First Steps #1. Learn the Alphabet or Writing System

You’re excited to get started learning your new language, but you don’t know where to start? Then this article series is for you. We discuss the first steps your should take to learn a new language that will really kick you off in the right direction and on your way to fluency. The first step is to learn the alphabet or writing system in your new language.

Learning the alphabet of your new language should be a priority early on in the language learning process. It’s not something that should be delayed. Knowing the alphabet of your new language will help you communicate and read which will be essential for studying, building vocabulary, and learning grammar from the early stages of learning right up to and beyond fluency.

Some languages might be relatively easy to learn. Perhaps they share the same alphabet as English. If so, this will make life much easier for you. Still many of these languages will still have slight differences from English such as accent marks. Make sure you familiarize yourself with these.

Other languages will be much more difficult. They may have a different writing system from English. Thus they require effort to learn and memorize the new alphabet and letters. Get familiar with associating the written form of the language with the sounds that they make. Some language learners find romanized systems for languages with other writing systems comfortable to use. Some may find this helpful, however, we strongly recommend never using them. Don’t start off your learning process with the bad habit of having to rely on an English-like written system that oftentimes can’t correctly convey the sounds of the language. Instead put in the effort to learn the proper alphabet and use it as quickly as possible in your written communications and reading.

Learn the alphabet of your new language.
Chinese written story

A couple languages will be a completely new challenge to learn the written form. This is true of Chinese and Japanese for example, which incorporate thousands of characters similar to pictographs in their systems. For fluency in Chinese you would need to learn some 5000 different characters, and for Japanese 2 written alphabets (which you should learn right away, as explained above) and some 3000 different characters borrowed from Chinese.

In these languages, it’s obviously not possible to learn 3000 or 5000 characters before learning anything else. Rather you will want to start a program for learning the characters from the beginning stages of the learning process while learning other aspects of the language. You will also still want to try to master the sounds of language, the phonetics, even though you cannot write out the characters.

A good way to start learning and mastering the characters of these more difficult writing systems is to start with the characters that school children learn. There are lists available online that show which characters children learn at school for each grade. Following a similar structure of study may be one of the easiest ways to approach learning and memorizing characters. From the very beginning stage of your learning process, it’s recommended to read in the language. Find and identify the characters you’ve already learned in context, and read out loud their pronunciations, despite not being able to read all characters.

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