Why languages with different scripts aren’t as scary as you think

Lindsay Dow

Today you get to hear from Lindsay who has an awesome language learning blog called Lindsay Does Languages.

Lindsay’s a high-energy, polyglot blogger/vlogger from the UK who’s studying a degree in Modern Languages and teaching online through italki. :)

She has lots of experience learning different languages and is currently tackling Japanese while sharing her progress online.

Make sure to follow her blog as well :)



Expecting Donovan?

Clearly, I’m not him.

I’m Lindsay and I blog about languages over at Lindsay Does Languages. Nice to meet you.

If you’re a reader of my blog then you might be aware that I’ve recently started learning Japanese. Exciting! I’d been keen to learn Japanese for a few years now.

So why did I put it off?

I’m pretty sure that even though I wouldn’t admit it beforehand, a big reason was the different script. Shh! Don’t tell anyone! But you know what? Learning a language with a different script actually isn’t as bad as you might think at first.

Today I want to tell you why I’ve decided this and how I’m dealing with it for Japanese.


The Comfort Blanket they call the Latin Alphabet

Japanese WritingMy language learning began with French in primary school, Spanish in secondary school, and a flurry of Romance and Germanic languages since then.

Well, strictly speaking that’s not true.

I did a one year Mandarin course with my University in my first year way back in 2009. Nowadays my spoken Mandarin is hella rusty, and my written Mandarin? Rubbish! You see, I made the mistake that because French and Spanish had come pretty naturally, Mandarin would flow into my brain too, almost effortlessly.

I was wrong.

I did alright, I passed, I went to China and spoke Chinese, but I don’t remember all of what I studied.

When I look back, expecting the Mandarin to just make sense didn’t make sense! There was an extra step to the learning process that I’d failed to make the effort with. I read the pinyin for far too long and I spent no time learning characters. At the same time as my Mandarin course, I did an Italian course. I HATED the Italian course with a passion. It was a small black and white book and chapter one on ordering a coffee was followed by chapter two on ordering a beer. I don’t drink coffee and I don’t drink beer.

You can imagine how incredibly engaging I found the course.

Oh yes, and the guy on the CD? I’ve never been so patronised. I could almost see the Chelsea boy flicking his fringe out of his face as he spoke down to me with his “I already speak Italian. I can’t believe you don’t” voice. Eugh. At the time I was young enough and naïve enough to believe that the course would teach me, so I didn’t bother finding other methods to use outside of my course materials. I know, slapped wrist. After the first flush, I spent barely any time studying Italian but can you guess what happened? My Italian grades blew my Mandarin ones out of the water.

Italian flowed into my brain the way I had hoped Mandarin would too.

I look back at my 20 year old self now and want to be able to tell her, “Hey! Put in more effort with the Mandarin! This could be something amazing! Take it!”. Alas, of course, I’m not Dr Who, I can’t really do that.

My 20 year old self wasn’t all bad by the way – I did buy a tortoise that year. Best. Decision. Ever.

Anyway, back to the languages… It was this experience that made me focus my attention on German, Portuguese, and Dutch before attempting another language with a different script. It was comforting to improve so quickly in new languages.

Why swap the comfort blanket of the Latin alphabet for another awkward failed effort in a language with a different script?


Being Brave

My efforts learning Italian, German, Portuguese, and Dutch have always been less than French and Spanish.

Partly because I use French and Spanish for work!

Partly because I wasn’t challenging myself.

If I was going to learn another language, it was going to have to be different in some way. Japanese was perfect.

But if I’d always been so wary, what had changed?

Well, the way I look at it in my case, is that through learning all those languages mostly myself and not with books telling me how to order a coffee and a beer, I’d learnt more about how to learn a language. How I best learn vocabulary, what helps me to understand grammar, ways to teach myself verb conjugations, time management, motivation – all essential language learning skills that, in my experience, only you can teach yourself.

I wanted to test those new skills on a completely different language: Japanese!


Bonuses of different script languages

Since I’ve started Japanese, there’s a couple of things I’ve realised about learning a language with a different script that actually work in your favour:


Less likely for confusion between your native language…

…as long as your native language doesn’t use the same script!

I’ve constantly found myself getting a little tongue tied between similar European languages but so far I’ve had no troubles with this in Japanese and I think one reason is that it’s so different that mixing stuff up becomes less likely.

This is obviously a bonus.

I’m no scientist but I’m sure there must be some research into this somewhere…


It’s a fun first step

I don’t know about you but when I start learning a new language there’s a first flush.

A little excited bit of time when everything is rosy and happy and motivated. You and your language are inseparable, you’ve never met another that understands you like this one, and you want to be together forever.

Do you get that?

Well, take advantage of that and spend some of the early days learning a script and you might just find that those big fluttery eyelashes hang around a tad longer.

I’ve found that learning the hiragana and katakana (and now kanji) alongside the first steps in speaking and understanding Japanese has made it more interesting. I hear a new word, I can write it down in romaji and then try my hand at my newly learnt characters to spell it out.

And when I get it right? Ooo, how exciting!


Reading hour

Lindsay Dow

But it’s not just writing those simple first words!

Reading things in a language with a different script (replace that with “spotting characters in Japanese” and you’re at my current level) is more rewarding when you know you’ve spent extra time and effort learning the script.

I love picking up Japanese books, stopping in the street to read menus, or finding something online and picking out the kana and kanji I know already!

I have no idea of the whole sense of what I’m reading at all but even before that stage I’m feeling proud that I can use what I’ve learnt. Imagine being able to actually read the whole menu or book – that must be amazing.

For me, that’s a huge motivation to keep going.


Who reads anyway?

I’m definitely a reader.

I read all the time.

I can’t walk past a library. I have to go in and admire their travel and language sections otherwise my eye begins to twitch.

Ok, so I made up the last bit.

Regardless, a lot of people don’t actually learn a language with the intention of reading or writing – they just want to speak. If this is you, then have you considered a language with a different script?

Who knows – you may even find some aspects of the language easier to understand than a similar language to yours. I can only speak for Japanese here really, as I’ve found speaking easier than in other languages I’ve studied.

Of course, different languages may have tones or other things to learn about pronunciation that don’t exist in your own language, but then that kind of fits with what I’ve been leading to say about why learning a language with a different script doesn’t have to be as scary as you think – embrace it, don’t shy away from it!


So I guess what I’m trying to say is…

From my babbling about Japanese so far in this post, I could probably summarise everything in this sentence: Treat learning the script as another enjoyable stage in the process rather than expect it to sink in and you’ll nail it.


I think that’s what I want to say here.

The different script of a language doesn’t have to be a frustrating extra thing to learn. Nope!

Instead, think of it as another layer to the language – another layer than exposes more about the culture, the people, and the history of the language. An integral part of the process.

But more than that: something else to fall in love with about your new language.

Have you every learnt a language with a different script to your native one? How did you find the process?

I’d love to read your thoughts on this in the comments!


This was written by Lindsay Dow.

Did you find this interesting, useful or encouraging? A quick share on Facebook or Twitter will make my day! Thanks. :)

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

8 Ways That My Punishing Fitness Regimen Has Enhanced My Learning

Language Learning

I find that the gym is one of the best places to meet new people and practice the language when I move to a new foreign country.

Over the last two years, I’ve relocated to South Korea, Russia, Italy and now Egypt.

Four countries.

In all of these places joining the local gym has been one of the most rewarding things in making social connections and practicing my target languages.

When you’re in a small room full of people and you stand out as a foreigner, it’s only a matter of time before people start getting familiar with you and wanting to talk to you.

These last two years I’ve had a personal mission to drastically raise my health and fitness level and yesterday while I was training I thought about how the way I improved my training had a really positive effect on my language learning.

Here’s what’s made all the difference:


1. Focusing more on neglected muscles

One thing I’ve really started to take seriously over the last year is focusing on strengthening minor and neglected muscles.

We tend to spend a lot of the time doing compound exercises for large muscle groups (e.g. presses, squats and so on) but there are smaller support muscles that get neglected over time and if not strengthened properly can lead to serious injuries later on.

For example I, like many other guys, avoided the adductors (inner thighs) like the plague (yes, a lot of blokes have it in their minds that it’s not for them :)) until I got an injury earlier this year while squatting. The same thing happened with my front delts (the front part of the shoulder) which I injured doing bench press.

Having minor support muscles that are weak is a recipe for disaster!

Since I started improving these support muscles, I’ve found that my overall strength and performance have gone up dramatically.

Lesson learned: Don’t neglect the minor details.

With Egyptian Arabic at the moment I’m really trying to pay more attention to minor details (e.g. minor aspects of grammar and pronunciation that make my Arabic sound more natural, less common vocab and expressions, connectors, etc.).

Basically things that aren’t really necessary for communication at all but when they all come together at the end they make me sound much much better when I speak.

They’re small features of the language that are super important for overall fluency.

Don’t underestimate the value of all those seemingly insignificant parts of the language.


2. Doing a session every day rather than just 3 days a week

I use to just train for 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday).

It’s a fallacy that you need a rest day in between each training day.

Each of those 3 days focused on one or two muscle groups and I’d tack on a bit of ab work at the end of each day if I felt like it (usually half-arsed and tired at the end of a workout).

I saw no results doing this.

So I started to train 6 days a week instead (the seventh day being an active rest day) and muscles that were previously an afterthought (like abs) got their own day which means that once a week I spend 1-2 solid hours only training abs and nothing else.

The results have been astounding since I started doing this.

Lesson learned: You can’t improve much in a language by just having a lesson once or twice a week or studying occasionally.

You need to apply yourself diligently every day and just as you would focus on a different muscle every day in training, have plenty of variation in your learning approach throughout the week.

That way you’re covering as much as possible and not allowing yourself to get bored or too stuck in a mundane routine.

Language learning (like training) should be an every day thing.


3. Increasing intensity

As well as increasing the amount of days I put in, I increased the intensity of each session.

I made sure that every session was rigorous and exhausting.

So instead of having the mentality of ‘Well I’ve done my 3 sets on this exercise… now on to the next one…’, I’d push myself to the absolute limit on each exercise. This meant a combination of heavy and light weight workouts until the muscle I was focused on was completely fatigued and unable to go any further.

I didn’t allow myself to go home until I was completely finished.

Lesson learned: Make every learning session (no matter how short it is) as serious and thorough as possible.

Even if you only get 10 minutes to study or practice, treat it like it’s the most serious thing in the world at that time.

Block out all distractions and thoughts, and tell yourself that this is the most important next 10 minutes of your life.

Tell yourself that whatever happens in this brief study period or conversation, you’re going to come away speaking better than you did before.


4. Eating real food (and nothing else)

If it comes in a wrapper or packaging, I don’t consume it anymore.

Unless it’s just been pulled off a tree, plucked out of the ground or carved off a beast, then it’s not food. 

Since I spend a lot of time sitting at a desk too, I don’t need much high energy food/sugar in my diet which only converts into fat when it’s not used.

So apart from the natural sugars I do eat before and immediately after I exercise, I’ve weened myself off it for the most part.

It’s amazing when you cut out sugars and crap from your diet how much more alive you feel and how much easier it is to stay in shape – even if you’re sitting down all day for work.

Lesson learned: Quality input is crucial.

It’s true that in learning, poor quality input isn’t going to harm you like food will but it definitely won’t help you in the same way that good quality material will.

I make sure that I’m not wasting my time with resources that are poor quality or time consuming to make sense of.


5. Stopping the sluggish starts to the day

I use to workout in the evenings.

But I came to the realization that if you start your day off sluggish, your day will be sluggish too so I become a morning workout person instead.

By getting in a good, hard workout at the start of the day, I felt more energetic and pumped throughout the rest of the day.

There are so many physical and mental benefits to doing this.

Lesson learned: By starting the day off with some kind of language learning activity, you’ll be in the ‘zone’ for the rest of the day.

What I’m doing here in Egypt is having a conversation or a lesson at 9am most days (if not on the street then through italki).

I find that when I do this, it puts me in ‘Arabic mode’ for the rest of the day.


6. Resting actively

So when I’m not training (and not stuck behind a desk), I try to keep as active as possible.

Public transport’s widely accessible in Cairo but if I can walk there, I walk there.

I try to view ‘rest’ periods as ‘active rest periods’ rather than ‘Oh well I’m not exercising now so that means I can sit around and do nothing’.

Lesson learned: Fill non-study periods with supportive language activities.

For example, socializing is the most important thing you can possibly do as a language learner.

This is, after all, why most of us learning a language in the first place.

For me to go and hang out with my Egyptian friends for a couple of hours is crucial to my learning. I see it as both a fun, recreational thing to do and a necessary part of my study.

Of course the same could be said about chilling at home and watching a movie in your target language or listening to music.


7. Keeping the mind-muscle connection

When I train I practice ‘mind-muscle connection’.

That means that if I’m working on one muscle for the day, I’m mentally focused on that muscle while I’m training it.

Just having that mental focus there increases the effectiveness of the exercise big time.

Lesson learned: When I’m out and about practicing Arabic, I’m aware of and focused on the details I need to improve at all times.

I’m always paying close attention to the way native speakers use certain expressions, grammar, words and so on – especially if I happen to be learning them at the time.

It’s easy to miss these things if you don’t.

Before languages become an automated process we need to be very conscious about what we’re trying to achieve.


8. Staying committed

It’s easy to say you’re tired or you’ll just ‘start tomorrow’.

But I’ve found that the more you resist the excuses and win, the less tempting it becomes next time and eventually the very thought of being lazy is a huge turn off.

The same thing is true with food – weening off garbage is hard but once it’s done you’ll look at McDonalds with disgust rather than lust. 😉

Lesson learned: Make a routine, form learning habits and stick to them resolutely.

The more you win over temptations to give up or slack off, the easier it’ll be next time to resist them.


This was written by .

Did you find this interesting, useful or encouraging? A quick share on Facebook or Twitter will make my day! Thanks. :)

Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

Detailed and Honest RussianPod101 Review

April 30, 2015 – 1:00 am

RussianPod101 Review UPDATE: RussianPod101 will take 28% off the cost of membership if you use this code: READYSET. **** It can be…

25 Prolific Language Learning Bloggers You Should Follow

April 27, 2015 – 1:27 am

Jana Fadness UPDATE: The original list here has been updated, revised and expanded (again) for 2015. If there’s a blogger who should

Knowing More Than One Language Is Not That Extraordinary

April 25, 2015 – 1:00 am

Monolingualism is unusual Did you know that people who only speak one language are a small minority group in the world? Consider this:

How To Learn The Turkish Language

April 20, 2015 – 12:07 am

Learn The Turkish Language Since we’re now in the run up to the ANZAC Centenary (the most sacred event on the Aussie and Kiwi…

About The Mezzofanti Guild

Learning another language or want to? This site is aimed at offering you unique foreign language learning tips, travel advice, anecdotes, encouragement and providing another handy place for language learners to connect.

Click here to read more about The Mezzofanti Guild.