How to Learn Non-Latin Letters

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This is an excerpt from the Book: The Open Secret of Polyglots 

Even if you are an adult and want to learn a language that uses Non-Latin script, use the pictorial method to learn its letters. Don’t try to memorize the new lines of the new letters in an abstract or direct way.

What does this mean?

You draw the new letter using a suitable picture first. Example: The K could be a King walking with his sword holding up. The Hebrew letter ‘Mem’ could be the entrance of a cave with a twig growing on the left top side.

This way of memorizing the letters seems at first to be time-consuming, as you have to find a picture that best suits the letter and draw it. But in order to learn the letters and get acquainted with them, it’ll turn out much more effective than simply trying to memorize the lines of a foreign letter without any picture (that means abstractly without linking it to anything known to you before). In this way you’ll learn and remember best those specific letters.

I didn’t know about the pictorial method of letter learning when I once started to learn the Katakana and Hiragana (the two syllable-scripts of Japanese using 2 x 72 letters) in an abstract way. The author of the course book suggested that only after having learnt the Katakana and Hiragana should the learner read and learn words and sentences in Japanese. I needed 3 months to recognise these letters and associate them with the appropriate sounds. All this while I had only learnt two sentences in Japanese which I was able to read out with great effort. There wasn’t even a chance to learn more as there were no transliterated words or sentences in the book.

After spending 2 hours a day for three months I got bored with these letters and was disappointed. I was even more disappointed when I realised that after a few weeks break, as I hadn’t practiced enough before, I could hardly remember the Katakana and Hiragana.

Many years after this adventure learning some Hebrew letters in a pictorial way was much more fun and effective.

And of course after having learnt them you have to practice the letters and forget about the pictures associated with the lines and just stay with the sounds they depict. This happens automatically if you practice enough.

When learning a non-Latin script language make sure that while you are learning the letters you also learn useful phrases in order to merge into the language. Don’t wait until you can read the letters. Fortunately there are very good course books with transliterations in them as well.

When you have already learnt a few letters try to transcribe some of them from your native language in the newly learnt letters. Try to find some words in your native language that could be written with them. Or later on it is fun to see your name or the names of your friends and relatives in a new script. This is the quickest way to get accustomed to the new letters.