Cyrillic Handwriting – Take Three!

After reading the comments on my last post, along with Geoff’s blog post response, I wanted to clarify my position a bit on Cyrillic handwriting. I think learning the cursive form of Cyrillic is useful for the foreign learner – up to a point, depending on the personality of the learner. As many people pointed out, it only takes an hour or two to learn the cursive forms once you know the Cyrillic alphabet, and so to not gain at least a passive recognition of it would be silly. The passive recognition, though, is where I have stopped with my usage of it. The reasons are fairly simple:

  1. I have no real plans at this point of ever living in Russia, nor of having a snail-mail Russian penpal. That latter point isn’t me being a snob; I just know my personality. I’ve had many German penpals during my studies, and they’ve all been on the internet. It’s infinitely faster, and assuming each person already has an internet connection, email is free. It’s nice to get corrections the next day, rather than two or three weeks later.
  2. It’s faster for me to print. I know many people find that their cursive writing is faster than their printing, but mine is not. I long ago abandoned my English handwriting (excluding my signature) in favor of my printing. While the handwriting is different for Cyrillic and the Roman alphabets, there are many similarities between them in handwritten form, and so it would seem my slowness in writing English handwriting has crossed the bridge to Russian. I have to write it at a real crawl to make it legible, which brings me to my last point:
  3. I can read my printing much easier than my handwriting, whether it be English or Russian. The slowness and relative illegibility of my handwriting are the exact reasons which caused me to abandon it so long ago. While I can now quickly read my English handwriting (when I use it, which is practically never), due to the Russian words still being rather unfamiliar to me, I really struggle to read many of them when I write them in cursive. When I print them with block letters, if I know the word, there’s no struggle. I see it and I recognize the word; there’s no 5 minute process of peering at it, saying “is that 2 ะ˜’s, or a ะจ?” I can actually see such peering and wondering as detrimental to my acquisition of the language, and Russian has enough hurdles without me adding more! ๐Ÿ™‚

In short, for me, using the cursive form of the writing has no practical use for me, and I don’t gain any particular buzz of “Russian-ness” from making myself use it; on the contrary, I actually find it a bit uncomfortable, just as I find writing in cursive English uncomfortable these days.

Having said that, if you’re learning Russian, do learn the cursive, at least to a passive recognition stage; and furthermore, if you find it faster, more legible, or just plain more fun to use cursive over block letters – by all means, do so!

By |2008-09-25T07:01:55+00:00September 25th, 2008|All Entries, Russian, Writing|11 Comments


  1. Camilla September 26, 2008 at 4:05 am - Reply

    That’s pretty interesting that you never got English cursive up to a faster speed than printing – i can imagine you being significantly disadvantaged in written examinations. I even used to have writing-speed contests with another girl in my primary school classes, so cursive for me has always been fast enough to keep up with my thoughts! Hopefully Russian cursive will do the same for me. I love printing, but cursive will hopefully be a bit more relaxed and speedier. Might have to have a look at it soon, given all this talk!

  2. Josh September 26, 2008 at 9:16 am - Reply

    Nah, my printing is quite fast; probably as fast as most folks’ cursive.

  3. Camilla September 26, 2008 at 9:23 am - Reply

    That’s so curious. I could never get my print as fast as my cursive, simply because there are far too many extra penstrokes and lifts – it wouldn’t be physically possible for me. I bet it’ll take ages to get my cursive Russian faster than my print though, quite a bit of practice will be due i guess.

  4. Josh September 26, 2008 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Well, a lot of the time, I don’t fully lift my pen from the page; it’s more of a lighter dragging to the next letter. I guess my writing is a mixture of printing and cursive; most of my letters are the print forms, but they’re very often joined together.

  5. Camilla September 26, 2008 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Ah, that indeed would help!

  6. GeoffB September 26, 2008 at 11:27 pm - Reply


    I hadn’t thought about it before, but now that you mention it, I also write with joined print, rather than proper cursive. I’ve always found that by the time I slowed my cursive down enough for the “o”s to be distinct from the “s”s, the “m”s from the “ni”s, etc, it was just as easy to print and my printing was at least moderately legible.

    I suppose you can’t look the part if after casually tossing off that thought in Russian script, you have to spend the next five minutes deciphering it. Your decision is wise. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Helena September 30, 2008 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    I am not sure but I believe this is the first time I post a comment on your blog. Your posts are quite interesting and I can relate to them, since I also study Russian language.
    I am now trying to “re-teach” myself, because during the last two years I had absolutely no contact with the language at all, but for around 4 years I studied with a native teacher, and then I studied during 1 year with a non-native teacher.
    The non-native teacher would encourage the students to always write in cursive, and she actually refused to correct work if it wasn’t in cursive, whereas the native teacher really encouraged me to write in whathever way was more legible for me – that was also block letters, just like it is for you.
    This way I ended up developing an active knowledge of both cursive and block cyrilic, but to this day whenever I have to think of the graphic representation of a Russian word, I always think of with writen in block letters and not in cursive.
    I my knowledge of cursive will not add any value to my knowledge of the language, and just like you said, Russian’s already dificult enough, why make it even harder? For one year my non-native teacher just made me feel like I was back in elementary school, where “caligraphy” was a mandatory subject.
    I totally agree with what you said about personality.
    Congratulations for your interesting blog.

  8. Helena September 30, 2008 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    sorry what I meant to write was “I don’t think my knowledge of cursive will add any value to my knowledge of the language, (…)”

  9. Yakov October 6, 2008 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    I also have not focused on learning cursive in Russian, given that I don’t even know how to write cursive in English (like you I use a “joined print” (in my case barely legible)), and that I almost never write in Russian for any communicative purpose, only jotting down words to myself occasionally. It is however very important to learn the printed “cursive”, which they use like our italics.

  10. anka October 7, 2008 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    I write in cursive because my teachers want me to. so that rather reduces the amount of time I’d normally spend on pondering which way is better.

    what is a thousand times more difficult and more essential and more fun to learn than caligraphy is the whole twisted pronunciation

  11. Ashalynd November 9, 2008 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    When Russian people write (I mean, with pen and / or paper), they (we ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) use cursive, never print. I remember my astonishment at the fact that my classmates who went to English classes have not been taught how to write cursive in English, but were supposed to print! In Russia, only preschool kids did that. I even thought that “they did not teach them the real stuff” ๐Ÿ™‚ because of this cursive issue (I went to German classes and there we did use cursive, by the way). Of course, this all happened almost 20 years ago, and many things have enormously changed now…

    Nevertheless, as far as I know, having “good handwriting style” is still considered to be something of importance there. Of course if you don’t plan ever go there or exchange notes in Russian with somebody, you won’t have much chance to see and/or use any handwriting. Just keep in mind that using cursive in Russia is normal and using printed letters is an exception ๐Ÿ™‚

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.