For example, if I was learning Spanish (written with the Latin alphabet) while being a native speaker of English (also written with the Latin alphabet), is there any scientific research that confirms that learning Spanish will be faster than learning, say, Arabic (written with the Arabic script, which is completely unrelated to the Latin alphabet)? This doesn't just go for the Latin and Arabic alphabets, but really all human alphabets: Latin, Arabic, Cyrillic, Hieroglyphs, Greek, and many others.

  • It involved an additional "translation unit" (to borrow from computer science) from the source language to your understanding. See this question for interesting observations. Apr 5, 2016 at 21:58
  • @fi12 You may have noticed that many of the languages in categories III-V use a writing system that is different than English, while those in categories I&II use a latin based alphabet. Apr 5, 2016 at 22:01
  • Japanese would be an interesting language to look at - although it's usually written in kanji, hiragana and katakana, you can start off learning it in the Latin alphabet, although some frown upon you doing so.
    – Golden Cuy
    Apr 5, 2016 at 22:20
  • @AndrewGrimm Learning the writing systems has been one of my biggest hurdles in learning Japanese, whereas with Spanish, I was able to jump right into learning the vocab & stuff.
    – Hatchet
    Apr 5, 2016 at 22:31
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    I like writing systems. I've learned Arabic, Cyrillic, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Hangul, Lao, and Zhuyin Fuhao. I've mostly learned Khmer and Thai. I know a bunch of Hanzi and Kanji. But I can't read any of them "fluently". With English I perceive words instantly. With Spanish and German I perceive the letters instantly but still have to analyse the words consciously to varying degrees. With the other languages, Arabic being at the extreme end, and Khmer next, I have to analyse everything bit by bit consciously and carefully. There's no way I could spot a street sign from a moving taxi! Apr 6, 2016 at 0:44

1 Answer 1


Clearly, learning a new language with a similar writing system to your own will be easier in many important ways. Even if the pronunciation and spelling rules are completely different, simply not having to learn a new writing system is one less skill that has to be learned in your new language.

So clearly the writing system will contribute to the time it takes to learn a language. But it's far from the only consideration.

From Effective Language Learning:

A number of languages have different script or alphabets from what you might be used to, and this can make a huge influence on whether the language is difficult to study or not.

But that site also examines many other factors that lead to the relative difficulty of learning a language.

So to directly answer your question: Does a familiar writing system lend to faster language learning? Obviously yes. But it's not the only factor!

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