Introducing Yourself to a Script

If your language has a non-Roman script (i.e. different from the one we use in English), then you will want to begin associating the individual sounds you have learned with the new letters or symbols that represent them. By following the process outlined below, you can start making this association both visually and aurally. This process is also useful for learning characters that are based in the Roman script, but differ in pronunciation and/or appearance from the version of the script you are used to.

(NOTE: It is best to follow this process with just a few letters or symbols at a time, as your book introduces them, so you can focus on learning just a few letters very well, instead of having to handle many new letters or symbols all at once.)

Acquaint Yourself with the Forms of the Letters

  • Find a list of all the letters or symbols you want to start learning in your textbook. Write them down in a notebook. Write them a few times to get used to the shape of the letters. Your book will have instructions on how to write them by hand, so you should follow those recommendations instead of just improvising to create the printed shapes you see.
  • The handwritten form of a script is often somewhat different from the printed one, and the instructions on writing the letters in your book will probably be based on the easier-to-write, handwritten form.
  • Now write the sounds that these letters or symbols represent next to them, using the Roman script used in English. This information will be available in the parts of your textbook that introduce the script to you. If you are learning symbols that represent whole syllables or words, write the full syllable or word they represent in Roman script.

Familiarize Yourself with the Sounds of the Letters

  • Now listen to a recording of the pronunciation of the language’s sounds several times, and as you hear each sound, put a checkmark by the letter that represents it. Listen until you have heard the sounds of all the letters you are trying to learn. If you need to, pause the recording or repeat parts of it. It never hurts to listen again and make sure you are making the correct connection between sounds and letters.
  • If your language uses single symbols to write entire syllables or words, then put a checkmark by the symbol(s) that contain the individual sounds you hear, and do this until you have identified all the sounds expressed by the symbols.
  • Now, take out a totally blank piece of paper and listen to the recording of sounds again. When you hear a sound from the recording which you are learning the letter for, pause and write down the letter associated with it. Do this until you can write down the letters you are working with fairly quickly when you hear the sounds. Take time to pause the recording and repeat individual sounds as necessary. Look at your book as only the last resort when you absolutely can’t remember the shape of a letter you are working on.
  • If you are working with symbols representing syllables or whole words, instead of starting with a blank page, write down the specific symbols you are working on, but without a Roman transcription. When you hear sounds in the recording, write them in Roman transcription next to the symbols that they belong to. Do this until you have identified all the sounds in the symbols you are working with in the correct order.
  • NOTE: Some languages may have multiple letters or symbols that make the same sound, or different sounds expressed by a single letter or symbol depending on certain rules in the writing system, so do not be surprised if there is not always a one-to-one correspondence.


EXPLORE FURTHER:  Go online to YouTube, search for videos about the alphabet for your language (for example, search “Bangla Alphabet” or “Malay Alphabet”).  For almost any language, numerous videos will come up.  Beware that they will vary in quality and perhaps in accuracy. Avoid videos that are clearly done by new learners of the language showing off what they have learned. 

Look for videos by native speakers or highly skilled speakers.  These may well display regional or dialectical differences.  Take your textbook as your standard, but it is also good to become aware of regional differences.

EXPLORE FURTHER: Many scripts have an associated “alphabet song”. Ask your conversation partner if such a song exists. You can also search on Google or YouTube to see if you can find one. Learning a song to remember the letters and their names can be easier than just learning them in their dictionary order by rote. You will want to learn them in order at some point, since knowing the order of letters is necessary to look up words in dictionaries.