Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

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Do you use transliteration in learning a new script? (please elaborate your thoughts...)

Yes, for a few weeks.
10
32%
Yes, for a month or more.
3
10%
Yes, for 6 months or longer.
5
16%
Not at all.
12
39%
I'm sticking to scripts I know.
1
3%
 
Total votes: 31

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zenmonkey
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Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

Postby zenmonkey » Tue Jan 25, 2022 5:06 am

Interesting quote from Ogrim a few years back. I've never loved the different types of transliteration between methods. So I tend to use a loose IPA and romanized vowels. How quickly do you all move away from transliteration?

Ogrim wrote:... you should forget about Latin alphabet and work exclusively in the new script you are learning...

For me, Greek and Russian were not difficult. The important thing is to quickly learn to associate the script with the way words are pronounced and to always create wordlists/Anki cards or whatever you use with the script you are learning, avoiding transliteration. (A problem with transliteration is that it is always approximative and that, depending on the base language, different transliterations are used for the same sound.)

With Arabic and Hebrew, it is a bit more complex, because in "real" life they do not indicate most vowel sounds. I have therefore struggled more, particularly with Arabic, to get to a basic ability to read and decipher words. I still stick to the same principle though, and avoid transliterations in Latin script as much as I can, because it can become like the third wheel on a bike - you have to remove it to learn how to ride a two-wheel bike properly. If you learn a script like Arabic, you should get to a point where you only have to look up transliterations in a good dictionary to check what the right vowel sounds are when in doubt. So the way I work:

1. Spend much time at the beginning working with recordings and the corresponding texts - listen and read several times.
2. Copy not only the words but the whole text/dialogue while you listen to the recording.
3. Read out the text you have written aloud, then compare it to the recording.
4. Finally, use wordlists/SRS (whatever method you prefer) to check your vocabulary. Never include transliteration in your wordlists/cards.

Having used this method for the first two-three chapters of my Arabic course, I found that I could start working on a new lesson without having to check the transliteration of most new words.
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Re: Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

Postby QueenBee » Tue Jan 25, 2022 7:41 am

I recently picked up Thai again, and have been writing down transliterations next to Thai words/sentences. It's helping me out for now, but these are very much training wheels that I plan to discard in coming weeks.

How long can a person use transliterations (and benefit from them)?

I think it depends on the language. A Mandarin or Japanese learner could probably get away with using transliterations for a while - both languages have a standardized of being written in the roman script, which gives you the phonetic information you need.

On the other hand, a Thai learner who relies on transliteration for long is doing themselves a lot of harm. There is no standardized way to write Thai in roman letters, and moreover, the Thai script is dead useful. It's phonetic, and even gives you information about the tone of the word! What's not to love?

Wrt Hebrew and Arabic - both languages have ways to mark vowel sounds, making them purely phonetic. (In real life, this is only used in religious texts and children's literature. But my point is that it is possible to write abjads this way, make them phonetic and eliminating the need for transliteration.)

I think that unless one is learning a) a purely logographic writing system (e.g. hanzi), or b) a language that constantly has inconsistent and confusing spelling, then there is no reason to hang on to transliteration for more than a couple of weeks. All that does is delay your ability to get used to the new script... just think about how much time it takes to learn to read a language (relatively) fast. You need to practice reading a lot, and I see no point in putting off that work.
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Re: Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

Postby AndyMeg » Tue Jan 25, 2022 1:40 pm

For Japanese and Korean I only used transliterations when learning the syllabaries/alphabet (Kanas/Hangul) pronunciation at the very beginning and from then on I just directly used the Kanas/Hangul and forgot about transliterations.

A few years ago I dabbled a bit in Mandarin Chinese and I never learned Pinyin (and I haven't to this day). My main goal at that time was to learn some written Chinese so that I could understand even a bit of the Chinese dramas that I wanted to watch but which I could only find with Chinese subs and not with other kind of subs that I could have understood better (like English or Spanish). My experiment with Chinese had some unexpected effects, as I wrote in my log at that time:

I've recently been watching a drama called "One and Another Him" (我和两个TA --> This actually means "I/Me and two of him", right?). It doesn't come with chinese subs, and the english translation is progressing very slowly. When I reached the last episode that currently has complete english subtitles I thought how nice it would be if besides learning how to read chinese subs, I could also understand some spoken mandarin.

So far, while working with chinese subs, I've started to spontaneously associate some written chinese with its mandarin spoken counterpart. It is funny how sometimes, while I watch bits of dramas without chinese subs, my mind connects the spoken mandarin with the hanzi and I can almost see fragments of "chinese subtitles" in the back of my mind. It happens with words/expressions like: 好, 我知道, 如果, 为什么, 谢谢你, 喜欢, 我喜欢你, 来了, 走, etc. And sometimes I even kind of "see" the 了 at the end of a sentence, even if I don't imagine/know the hanzi of the rest of the words used in that sentence. :lol:


From my experiences so far, I think it's better to not use transliterations at all if/when possible, because transliterations tend to be associated (at least in my case) with the first sounds I associated those letters with (my native Spanish) and are a very limited approximation (and, sometimes, even misleading) of the real sounds of the foreign languages.

I think the extensive and prolonged use of transliterations may be one of the main reasons (among many others) for many people having a "foreign accent" in their target languages.
Last edited by AndyMeg on Tue Jan 25, 2022 2:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

Postby iguanamon » Tue Jan 25, 2022 1:54 pm

I think Russian and Greek alphabets are more amenable to working without transliterations than Hebrew and Arabic. I taught myself Cyrillic without learning Russian, for example, I know that Radioclaire is reading "The Da Vinci Code- 'Код да Винчи' and I don't think she mentioned it in its English title in her log. I've been following some of our Russian members on Twitter for a few years and decipher cognates.

When I taught myself to read in Rashi script (a Hebrew script read left to right), I used a parallel script hard-copy Ladino novel that had transliterated Roman script on the right page and Rashi script on the left.

I learned Solitreo (Ladino cursive based on Rashi) script by using a learner intended sentence example book with Solitreo above and Roman letters below.

After I taught myself Rashi, I read the Bible in Ladino Rashi. Solitreo has fewer long form texts, as by definition it is handwriting. So for me the bridge of transliteration was helpful. After I had learned the scripts, I no longer needed the help.
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Re: Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

Postby Beli Tsar » Tue Jan 25, 2022 2:16 pm

QueenBee wrote:I think that unless one is learning a) a purely logographic writing system (e.g. hanzi), or b) a language that constantly has inconsistent and confusing spelling, then there is no reason to hang on to transliteration for more than a couple of weeks. All that does is delay your ability to get used to the new script... just think about how much time it takes to learn to read a language (relatively) fast. You need to practice reading a lot, and I see no point in putting off that work.

This certainly matches my experience. Unless you are really good with IPA, transliteration is so often imprecise and unhelpful: certainly when I was learning Farsi, it simply muddied pronunciation. And, of course, very few resources use IPA. So often I'd find myself checking transliterations against the real thing to have any confidence in pronunciations. And then you have no choice about different transliteration systems in different resources. Not many languages have standardised transliteration like Chinese.

When it comes down to it, at least with alphabets and abjads, there is no point in delaying learning them because they are 1) really easy to pick up and 2) really hard to master.
1) learning alphabets etc. is really a quick thing - a couple of hours with Memrise and you are done, a few days at a few minutes a day practicing words and you are well on your way to using it reliably. It's not too bad without SRS, but with it, and with a decently designed course that combines script and audio (not script and transliteration!), in order to associate the two in your mind, and then follows up with word-level practice, it can be very fast and effective. Certainly, initial learning of the alphabet isn't really much harder than learning the conventions for transliteration in multiple resources!
2) not knowing a script well is a huge barrier in the long run. It takes me back to the FSI's 'Lessons learned from fifty years of language teaching' document - http://sealang.net/archives/sla/gurt_1999_07.pdf. They point out that different scripts continue to make a language more difficult for much longer than is usually thought. That's definitely my experience - not just with Persian or dabblings in Hebrew, but even Ancient Greek, which is at the easy end when it comes to other scripts, and yet after years of daily reading I still can't skim it like Latin or French. Certainly I haven't read the volume that I would have done if there was more YA fiction available in Ancient Greek, but still - the more practice you can get with the script, and the earlier, the better. It's a long journey to making it as natural as the script you grew up with.

There's certainly an argument for simply leaving the writing system to one side for a while - using Pimsleur, language transfer, etc. - but delaying writing systems seems much less helpful.
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Re: Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

Postby iguanamon » Tue Jan 25, 2022 3:26 pm

To be fair, Ladino stopped using Rashi and Solitreo as scripts when Ataturk banned non-Latin scripts in Turkey in the early 20th Century. Ladino switched to Latin script. I had already learned how to read and pronounce Ladino with Latin Script before I learned Rashi and Solitreo... not to mention the similarity with Spanish. So, my experience with other scripts is different from those who are learning Hebrew, Arabic or an Asian language.
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Re: Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

Postby gsbod » Tue Jan 25, 2022 6:34 pm

When I learned Japanese, my first (and possibly only) real success with a new script, one of the main reasons I went for the Genki coursebooks was because of the way the script was introduced. Lessons 1 and 2 (out of 23) cover hiragana and katakana, so for those units transliteration is used, but from Lesson 3 onwards you are expected to manage without the transliteration. I found this pace to be perfect as it allowed me to get familiar with the very basic structures of the language without being held back by the cognitive effort required to sound out basic words, but by the time I got to Lesson 3 I was ready to move on to relying on kana only, so never ran the risk of getting held back by relying on transliterations.

Interestingly, when I dabbled with Korean before Christmas, I didn't really rely on transliterations at all. This didn't really cause me any trouble, but the difference is that now I am an experienced language learner, and I was also in no hurry. Now I'm in the weird position of being able to sound out Korean words written in hangeul with varying degrees of success, but I'm pretty clueless about the pronunciation of transliterated Korean words.
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Re: Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

Postby zenmonkey » Tue Jan 25, 2022 7:08 pm

Thank you all for the input, I think this is a great conversation.

QueenBee wrote:How long can a person use transliterations (and benefit from them)?

Yes! This is the essential question I'm asking. And, yes, unless someone is focusing on only learning the verbal language - I'm here focusing on transcription as a tool for learning a script.

QueenBee wrote:I think it depends on the language.

Absolutely, and this is a common aspect of all the answers.
I've worked on a dozen different scripts thanks to the apps I wrote to help learn them and obviously, the orthographic opacity differs significantly.

QueenBee wrote:Thai: On the other hand, a Thai learner who relies on transliteration for long is doing themselves a lot of harm. There is no standardized way to write Thai in roman letters, and moreover, the Thai script is dead useful. It's phonetic, and even gives you information about the tone of the word! What's not to love?

The little I know about Thai would probably fit in a sentence.
But doesn't the Thai IPA allow for a standard way of writing? Or do you mean there isn't a romanized script?
I know people write various languages using romanized coding (like romaji for Japanese) but I'm focusing on the idea of learning non-roman scripts.

QueenBee wrote:
Wrt Hebrew and Arabic - both languages have ways to mark vowel sounds, making them purely phonetic. (In real life, this is only used in religious texts and children's literature. But my point is that it is possible to write abjads this way, make them phonetic and eliminating the need for transliteration.)

My experience with both was that it created additional steps that were often confusing and inexact. There are just too many exceptions with niqqud. And niqqud no longer reflects the current pronunciation. And there are 5 of them for the [a] sound... and at least one of them may also be something else... For me, it did not eliminate the need for transliteration early on, just created the additional weight of learning a large set of markers.

QueenBee wrote:I think that unless one is learning a) a purely logographic writing system (e.g. hanzi), or b) a language that constantly has inconsistent and confusing spelling, then there is no reason to hang on to transliteration for more than a couple of weeks. All that does is delay your ability to get used to the new script... just think about how much time it takes to learn to read a language (relatively) fast. You need to practice reading a lot, and I see no point in putting off that work.

And this is the crux of it! I don't know if it is a couple of weeks or a couple of months, but yes, you need to read a lot to get to the point of success.

My experience with learning the Uchen Tibetan script for Tibetan and Ladakhi was a total nightmare and I would be incredibly impressed if someone could read after a few weeks. The spoken and written language have become significantly disconnected over time, there are pre and post-sound modifiers that the orthographic depth is significant.

Another aspect is the directionality in orthographic depth. Even in a very shallow orthographic system, spelling-to-pronunciation and pronunciation-to-spelling may not be equally clear. In early script learning, we are doing multiple things - learning the grapheme-phoneme correspondences but also words to meaning.

For example, I've never created cards with just transliterated text as the prompt (front) corresponding to the meaning (back). But this convo makes me think that it may be an easier way to get a little bit into the language without dealing with learning the script. Not my thing, but I can see how it might make sense for some language learners not interested in learning a script.

Or for scripts that have fallen into disuse. For example, Cherokee (inconsistent use of Sequoyah syllabary in the community) or Baybayin (a revival in the use of the script while romanization is standard and with significant confusion over vowels (i/e and o/u) and final consonants...). But those are out of the scope of my question.

Thanks!
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Re: Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

Postby zenmonkey » Tue Jan 25, 2022 7:12 pm

AndyMeg wrote:From my experiences so far, I think it's better to not use transliterations at all if/when possible, because transliterations tend to be associated (at least in my case) with the first sounds I associated those letters with (my native Spanish) and are a very limited approximation (and, sometimes, even misleading) of the real sounds of the foreign languages.

I think the extensive and prolonged use of transliterations may be one of the main reasons (among many others) for many people having a "foreign accent" in their target languages.


This is definitely one of the reasons I want to move away from transliterations as soon as possible (and also why my early study includes a lot of pronunciation cards). Fluent Forever also highlights the need for early prosody work to reduce pronunciation errors.
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Re: Do you use transliterations when learning a new script?

Postby Beli Tsar » Tue Jan 25, 2022 8:39 pm

zenmonkey wrote:
AndyMeg wrote:This is definitely one of the reasons I want to move away from transliterations as soon as possible (and also why my early study includes a lot of pronunciation cards). Fluent Forever also highlights the need for early prosody work to reduce pronunciation errors.

Certainly for your Persian studies this makes sense - the spelling is relatively clear, compared to some of the other scripts mentioned above, and those I've known who relied on transliteration for Persian did struggle with pronunciation.

I realise this isn't to everyone's taste, but SRS vocab with audio does have an added positive here - small daily doses of easy use of the script, words that become familiar, with audio to make sure pronunciation is on track. Since it takes longer to get into reading proper, these micro-doses of script practice help more.
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