When considering new languages to learn, individuals often become intimidated by a writing system different from that of their native languages. While learning a new alphabet can prove difficult, it often becomes one of the most rewarding exercises that a student can undertake. With a systematic approach to learning, mastering the writing system takes only dedication and persistence: anyone can do it. First, individuals should only tackle a few letters or syllables at a time and preferably group letters together that look similar or that have correlates in their native languages. These letters often present challenges when learned independently, but when one studies the subtle differences or works closely to identify problematic letters, he or she can much more easily differentiate them.
The old adage “practice makes perfect” certainly applies to mastering new writing systems. Students should practice identifying the new shapes that they learn as often as possible and should become familiar with both the “formal” and “handwritten” versions of letters. For many languages, including Arabic, handwritten forms do not always correspond exactly to the printed versions. Students must be able to understand and reproduce all variants. Calligraphy classes will help people get a better handle on new writing systems and produce gorgeous pieces of text.
Once a student has learned all the parts of the new writing system, the best way to improve reading proficiency is by reading aloud and practicing sounding out the words. While the student may not understand very much of a written text at first, choosing a piece about a familiar subject helps build vocabulary and confidence. Individuals can first begin by looking for transliterated names of people and places. Eventually, they can pick out the words they are familiar with and guess the meaning of others. Sounding out words increases the brain’s ability to associate the shape with the sound. Reading out loud also improves writing skills. Individuals can practice sounding out names of places or people or even entire sentences from their native language. This ability to sound out and read aloud becomes especially important in writing systems with unfamiliar sounds and syllables.
About the Author
For more than two decades, Bassam Frangieh has shared his passion for Arabic language and literature with students across the United States. He earned his Doctor of Philosophy in the field from Georgetown University and subsequently taught there for a number of years. Later, Bassam Frangieh served as a Senior Lector of Arabic at Yale University and is currently a Professor of Arabic at Claremont McKenna College in southern California.