A short while back, I wrote a post about how I go about learning a new writing system. In that post, I shared a few of the ways that I go about learning a writing system that is different from my own, and in that post, I mentioned writing practice as one of my methods.
Whether learning a new writing system for reading or writing (or both), I’ve found that writing in it has been one of the best ways to familiarize myself with the new letters or characters. There’s just something about the writing process that makes everything stick.
Today, I’d like to share a few of the tools that I use to both learn and practice different writing systems. I’ve broken it down into resources that can be used for almost any new writing system and resources specific to the writing systems that I have learnt. If you have any suggestions for languages that aren’t on this list, feel free to leave them in the comments below! I may just add in a new section or two!
For Multiple Languages
Memrise or any other Flashcard system // There are quite a few good courses available for those of you who would like to study a new writing system using flashcards. I, personally, did not find that this worked for me as a stand alone option, but along with other tools, it was a good way for me to practice my recognition of the various letters/characters.
Grid Paper // When it comes down to it, the simplest way to practice the letters or characters in a new writing system is with good old grid paper. At the beginning, you can use larger grids and once you get a little more comfortable, you can use smaller grids. You can also get fancy and use sticky notes so that you can easily tack up any work you’re particularly proud of, but I personally just like something simple.
Calligraphy Paper // When I first started studying Chinese, I was absolutely enamored with Chinese calligraphy. I absolutely wanted to learn it, so I ran out and bought calligraphy paper and a set of brushes. While I never quite mastered actual calligraphy, I did find the paper to be incredibly useful for practicing those tricky characters that just wouldn’t stick. I’ve also found calligraphy paper to be helpful for the Korean and Japanese writing systems as well.
Reusable Calligraphy Water Paper // For those of you willing to work with water rather than ink, there is another fantastic tool available to you. Reusable calligraphy water paper allows you to use your brushes dipped in water rather than ink so that you can keep using the same paper once your initial characters dry and disappear. It’s quite handy and comparatively environment friendly. Plus, no one will see those embarrassing first efforts.
Notebooks // For a lot of writing systems, a simple, lined notebook will suffice. For most of my practice, this is what I use. I have a notebook for each language that I’m learning and I’m constantly filling them up with my notes and character/letter practice.
Lang-8 // This tool is definitely for a little bit later on, once you’ve kind of gotten then hang of the new writing system (and you know how to type in it!). This is a great place to practice writing sentences and even short paragraphs in your target language.
Writing Practice Resources for Specific Languages
Russian Step-by-Step // For Russian cursive, you can’t get much better than these workbooks. I absolutely love working through these and find the exercises quite relaxing!
My Russian Alphabet Worksheet // For the Russian alphabet (which oddly enough is quite different from Russian cursive), I put together this worksheet. It has helped me loads with remembering the different letters. There’s just something about them all being together on one sheet.
Russian Computer Keyboard // Keyboard overlays can be a huge help when you’re first starting out with typing in a new writing system. I don’t use a specific keyboard for Chinese, but it has been indispensable for languages like Russian. You can use either a set of stickers or a keyboard overlay.
Assimil Cahier d’écriture // I love these beautifully assembled writing notebooks from Assimil. Working through these, much like with the Russian Step-by-Step books, is really relaxing for me and I enjoy the practice. There are 100 characters included within the workbook and each character has both large and small boxes for you to use to practice writing. Plus, the meaning and additional information about each character is included below the practice space.
Hanzi Grids // Hanzi Grids allows you to create customized worksheets that you can download and print to practice your handwriting. You can generate either traditional or simplified templates too!
Skritter // Skritter is an app that allows you to practice writing Chinese characters with stroke order help and real-time grading. It also has tone practice and it supports 300+ of the most popular Chinese and Japanese textbooks.
Korean 123 Read Write Practice // If you’re looking for a fun, interactive way to learn the Korean alphabet, this is a great app. It’s designed for both the iPhone and iPad as well as devices that utilize Google Play. This app also helps you navigate both number system used in Korean.
The Verb/Consonant Charts on Wikibooks // These charts are good practice if you’re learning how to combine consonants and vowels to create syllable blocks.
Skritter // Skritter is also available for those learning Japanese.
Tuttle’s Learning Japanese Hiragana and Katakana // This is a fun book that walks you through both hiragana and katakana with plenty of space for practice.
Yemenlinks // This site has a great collection of worksheets that allow you to practice writing the Arabic alphabet.
Calligraphy pens (I bought mine as well as the refillable packs at Daiso)
Techniques that I Use to Work on Learning Different Writing Systems
I really think that one of the best ways to really master a new writing system is to continuously work at it. This is one scenario where practice really makes perfect.
Personally, I’ve found that writing a new writing system out by hand (over and over again) has played a huge part in my retention of a new system. I do this in two ways.
The first is when I don’t yet know very many words (if any) in the relevant language. When this is the case, and I’m learning an alphabet based writing system (not a character based system), I practice writing in the language by writing English words using the new alphabet. I might write words like “dog” or “language” using the corresponding letters in the new language just to get my brain to associate the right sounds with the right letters.
Once I’m feeling comfortable with the alphabet itself, I then take it to the next level by combining writing with new vocabulary acquisition. This is the second way I work on writing new alphabets.
When it comes to a writing system that isn’t alphabet based, again, I find that writing the characters over and over do a lot for my overall retention. For Chinese, I simply write my notes by hand as often as possible. When it comes to the characters I struggle to remember, I then take things a step further and practice them on a sheet of calligraphy or graph paper.
What about you? What do you use to work on new writing systems?
Do you use any of the tools I listed above? Which are your favorites?
Did I miss any that you think are essential that you’d like to share with the community? Feel free to share them in the comments below!