A very good reason to learn the Arabic script

Learning a language with a script other than the Latin alphabet can be a little scary. Many people opt to transliterate the language rather than take the time to learn the script. This approach works if you only want to learn to speak the language. If you want more however, you just got to put in the work and learn the script.

Scripts like Hangul (Korean) or Cyrillic (Russian) are very straightforward and relatively easy to learn. Others like the Thai abugida take a little more effort to learn and more complex scripts like the hanzi (kanji in Japan) of China can take a considerable amount of time to learn. I put the Arabic script with Hangul and Cyrillic. It looks daunting but once you get into it you see it’s quite manageable.

At any rate, when you begin to learn Arabic (I’m learning Egyptian Arabic) you encounter the root system right away. That is, in Arabic, you build vocabulary around root consonants. For example, the Arabic word for book is kataab. The root consonants are ktb now check this out:

ب (kataba) he wrote
كتاب (kataab) book
مكتب (maktab) office
يكتب (yaktub) he writes
كاتب (kaatib) writer

See how all the words related use the three consonants? Well, I found that it was hard for me to see the pattern using the transliterated version of the word BUT when one uses the Arabic script, the root letters jump right at you. BAM! This is because arabic script uses diacritic marks to mark the vowels u, i, and a and the lines you are writing are mostly consonants. This means that the vowels are sort of out of the way ; thus the root consonants become obvious.

This is a super simplified explanation of the subject of root consonants in Arabic but this makes my point: Learning the Arabic script actually makes it easier to learn the language.

Discuss among yourselves 🙂

Arabic script

I promised myself several times before that I would learn how to read and write the Arabic script. As you may or may not know, I began learning Egyptian Arabic (masry) a while back but stopped because I was drawn in by other languages. In fact, this whole ‘becoming a polyglot’ project has not gone at all like I planned. For one, it took a long time for me to learn how to learn. Once I began to relax and began to discover many different learning methods, I began to audit a number of languages. This took me off course and as a result, both my Japanese and Arabic suffered.

But I digress. I finally returned to my Arabic script book and I have resolved to learn the script once and for all.


I think I will be reading the script by Friday.
I am very excited because a few months ago, I bought two books on Masry that are written entirely in Arabic. They were very highly recommended and they cover the language to an advanced intermediate level. Plus, learning the script, opens up Farsi for me.



Lately, my Japanese has began to take shape. I have been acquiring vocabulary and I have found a set of graded readers that more accurately tell me where I am in the language. The books came from http://www.whiterabbitjapan.com, check them out.

Also, I began to tackle Russian. I have been curious about  Russian for a long time but I didn’t acquire the foolish notion that I could learn it until recently. I am glad I did. I’m using the Colloquial series, the Michel Thomas Total Russian method, and this:


This book has gotten me further in the language than any course. I love learning with texts and the level of the book is well within my capabilities. I am super stoked because I have some direct experience with learning a language this way and I know where I will be with Russian once I finish this children’s book.

With Portuguese, I hit a small snag when my conversation partner moved back to Brazil. However, hope was renewed when I met an exchange student from Brazil the other night. He returns to Brazil in May so I better hurry.

I have audited Swahili and I think it is doable. Also, I began to look at Indonesian. In addition,I fully intend to tackle Turkish before January is over.

I began the Michel Thomas Total Arabic course again and I was surprised to see that I could still remember a lot. Since I want to start reading I began to practice the script. I should master it in a week. I have new books for Hindi, Punjabi, Romanian and Korean.

Finally, I have to get going with French. I want to be at a comfortable conversational level by the time the Polyglot Conference takes place in October. It will be held in Montreal and New York. I can’t wait!!

All in all, my confidence has increased. I now believe that Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Thai are all doable.


Pressing on

My quest to learn Japanese was interrupted by weeks of 12 hours shifts at work that decimated my concentration and energy. I am back however and I am continuing my pursuit of mastery of the kanji.

So far, I’ve learned 500 kanji. About 300 of them I know actively, meaning I know them well enough to use them at will. The other 200 I only know passively, that is, I can recognize them and know them when I see them in text. I am wayyyy past my 3 month limit to learn Japanese but I realize now that it was too ambitious of a goal so I’ve reset my timeline. I have now set the end of the year for me to know how to read Japanese and maybe even write it fluently. I will then tackle speaking Japanese fully.

Using Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji, I can usually learn anywhere from 30 to 50 kanji a day. However, much to my dismay, there are days when I don’t get to touch my kanji flashcards so the going is slower than I wanted.

Still, the die is set. I will learn Japanese and then I will learn Arabic. Other languages will follow. Of this, I am sure.

Thank you for stopping by!

Completed my first 200 kanji pack

When I began to learn the kanji in earnest, I decided that I would make 10 packs of 200 kanji each. I figured that way I would have 2000 kanji at my disposal for review at any time.

For starters, I made actual physical flashcards. It’s kind of medieval I know, since most everyone uses a computer for their flashcards but I wanted the ability to take my cards everywhere and I also like the feel of the cards in my hands. So far I’ve completed 600 flashcards and have learned the 200 kanji in my first pack.

I think I have enough flashcards made to keep me busy until next Monday. During the weekend I’ll try to make another 600 flashcards. It is time consuming I tell you but it will be worth it when I can read the Japanese novel I bought last month.

kanji flashcards

Labor intensive but worth it

I am using a really cool pen that I bought God-knows-when (Faber-Castell PITT artist pen). I was rustling through my art supplies when I found it. It does ok for now. My calligraphy is horrible but I hope it will improve over time.

As I said before, I also want to learn the kanji actively. To do this, I want to start with the English word and then write the kanji for that word from memory. This, I feel, would be best accomplished if I can generate a list of words and after I successfully write all the kanji for that list, re-order the list of words or even change some or all of the words on the list. I need to find a word-list randomizer or write my own.

Thank you for looking!

130 kanji learned

I began Friday evening and stopped just now, Sunday evening. Using the techniques in the book Remembering the Kanji by J.W. Heisig, I managed to learn 130 new kanji. In between adding new kanji to my set of flashcards to learn, I also practiced the kanji from English to Japanese, that is, I turned the cards over and drew the kanji for each English word. I did that in an effort to add the new kanji to my active vocabulary.

I am very excited. I am going to be super busy this coming week with work but I may manage to add another 100 or 200 new kanji during the week.

I bought a Japanese novel when I was in Kansas City for a Japanese Festival a few weeks ago and I believe I am a few weeks away from being able to read it. I am aware that there will be kanji in the novel that are not part of the 2000 or so kanji in Heisig’s book. I am not worried however, because Heisig wrote  two more books and volume 3 of his series adds 1000 or so new kanji to the original 2000.

I am stoked!

Thank you for stopping by.


I began learning the Arabic script this week. It’s not too bad. I think that learning Arabic will be easier for me than learning Japanese. I am really struggling with getting my mind to think Subject-Object-Verb! I’ll get there, I am not worried about that; I just don’t think that it will happen as soon as I had hoped.

So Arabic uses an alphabet, much like the Romance languages I am used to, and the script is not that bad. There are groups of characters that repeat with the addition of small marks such as dots to differentiate among them. The script is cursive only. The pronunciation of Arabic is fairly straightforward with the exception of the glottal stops which are foreign to my English/Spanish speaking brain. I am very excited about learning this language!

My Italian is coming along as well. I think of all the languages I intend to learn, Italian will be the easiest for me to get. I was going through The Big Green Book of Italian Verbs by Katrien Maes-Christie and Daniel Franklin, and many of the verbs therein practically translated themselves into Spanish!
Also, I have been watching Italian videos on YouTube and if the person(s) in the video speaks at medium speed, I can almost understand 50% of what they are saying already.

My first Japanese video keeps getting postponed mostly due to a number of other projects that demand my time and attention at home. I am pumped about making it!

And as long as I am talking about making a first video in Japanese, I had been thinking lately that I should not have waited this long to make a video. Even if my language skills are so basic that I come across sounding like one of those Native Americans in American Westerns from the 50’s, the important thing is to break down that initial resistance. Improvements will come as I continue my studies. So my advice to any aspiring polyglots out there is: START SPEAKING! even if it is stuff like “Me David. Me want to learn speak.”

Thank you for visiting!

Learning via brute force

Today I want to talk about learning Japanese (or any other language) by using brute force. This is going to be a long post so be warned.

I will start with a personal story from the time when I first came to the United States and didn’t speak a word of English. You see, I was an impressionable 16 year old child with a displaced sense of pride. In particular, I hated for people to question my intelligence. Thus, on my first day of High School, I went to see the school’s principal who gave me a note with all the classes I was to attend. The note had a list of teacher names and the instruction to ‘admit to your class’.

All went well. I came to each teacher on the list, showed them the note, and they pointed to a seat. No problem. No problem that is, until I came to Mr. Schmit’s class. Mr. Schmit was a bodybuilder type who taught American Civics. Mr. Schmit didn’t want to bother with some 16 year old who didn’t speak a word of English. By the way, now that I have been here for more than 30 years, I totally understand Mr. Schmit’s attitude! So, Mr. Schmit took my note, wrote something on it, gave it back to me and instead of pointing to a desk, pointed to the door of his classroom. I understood perfectly the situation so I returned to the principal’s office. Mrs. Mimms read the note, shook her head and she wrote something on the note and told me to go back to Mr. Schmit’s class. By now I need to tell you that the school’s counselor, Mrs. Velez, spoke Spanish fluently and that’s how the principal communicated with me. What Mrs. Mimms wrote was: ‘Mr. Schmit, you WILL admit’.

When I gave Mr. Schmit the note with Mrs. Mimms’ addendum, he shook his head and pointed to a desk. Then, he called one of the boys in his class to translate for me. Mr. Schmit, through my interpreter, said that there was a test next week on the first three chapters of the book that had been covered so far (I came to school mid November). The day was Friday and so that gave me the weekend to learn three chapters of American Civics, in English. Even at 16, I could see this was a setup. Mr. Schmit wanted me to fail to prove a point. Remember my displaced pride? After class, I went to see Mrs. Velez. I told her about the test. She looked at me and she said: ‘Are you up for this challenge or should I move you to another class?’ Before I could think about it, my displaced pride answered for me and I said “I will take the challenge”.

So I went home that day and somehow procured an English-Spanish dictionary. I spent the entire weekend — yes, and I don’t mean that figuratively; I mean I literally spent every waking moment that weekend translating, word for word, the entire three chapters of the Civics textbook.  By Monday, not only could I read 80% percent of any English text, but I also had practically memorized the three chapters of the book. I don’t need to tell you that I got an A on the test. Mr. Schmit proved to be an excellent teacher and I proved that I was no dummy. I earned the A on that class at the end of the semester. To this day, I thank God for Mr. Schmit, who didn’t give me a free pass; for Mrs. Mimms, who didn’t assign me to one of the bilingual Civics teachers, and for Mrs. Velez, who didn’t immediately ease my concerns by simply moving me to another class.

There’s the story. I had a challenge, I had the motivation, and I had the methodology. Success!

So now, I will tell you how I applied a little bit of the same methodology to learn some Japanese, including some kanji.  While watching YouTube videos one time, I came across a Japanese mini-serial called “I give my first love to you”. It’s an emotional story about young love with some tragedy mixed in. At any rate, I really liked one of the songs from the movie called 僕は 君に 意をする - boku wa kimi ni koi wo suru – I will fall in love with you. I actually don’t know the real name of the song. It may be called something else.

The point is, I really liked the song and I wanted to know what the words meant. That was my motivation. The challenge was to learn the words, including the kanji. The methodology was brute force. I won’t put the song here since it may not be your cup of tea, musically speaking. But I do want to show you the kanji I had to learn to make sense of the song. Keep in mind that this is only one song.  How many more kanji could I learn if I did this to say, three songs?!

願 – wish       未 – not yet                            止 – stop

叶- grant    来 – come                              溢 – overflow, spill

君 – you(fem.) 来 – future                           何 – what                                    

悲 – sad    描 – picture, describe          度 – occurrences, times

僕 – I, me   地 – earth, ground                 恋 – love

胸 – chest   図 – map, plan, sketch         全 – completely

中 – inside          好 – like                                        捧 – lift up

注 – pour   無 -nothingness, be not       消 – extinguish

込 – include  笑 –  laugh, smile                    色 – color

下 – go down 泣 – cry, weep                           心 – heart

痛 – pain         伝 – transmit                              瞳 – pupil

耐 – endure  言 – say, word                         苦 – suffering

輝 – radiance      忘 – forget                                怒 – angry

会 – meet              葉 – leaves, foliage              愛 – affection


That is 41 kanji that I learned in context. I also learned how the kanji are used to make other words, such as the word future, which I included in the list, and how the kanji are used to make verbs by adding verb endings. In addition, these are kanji that I will not soon forget since I like the song and I will be singing it often, much to my children’s chagrin!

Most of the kanji above have multiple meanings but I only included one or two as I felt they applied to the sentiment of the song. And last, any errors in the translation of the kanji are purely my own.

I used two very good resources to learn the kanji above: the book Essential Kanji by P.G. O’Neill and the website http://nuthatch.com (Kiki’s Kanji Dictionary).

So there you have it. It took me a whole afternoon to find all the kanji and learn their meaning. That it took me that long was due mostly to my inexperience using the kanji book and dictionary. Now, it would only take me an hour or so to find the meaning of that many kanji characters.
Another tricky thing was to find the lyrics to the song written in Japanese characters and not Romaji (western alphabet). I had to set up my computer to write Hiragana and then I did a search on Google using Hiragana and the title of the song.

Thank you for stopping by!

Ohayo! Buenos dias! Good Morning!

I need to learn how to type Japanese characters in the computer so I can begin posting in that language as I learn it. From this post on, I will post in multiple languages. I will include Spanish even though I need very little practice with it beyond regaining some of the vocabulary I’ve lost during the 30+ years I’ve lived in the United States.

Spanish – Español

Ayer no tuve mucho tiempo para practicar japonés. Pude practicar katakana por solo unos minutos. Es muy divertido escribir nombres de personas y nombres de lugares en Katakana. Poder escribir en Katakana también puede ser divertido con los amigos y con los familiares, además de ser una actividad amena cuando uno se encuentra en una fiesta. Necesito leer más libros escritos en español para reforzar mi vocabulario.

Bueno, hasta pronto!

Thank you for looking!

I Kan Do Kana!

Yes! My new strategy to learn the Japanese kana has paid off. I was able to memorize the entire Hiragana yesterday and I started on the Katakana today and I am already making good progress. I think I should have both kanas learned by end of today.

I found free ebooks written in Japanese at the Gutenberg Project’s web page that should help me consolidate my mastery of the kana. I already have a book on kanji which is what I’ll start working on next.

I also made an addition to the languages I want to learn first. I’ve always wanted to be able to read Hebrew so I might as well add it to the list of languages to start with.

So I am very excited with my progress. Learning multiple languages fast seems more doable now than ever before.

Thank you for looking!