Hacking language learning skills

How to learn to read in a foreign alphabet in 30 minutes?

Posted by Vasilii Triandafilidi on November 3, 2017

How to learn to read in foreign alphabet in 30 minutes?

Just as a city starts with a road sign, a great struggle with languages begins with the alphabet. If you are lucky enough that you learn French or Spanish being an English speaker that’s great. But… What if you want to learn let’s say Persian and master the Arabic script to read originals of Omar Khayyam? Life is not that fabulous all of a sudden, isn’t it? You enter a catch-22 now. To become good in something - you need to be able to read. To read - you need to be skilled at reading. Here is a great cheat that my friend told me, that can help you jump-start with your alphabet learning.

Don’t worry here is a cheat method to learn a new alphabet in 30(!) minutes. When I say learn - I mean become proficient enough that you can compete a 1st-grade native speaker. In just half an hour!!!

Let’s use Greek Alphabet as an example. Ok, let’s start.

Equipment:

  • Your favorite story in your language.
  • An alphabet in the language that you want to learn. I used this website to get one: Greek alphabet
  • And a table of how often do we use certain letters. You can find this website useful: Greek alphabet frequency of letters
  • A word processor to easily find and substitute characters in the text

Method:

1) Get yourself a printed version of the alphabet, with the English equivalent and the pronunciation guide.

Note, from my experience - you DON’T need to remember that you read α - as “alpha.” Let it be just “a” for a start. That’s good enough for studying.

2) Find the letters that you wouldn’t know how to read. Circle them out. For example - “α” - is easy, it looks like English “a”. No need to remember it.

Greek alphabet statistics

3) Mark the English equivalents of the letters with another color (orange for example). Use the table of frequencies to help you select most used characters.

Full Greek alphabet statistics

4) Let’s focus on others like “Σ (σ) .” Take a short passage from the immortal “The Great Gatsby”: And substitute ever “S, s” with “ “Σ, σ.” Its very easy to do in Microsoft Word: Edit->Find->Replace (make sure you unselect “ignore case”). Now read the passage. I promise, by the end of this passage you will be a “Σigma MaΣter.”

S->Σ (sentence case “s”)

Normal Text Modified text
We drove over to Fifth Avenue, so warm and soft, almost pastoral, on the summer Sunday afternoon that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a great flock of white sheep turn the corner. ‘Hold on,’ I said, ‘I have to leave you here.’‘No, you don’t,’ interposed Tom quickly. ‘Myrtle’ll be hurt if you don’t come up to the apartment. Won’t you, Myrtle?’‘Come on,’ she urged. ‘I’ll telephone my sister Catherine. She’s said to be very beautiful by people who ought to know.’‘Well, I’d like to, but——‘We went on, cutting back again over the Park toward the West Hundreds. At 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment houses. Throwing a regal homecoming glance around the neighborhood, Mrs. Wilson gathered up her dog and her other purchases and went haughtily in.‘I’m going to have the McKees come up,’ she announced as we rose in the elevator. ‘And of course, I got to call up my sister, too.’ We drove over to Fifth Avenue, so warm and soft, almost pastoral, on the summer Σunday afternoon that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a great flock of white sheep turn the corner.‘Hold on,’ I said, ‘I have to leave you here.’‘No, you don’t,’ interposed Tom quickly. ‘Myrtle’ll be hurt if you don’t come up to the apartment. Won’t you, Myrtle?’‘Come on,’ she urged. ‘I’ll telephone my sister Catherine. Σhe’s said to be very beautiful by people who ought to know.’‘Well, I’d like to, but——‘We went on, cutting back again over the Park toward the West Hundreds. At 158th Σtreet the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment houses. Throwing a regal homecoming glance around the neighborhood, Mrs. Wilson gathered up her dog and her other purchases and went haughtily in.‘I’m going to have the McKees come up,’ she announced as we rose in the elevator. ‘And of course, I got to call up my sister, too.’

s -> σ (sentence case)

Normal Text Modified text
We drove over to Fifth Avenue, so warm and soft, almost pastoral, on the summer Sunday afternoon that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a great flock of white sheep turn the corner. ‘Hold on,’ I said, ‘I have to leave you here.’‘No, you don’t,’ interposed Tom quickly. ‘Myrtle’ll be hurt if you don’t come up to the apartment. Won’t you, Myrtle?’‘Come on,’ she urged. ‘I’ll telephone my sister Catherine. She’s said to be very beautiful by people who ought to know.’‘Well, I’d like to, but——‘We went on, cutting back again over the Park toward the West Hundreds. At 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment houses. Throwing a regal homecoming glance around the neighborhood, Mrs. Wilson gathered up her dog and her other purchases and went haughtily in.‘I’m going to have the McKees come up,’ she announced as we rose in the elevator. ‘And of course, I got to call up my sister, too.’ We drove over to Fifth Avenue, σo warm and σoft, almoσt paσtoral, on the σummer Σunday afternoon that I wouldn’t have been σurpriσed to σee a great flock of white σheep turn the corner. ‘Hold on,’ I σaid, ‘I have to leave you here.’‘No, you don’t,’ interpoσed Tom quickly. ‘Myrtle’ll be hurt if you don’t come up to the apartment. Won’t you, Myrtle?’‘Come on,’ σhe urged. ‘I’ll telephone my σiσter Catherine. Σhe’σ σaid to be very beautiful by people who ought to know.’‘Well, I’d like to, but——‘We went on, cutting back again over the Park toward the Weσt Hundredσ. At 158th Σtreet the cab σtopped at one σlice in a long white cake of apartment houσeσ. Throwing a regal homecoming glance around the neighborhood, Mrσ. Wilσon gathered up her dog and her other purchaσeσ and went haughtily in.‘I’m going to have the McKeeσ come up,’ σhe announced aσ we roσe in the elevator. ‘And of courσe, I got to call up my σiσter, too.’

5) I suggest you do that with a longer piece of text. After you are done with S,s. Switch to the next most popular letter which is N,n -> “Ν, ν”. And so on.

Normal Text Modified text
We drove over to Fifth Avenue, so warm and soft, almost pastoral, on the summer Sunday afternoon that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a great flock of white sheep turn the corner. ‘Hold on,’ I said, ‘I have to leave you here.’‘No, you don’t,’ interposed Tom quickly. ‘Myrtle’ll be hurt if you don’t come up to the apartment. Won’t you, Myrtle?’‘Come on,’ she urged. ‘I’ll telephone my sister Catherine. She’s said to be very beautiful by people who ought to know.’‘Well, I’d like to, but——‘We went on, cutting back again over the Park toward the West Hundreds. At 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment houses. Throwing a regal homecoming glance around the neighborhood, Mrs. Wilson gathered up her dog and her other purchases and went haughtily in.‘I’m going to have the McKees come up,’ she announced as we rose in the elevator. ‘And of course, I got to call up my sister, too.’ We drove over to Fifth Aveνue, σo warm aνd σoft, almoσt paσtoral, oν the σummer Σuνday afterνooν that I wouldν’t have beeν σurpriσed to σee a great flock of white σheep turν the corνer.‘Hold oν,’ I σaid, ‘I have to leave you here.’‘νo, you doν’t,’ iνterpoσed Tom quickly. ‘Myrtle’ll be hurt if you doν’t come up to the apartmeνt. Woν’t you, Myrtle?’‘Come oν,’ σhe urged. ‘I’ll telephoνe my σiσter Catheriνe. Σhe’σ σaid to be very beautiful by people who ought to kνow.’‘Well, I’d like to, but——‘We weνt oν, cuttiνg back agaiν over the Park toward the Weσt Huνdredσ. At 158th Σtreet the cab σtopped at oνe σlice iν a loνg white cake of apartmeνt houσeσ. Throwiνg a regal homecomiνg glaνce arouνd the νeighborhood, Mrσ. Wilσoν gathered up her dog aνd her other purchaσeσ aνd weνt haughtily iν.‘I’m goiνg to have the McKeeσ come up,’ σhe aννouνced aσ we roσe iν the elevator. ‘Aνd of courσe I got to call up my σiσter, too.’

Finally:

After mastering all of your letters one by one. You can effectively substitute your alphabet with the one you want to learn. Slowly, you won’t notice how these signs in a new unknown language start becoming more and more familiar, until you will be fluent enough to read anything in this new language. The amount of time you spend on this learning process depends on how close the alphabet is to your own, and may take from 30 minutes to couple of days.