1B: Writing System

As an adult, developing reading comprehension alongside listening comprehension is the most efficient way to learn.

Before you can start reading, you need to learn the written script of your target language (TL).

Just the Basics

The goal at this stage is to learn the script just well enough to read vocabulary and grammar. Don’t worry about trying to read quickly or fluidly; that will come later.

How long it takes varies greatly depending on your TL. For an English speaker, it could take anywhere from a few minutes (as in the case of Spanish) to a few months (as in the case of Chinese).


For languages that use the same script as your native language (NL), you will automatically associate shared symbols with their sounds in your NL. This can lead to mispronunciation when reading in your head (subvocalizing).

Don’t stress about it, you’ll fix it later. Just be aware that this is going to happen and make sure that you know which sounds are associated with which letters.

Accept Your Inability

For languages that use a different phonetic script, learning to read may feel cumbersome and restrictive. Just like a child learning to read, you will revert to sounding out symbol by symbol rather than perceiving entire words and phrases in single chunks.

This can be especially frustrating when you don’t know the true pronunciation of the word you are trying to sound out. Don’t worry too much—this will sort itself out naturally over time.

Non-Phonetic Scripts

Some languages, like Chinese, do not have alphabets. Instead, each character is a small picture representing meaning. These pictures combine to create more complicated pictures and more complicated meanings.

Refer to the language-specific guides to learn how to understand these picture-based writing systems.

It is a good idea to learn how to type in your TL as well. This will make it easier to look up words.

Note: coming soon, language-specific guides for Chinese and Japanese.


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