Learning a language with or without it's script

It is amazing how many beautiful scripts exist around the world. When I see other writing systems, I am always intrigued and tempted to decipher them. So, in my language learning journey, I am especially interested in learning the languages together with their scripts. I don't think that you can really master a language and get an in-depth cultural insight without learning the corresponding script.

But there are other learners, who might think that learning a different script might be too difficult, tiring or a waste of time. But I find it odd, if, for example, learners are learning Arabic/Russian/Thai/Korean without learning the corresponding alphabet (I know, Chinese is a different story), but are only using transliterations. Wouldn't it be really weird, if someone learnt English and just wrote it by using Arabic or Thai letters, because it would be too troublesome to learn the Roman alphabet? When immigrants come to Germany and aren't alphabetised, the first step is always to learn the Roman alphabet, before they can attend proper German language classes.

So, what's your opinion? Do you think it is necessary to learn the proper script of your target language or is using transliterations sufficient? Do you start with transliterations and gradually acquire the foreign script, while you are already learning the basics of the target language, or do you first learn the script, before you start with grammar and vocabulary?

Edit: "its script". Can't change the typo in the title.

Mar 18, 2017 7:37 AM
Comments · 6


Being able to read the language, doesn't mean that one doesn't speak it. I've attended communicative classes, but we always also used some written material. Don't inlingua and Berlitz use textbooks? Can someone who can't read the Roman alphabet attend their French and English classes successfully? Do you sometimes teach students without writing anything down? How would you for example teach an Arabic speaking student, who is only interested in speaking English, but not in reading? Currently we have lots of immigrants in Germany, who either don't know the Roman alphabet or can't even read the script of their mother tongue and it proves very difficult to teach them German. The ones, who can read are definitely more successful. The ones, who can't read, also don't have the chance of ever finding a good job in Germany.


Thanks, for the link. Yeah, I think for me writing and speaking combined works best. When I read something and write a summary and then tell someone else about it, then I will remember it more easily.

I learnt one language just by listening (not really speaking) and that's Shanghainese, because it is a mainly spoken language, but apart from that, I'm learning languages by writing them. I'll eventually speak them, but I might for a long time just write the language, until I got the basics and feel ready to speak freely. When I started speaking Mandarin I literally had subtitles in my head. If I could not assign a character to a word that I heard, than I couldn't understand it. With practice this got better. But now it bugs me, if I understand a word, but don't know how it is written. Because this is my individual learning style, I can't really imagine learning a language without writing it. But I met an Indian student ones, who learnt German fluently just by listening and speaking. He was fluent, without ever touching a textbook. That was very impressive!

March 18, 2017
Recently, I decide to learn German. So I asked for some advice on italki. But the advice they gave me was listening some German aduios or reading some German articles. I know nothing about German right now. How can I understand the audios and articles? I felt very confused. So I plan to learn German script first like my English learning experience. 
March 18, 2017
Personally, Miriam, I like to learn the script as well. That being said, it is noteworthy that almost everyone on the planet learns their native language for several years of total immersion before starting to study the script. Actually, there are probably millions of people even to this day who happily go their whole lives without learning to read. Speech has existed for a hundred thousand years, but writing for only a few millennia, so it's no surprise that the part of the brain specialized in language is located next to the auditory cortex. Anyhow, I think learning the writing system is a generally good idea, but if someone else would rather learn to speak first, it's not the least bit shocking.
March 18, 2017
You’re right that there’s nothing efficient about the way babies learn a language, and I’m certainly not suggesting that adults attempt to learn a language exactly as a baby does. For one thing, babies don’t follow any sort of organized program whatsoever, most of their immersion time is spent just figuring out how to stand up, and their parents, who are not qualified language teachers, don’t really do anything to teach them grammar and vocabulary. Nevertheless, they all eventually end up as native speakers, because concentrating on listening and speaking is just that powerful. I’d also like to point out that lots of people who cannot read actually do have a very high mastery of their language or languages.

Language schools such as inlingua and Berlitz have a proven track record for their effectiveness at bringing adults to very high levels through speaking and listening, and the methods work even better outside the traditional classroom. I love reading and writing, but it’s a fact that humans are neurologically hardwired for speaking and listening. Once you’re good at that, it’s relatively easy to pick up writing skills. On the other hand, when someone has chosen to start with reading and writing, it’s usually obvious. A non-alphabetic language like Chinese might well be an exception, but that’s way beyond the scope of this discussion.
March 18, 2017
Phil, yes, we do learn our native tongue for several years just by listening and speaking, but as adults we learn languages differently and even if we focus on speaking, we do use some writing system as a crutch to write down vocabulary for instance. I guess that most adult learners don't want to wait an entire year before they utter their first words, another year before they can build simple two-or-three-word-sentences, another year before they can build more complex and grammatically correct sentences. And yes, there are many people in the world, who can't read the script of their own language and they get along fine. So, if the language learning goal is to just being able to have some simple, very basic everyday conversations, then it is indeed not necessary to learn the script. But as an adult learner you won't reach a very high level in this language. 
March 18, 2017
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