Cyrillic Handwriting – Should You Learn It?

I saw a forum post at How To Learn Any Language which caught my interest. Namely, Iversen (who’s word list method I’m still using, by the way) said:

I disagree with Chelovek on one point – his recommandation of cursive writing. You have to learn the printed version of cursive because it pops up in many places, not least in magazines where it serves to emphasize a section of the text. Some dictionaries also use the printed version of cursive for certain purposes. However you will see very little handwritten Russian unless you live in Russia (or certain other places in the former USSR), and there is absolutely no reason that you should care about it. Virtually everything you will ever see is printed stuff, and most printed stuff isn’t written in cursive.

He has a good point, I think. Before seeing it in my language books, guess how many times I’d seen cursive Cyrillic handwriting? Never, actually. Everything in Cyrillic I’d ever seen had been in block letters, as everything I’d ever seen in Cyrillic had been printed.

I think gaining at least a familiarity with the handwritten cursive is worth doing, simply because it doesn’t take much time – you can learn how the letters are made and joined together in an hour or so, two at the most. But after reading Iversen’s post, I question the usefulness of forcing oneself to use cursive Cyrillic in your studies, simply because you’re most likely practicing a skill that you’re not going to use. Now, if you live in Russia or somewhere in the former USSR, then it would be a different matter altogether. But for those of us who don’t live there, is there really any benefit to be had by using cursive Cyrillic handwriting as opposed to just writing with block letters?

16 thoughts on “Cyrillic Handwriting – Should You Learn It?”

  1. I agree, i think there is little need for it (i’m certainly only ever going to be reading print in Russian, online and perhaps on signs and in newspapers in Russia) although i am definitely going to get a basic familiarity with the handwritten letters when i get comfortable with the language. Looking at the letters, i think that once i am familiar with most words i won’t have a problem interpreting handwritten Russian, even before learning the letters. They’re similar enough, and those that are significantly different could be figured out based on context.
    It’s that difference between learning something because you *have* to and learning something because you *want* to. I want to, so i’m going to include handwritten into my studies at a certain point, just so i know i have a basic level of competence should i ever need to read a handwritten note, and because i enjoy it!

    So, to use a word you used in your post, i also question the usefulness of ‘forcing’ yourself to learn the handwritten. But then, i question the use of ‘forcing’ oneself to do most things – i prefer to do things because i enjoy them, or because i want the end result enough. Then it stops being a question of being forced, and more a question of choice and empowerment (Gah, i sound like a self-help video!).

  2. I say: learn it. Like you said it doesn’t take that much time, and you don’t have to practice it over and over again to maintain it. I learned Quikscript and the earlier variant Shavian some years ago, but I can still write it (although not as fast as I used to do).

    The thing is, if you decide to travel to/live in Russia or former USSR states, you’ll need cursive. Other than western countries where most kids don’t learn how to write cursive anymore, it’s important in Russia/former USSR states and kids still learn it.

  3. I had no idea you could even write Cyrillic in cursive…pretty cool! Do you find it pretty difficult to learn a new system of writing and reading? I am so used to English, Spanish, and Portuguese (more or less the same alphabet), that I feel like the hardest part for me to learn another language like Chinese or Russian would be learning the characters/calligraphy or Cyrillic. Is this basically the first thing you learn with these languages? I guess that’s why it takes significantly longer to learn Russian and Chinese.

  4. Jeff: No, actually, it didn’t take very long at all. Once I had firmly decided that I wanted to learn at least a bit of Russian, learning the alphabet took a few hours, if that. Learning to write the cursive form of it took another hour or so; obviously, I still have to think a bit for some letters, and my writing speed is nothing compared to my writing with the Roman alphabet – but I’ve been practicing that one for a bit longer. πŸ˜‰

    And certainly, the Cyrillic alphabet is *not* the hardest part of Russian. The grammar is rough, and the amount of vocabulary is even worse.

    To Ramses and Camilla: Agreed! I’ve since changed my feelings on learning Cyrillic handwriting, but I’m writing a post about that, so for now, I’m going to be quiet about it.

  5. Jeff – it took me a day (maybe two, max) to learn the Russian alphabet, so no, i don’t think you could say that’s why it takes longer at all! I also don’t think it takes longer. I’m finding Finnish significantly more complicated than Russian (although also fantastic fun) and Norwegian also has challenges which measure up and exceed. In all the languages I’m attempting, so far Russian is striking me as the easiest and fastest.
    Once you get over that little hurdle of it looking *so* completely different, it’s really not that hard. Luckily for me, the fact that it looked different was what motived me, so it was never a hurdle in the first place. πŸ˜€
    Try Russian, i’d recommend it to anyone! One of its major advantages is that once you can read the letters, the majority of the words are spelt phonetically. So if you can sound your way through the word letter by letter, you can say it.

  6. Lol, ditto on our response to Jeff! You posted as i was writing mine, lol. And agreed on the vocab – it’s the part of learning that i find least inspiring. I’m slogging my way through it at the mo, waiting for some more fun new grammar to enjoy.

  7. Camilla and Josh – thanks for your comments. I really didn’t know that once you know the letters in Russian, you can read words easily, as they are spelt phonetically. Although it is based on the Roman alphabet, Spanish is also very easy phonetically. Words are pronounced and spelt exactly the way they sound/look.

    Portuguese, on the other hand, is a little bit tougher than Spanish. Although there are many cognates between Portuguese and Spanish, there are also many more sounds that I am not used to in Portuguese. The challenge of learning the ins and outs of a language (vocab, grammar, pronunciation, etc.) make it all worth your time and effort.

  8. I think it is absolutely necessary to learn the cursive, I would never even have considered not learning it and I learned it as I learned the typed letters. Whenever you need to write something yourself it is *so* much faster to use cursive, and not to mention if you get Russian penpals and they write to you… then you have a serious problem if you cannot read cursive!

    I see it as just lazy to only learn half of the alphabet. If you really want to know Russian, you should know it all!

  9. >>Camilla and Josh – thanks for your comments. I really didn’t know that once you know the letters in Russian, you can read words easily, as they are spelt phonetically.

    Jeff: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I’m all for phonetic languages, lol! Btw Jeff – i was checking out the website you link to, out of interest (i’ll shop around come the time i want to do something like that i’m sure, but it looked good at first glance) and i was wondering if you could tell me what connection you have to them? Did you take a course, or do you work for them, in marketing or something? Would be interested to hear if you’d taken a course, recommendations are always useful. πŸ™‚ (and i don’t mind at all if you work for them, it brought the option to light and i like the idea of a study holiday in Moscow!)

    >>Whenever you need to write something yourself it is *so* much faster to use cursive

    Rebecka: Hadn’t thought of that. Might try it and see. Writing print is a bit clunky and slow, although i’d not given it thought ’til now.

  10. Camilla: I actually work for the Language Travel Company. Feel free to browse our website and fill out your contact information under the “Check Availability” or “Contact Us” section. I look forward to hearing from you!

  11. All other considerations aside, if you’re doing Russian and you’re writing notes to yourself, doesn’t it look and feel a lot more authentic to do so the way a real Russian speaker would?

  12. Geoff: not particularly, at least not for me. πŸ™‚ However, I must admit: one reason is that in discussing this topic with Russian speakers at how-to-learn-any-language.com, I’ve found that a few of them don’t even use the cursive. There are also accounts of people who studied Russian in school using (mostly) printed letters, or even mixing printed and cursive forms; their teachers didn’t particularly care one way or another.

    Ultimately, I figure Russian is difficult enough without making oneself use a script they don’t care for. I dislike writing in cursive using the Roman alphabet, and apparently, that dislike spans all scripts. πŸ™‚

  13. Hi Josh,

    I’m a Russian speaker (NZ by birth but I lived in Moscow for 7 years and my wife in Russian). My Russian is very good.

    Cursive script is a funny one. I don’t profess to be able to write in it (I always use block letters when writing Cyrillic) but any knowledge and experience with cursive will come in useful if you’re in Russia. Sure, it’s only really used in notes between people but it looks like a real scrawl quite often. My wife often laughs when I tell her that her writing looks like a long line of w’s joining together.

    Best of luck.

  14. Hey Andrew,

    Thanks for your input. After messing about with it some more, I’ve come to pretty much the same conclusion: there’s not a great deal to be gained by making yourself use it in your studies, but being able to read it will perhaps be helpful, and it’s not as if it takes a great deal of time to learn.

    And yes, my Russian cursive often looks like a string of w’s joined together. Alas, I guess that has nothing to do with my writing, but instead, to do with the Russian cursive script. πŸ™‚

  15. I am just starting and I have decided to learn cursive too, purely because of two reasons – I find writing my lessons or learning down is what truly sticks information in my head and second to that, I find hand writing in printed letters difficult. As I am writing by hand I feel I want to write in cursive (as I do in other languages) and when I blog or use online lessons or dictionaries I use typed letters…(again, as I do with any other language)

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