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!

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?