficult to read than the Latin alphabet. I can't exactly explain why, but I feel like whenever I try to read a language that isn't written in the Latin script, it messes with my brain.

I've only been learning German for less than 8 months now. Even though my Russian is far superior to my limited knowledge in German, I read and write in German much faster than Russian. This despite the fact that I can understand almost everything in Russian.

I remember several years ago I gained an interest in Korean. What really gravitated me towards Korean was its use of Hangul, an Asian alphabet that looks very ingenious. I ended learning all the letters in Hangul, and the pronunciation rules. When it came to reading written Korean, however, it was very challenging on my eyes. I actually found reading Hangul to be an eyesore.

Has anyone learning foreign scripts experienced what I have? Do Native speakers of Chinese, Korean, Arabic, etc. have the same struggles when trying to read and write in a language that uses a different script from their own, like Latin? It makes me wonder if it's possible for a non-native to ever get comfortable in a different writing script, even after so much practice and exposure.

August 10, 2019

17 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Turlur

Learning a new language in the same script is mostly just a matter of learning a new vocabulary (and probably some new grammar rules). In a way, your brain views it as just an extension of the language you already know. You already know "dog" and "hound" mean the same thing, now just add "chien" to that list -- for example. Your brain is good at that and generally designed to accommodate new information in this way.

Learning a new script, though, is not so easy for the brain. In a way, this is the only time your brain is really "learning" a "new" language, because it's no longer just adding new data in the same code, it's a whole new code entirely. When you get good at a particular script, you stop reading words letter-by-letter and recognize the word by its general shape. (You don't really learn the word "chien" as a combination of letters meaning "dog," you learn it as a new shape that corresponds to the same concept as does the shape "dog.") This is why you can understand words being blasted at you in a speed-reading program at 500 words per minute. If you actually took the time to read each letter, this would be impossible.

You can't do that with a new script, though. You have to let your brain manually read each letter because "auto-pilot" reading is a result of recognizing the word itself, not the letters that comprise it. So, unless you have that language's vocabulary memorized in that language's script, you're always going to be, more or less, "translating" what you read in your mind, rather than just reading it and applying what you see directly to its meaning, automatically.

Learning a new script as well as your old script means teaching your brain to "map" out words in that script, not just learning the word and its meaning. This is an aspect of language acquisition most people don't consider or practice, probably in part because the only real solution is to do more of what you're already doing -- that is, practicing reading/writing in your target language.

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Judit294350

I learnt Arabic script without difficulty. For the first term we wrote it (by hand) and read it aloud (usually without knowing the meaning). A good teacher and time and it works.

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Vetyr_Cylni

Yeah, I find it easier to write and read in Spanish than in Russian. But I am working in it, I have had only a few months of exposure to the written language, so that might be it. But you do have a good point.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pooperscoop54321

I've been learning Japanese for a while (new to Duolingo though), and other than the kanji(2000 symbols), the Japanese alphabet(hiragana) seems very easy for me to read, although it does take a little bit more effort than the English alphabet, which is so ingrained in my brain that I end up reading without trying. But I never really get tripped up with the Japanese alphabet(hiragana). Maybe that's just because Japanese is very simple for pronunciation (mostly vowel base, ex: ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, ra, ri, ru, re, ro, etc.)

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Murnik

Just saw a chart for Hiragana. For some reason it reminds me of noodles. Kudos to you on your ease with reading that script. A lot of the characters look very similar to me, so I would definitely struggle if I were to learn Japanese.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pooperscoop54321

It was definitely hard at the start, but I've read through so much stuff that I've had a lot of practice reading them.

August 10, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/McPwny

i suppose its normal that its easier to piggyback off of a script that you know than learn a new one. i definitely strained my brain in various ways just to comprehend korean.

its possible to master anything if you have some resolve tho, so dont let some paltry script difference stop you from anything.

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Moira582602

New scripts are difficult, especially if it is right to left. But if people can read and speak it, you will too. It just takes time and practice.

I don't agree about once you have learned the same script it is just new vocab and grammar you need to learn. The sound of the same phoneme may be different in one language from another. e.g. the "a" in Hungarian is not the same as the "a" in English, if you want to sound like a Hungarian. The "ll" and "w" sounds in Welsh are not the same as in English and in French the "r" is rolled and not flapped, as many people make it. Some languages the "ch" sound is made in different parts of the mouth from what you may expect. At least if you want to learn to speak a language properly with the correct pronunciation you need to be aware of that. Alphabets can be deceiving.

But practice makes perfect. I found that writing and saying the symbol helps as you write it helps. Yea, as Judit says, a good teacher will help you with that. It can be difficult, but not impossible, on your own.

Don't give up, you will be able to read and write in a different orthography. Just keep practising and you will get there. Here a a couple of lingots to encourage you to keep going - copious cups of coffee I find also helps!

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/-Jay_

I picked up reading Japanese Hiragana script pretty fast when I started, however moving on to Kanji gave me a headache to read. I recently looking into studying Arabic script as I love the sound and style of the language, and I can already tell that won't be much easier. I've been studying Esperanto and Italian for about half a year now, and I find both so much easier and smoother to read (and speak) than other languages, as they both are mostly the English alphabet.

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/slogger

In re Cyrillic: no I didn't experience what you have. The alphabet I learned in college and gradually learned the language well enough to read it. It took some time to become used to the alphabet, and for quite a while I was slower at reading, writing and typing it. Probably I am not quite so fast w/ the Cyrillic alphabet as with the Latin alphabet nowadays, but I'm close. The problem I do have with Cyrillic is because of nearsightedness: the similarity of several of the letters can be a bother when reading smaller print--"shape recognition" usually works fine for reading, but if I do have to tell, say, a small и from a small н in some new word, I have to slow down and peer very closely.

About 25 years ago I learned the Greek alphabet to read Koiné Greek, and as with Cyrillic it just took some getting used to and then was fine (other than the itty-bitty diacritical marks, sometimes)--I read a lot of it for a couple of years w/o experiencing what you describe.

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pooperscoop54321

One thing I forgot to mention earlier, is that the Cyrillic alphabet looks similar to the English alphabet, and has some of the same letters, but pronounced differently, so that could be tripping you up more than a script from another language would, that looks completely different from English.

August 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Aki-Mugetsu

I kinda have the opposite effect, I’m really a reading type of person (even in my native language, it was hard for me to learn words without knowing how to write them). I began Japanese some time ago, and if there is a kanji I know somewhere, it’s instinctive, I don’t even have to pause, my brain understands it right away. I’m not fluent though, far from it, but the ones I know will stick out like they’re highlighted. It’s impossible for me not to read something, even in a script I don’t know well, like Cyrillic, I will still catch at least a few things without trying to. On the other hand, I struggle with pronunciation, as I actually recognize written word without having to "say" them in my head. It’s actually quite weird, but for instance, if I watch a movie in my native language with subtitles in a language I don’t know well… I will still read the subtitles more than I’ll listen.

I don’t know about you, but I think a lot of exposure would help. I you write (by hand, maybe, since it’s harder it helps to remember) quite often and try to read everyday, even small texts, it should become easier.

August 12, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/JoyeEverett715

It takes DECADES to master a different script completely. Think of it....how long did it take before your handwriting came naturally? A looong time, for me personally. It'll be the same with any system haha.

August 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SamHunter20

A kid has to also learn eye-hand-coordination. As an adult you should have that now. A new script that is an alphabet - like Arabic or Greek - will take much less time now (months not years). One with thousands of characters, though, like Mandarin , will take much longer.

August 11, 2019
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