Learning new alphabet


what are you’re methods when you start learning a language, that’s completely new to you that has a different alphabet?

Do you start learning using an alphabet that you’re familiar with?
Do you start learning the alphabet?
Do you start reading (like here in lingq) and decipher every letter until you remember it?
How do you start?

What is you’re experience?
Which methods did work for you? Which didn’t?

What are you’re recommendations?

Are there already recomendable discussion about the topic?


“Do you start reading (like here in lingq) and decipher every letter until you remember it?”

For Russian, that’s exactly what I did. I first looked up a basic table showing approximately how each Russian letter sounds and wrote that out by hand onto a piece of paper, and then I just started on LingQ with a simple text. It was very slow at first since every word required looking at the table several times, but it sped up very quickly. I would say within a couple of weeks I could do it without the table at all but I don’t really remember.


The best way to learn a different alphabet or syllabary is to learn the characters using an app that allows you to practice through quizzes or spaced repetition.

You want to learn which sound each character makes, but you do not want to become overly reliant on romanisation/romaji (using the Latin alphabet to represent foreign sounds) because it will hinder your progress and lead you to not pronounce phonemes properly.

Once you have a good grasp of the characters you are learning, you can start learning the basics of the language and move on to the mini stories on Lingq.


If your target langauge is not chinese or japanese and it has an actual alphabet, then you should learn the alphabet first. For Japanese you should probably learn the two alphabets that they have and for chinese you might have to learn a few hundred signs before you can read anything.
So yeah learn the writng system first and try to get rid of transliteration as fast as possible. (It is helpful for the initial learning of the script however).


When I started japanese I just tried to read lyrics without romaji then listen to the song to see if they match, after that I watched some videos on youtube for the basics.
For korean I watched videos about hangul and batchim before starting reading on Lingq (since korean has more rules than japanese). Without romaji as well.
And for chinese I just picked the beginner lessons on Lingq with pinyin.


Memorizing stand-alone letters is difficult, not to mention boring. The best way, IMO, whether with book or app, is to learn a few letters and start learning some words made from them. Then more. Then some simple sentences. That’s the approach taken by the book I used to learn the Arabic alphabet (ISBN 0658000772, just one of dozens of similar titles). And if I recall correctly (it’s been decades), that’s the approach my Russian teacher took freshman year of high school. It almost seems too obvious to mention.

(Sorry I’m late to this particular party. I’ve been away from Lingq for a while, and it’s all Lingq’s fault – it works. I and my knowledge of Russian have been wrapped up in following world events lately.)


“Sorry I’m late to this particular party.”



Personally, I like to start by familiarizing myself with the new alphabet itself, focusing on each letter’s shape and sound. Then, I practice writing and reading simple words to reinforce my understanding.


Concerning japonese, I was learning katakana hiragana and later kanji. What I did to copy text in romanji form and replacing characters I know. This way I was getting used to write those characters.

Concerning Ukrainian, it was very easy to use a document listing the different letters and what they mean. I was happy about it. Recently, I have realized that my reading speed when I read aloud was very slow. I realized also that I didn’t pay attention to all the letters when I read silently. I have practised reading aloud and reading has improved and I’m more concious of all the letters I read. But it’s still much slower than my native langague. If I’m tired or not that motivated, Ukrainian may appear as a block of strange characters.


For Japanese, I got started with hiragana and katakana straight away.

However… I often regret the effort I put into learning anything beyond the first hundred kanji. I spent so much time learning more and more kanji.

I’ve often wished for Japanese, I’d set my goal to be fluent yet illiterate. Learning to read has benefited me so little. I’ve often wished that for all the time I spent drawing characters to memorize them that I’d put that time into simply learning more vocabulary orally.

An importaant question is to consider one’s goals and also means/content and context available to learn.


I learned hiragana and katakana by getting myself some anki decks with the alphabets that contain audio, and deleted the transliteration. Transliteration is imho a good way to slow down your progress on learning a new alphabet. Other languages often use phonems that don’t exist in English and vice versa, not to mention that there isn’t a strict connection between the sounds and the letters anyway (especially in English) and that if you are a native speaker of a language using the latin alphabet differing from English, you will have a completely different sound association with the respective letters then the ones that invented those transliterations. Hangul I’ve learned using Memrise where there were natives showing cards with the letters while saying them.

Once I knew a few of the letters by heart and some more or less well I started reading text. Similar to how remembering words is easier when seeing them in context, memorizing the alphabet is easier when using them in context (a.k.a. words :wink: ). Sometimes I can remember a word even if I don’t know all the letters and can than use this to trace back the sound of the letters. In a similar fashion there are times where I use the words meaning to get the idea of a sentence and other times where I use the (most probable) meaning of a sentence to get what the words mean. :sweat_smile:


You can find some YouTube videos of people explaining the basics of the grammar and writing systems of the common languages. Then you can drill it with some flashcards or some apps, if you want. But knowing how to pronounce each individual letter doesn’t mean you can actually pronounce the word correctly or do it at any reasonable speed. Watching a few videos on the introduction to the alphabet (and basic grammar) is still useful though in my opinion.

For me, my strategy for Russian is to do reading while listening using Language Reactor to a huge amount of YouTube videos (i.e. videos with dual subtitles) to really hammer in and link the aural system and the writing system so deep it becomes rote learnt. After 1.1M words read (most of them done this way), I’m starting to be able to recognise more and more words upon instant sight. When I see them, the pronunciation of the words just pop straight in my head. If I know the word well enough, I also have a feeling of the meaning (usually I just get the feeling of the meaning of the words as opposed to the English translation popping in my head).

It’s not easy for me to pronounce a brand new word, which I’ve never encountered before, out loud, so this strategy isn’t about quickly learning to use the alphabet per se, but rather rote learning the pronunciations and meanings of individual words and phrases (far more useful in my opinion). My strategy is focussing on sheer volume of content. I go for a decent, but semi-vague, understanding of what the content is about and I don’t care for a 100% understanding of every sentence and every word. I get a decent, but still vague, understanding and move on, letting my subconscious do the work. Hammering in the alphabet is really a minor thing for me. It’s happening, but slow. My main goal is vocabulary acquisition, with the secondary goals being listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and linking the pronunciations of individual words to their written forms (all of which are also being trained at the same time while increasing my vocabulary of course). My second million words read while listening (i.e. with dual subtitles) should take ~125 hours (1M words / 8k wph). This equates to four months at an hour per day. I’m very satisfied with my strategy at the moment.

TL;DR My strategy is not focussing on learning the new alphabet per se, but rather more on learning the meaning and pronounciation of individual words and linking these to their written form.


It’s a bit of trial and error, but repetition and consistency really help. As for recommendations, I’d say take it step by step and don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way. And if you’re looking for some printable worksheets to practice alphabet and letters, I’ve found some useful ones at firstworksheets.com. They’re great for reinforcing learning at home.

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