One week before landing in Tbilisi, Georgia, we decided it might be a good idea to try and learn the Georgian alphabet. At first, the Georgian Mkhedruli script looks like more than a challenge, a bunch of squiggles and loops.
The origin of Georgian alphabets is not entirely known, but some suggest the current Georgian script was modelled after the loops and twists of grape vines.
As hard as it might look at first, the Georgian alphabet has a few things on it’s side for beginners. There are no capital letters in Georgian, so you only need to learn one set of characters. And unlike English, Georgian letters are always pronounced the same, regardless of where they appear in a word.
Since Georgian is used on all street signs and most aspects of everyday life, learning the alphabet seemed like a good idea, since we were planning to spend a few months there.
I started by learning some basic pronunciation. There are 33 letters in the Georgian alphabet, and many of them bear no resemblance to letters or syllables English speakers are familiar with. I used the following video to listen to each letter spoken by a native speaker, along with this pronunciation guide in the Wikitravel Georgian Phrasebook.
Learning the Georgian alphabet with flash cards
Quizlet lets you “star” a selection of cards in the deck, and practice just the starred cards. I find I learn phrases, words, or characters in a new language fastest when I focus the action of recalling just one or two new cards at a time. I find Quizlet’s star feature works well for this.
I also learn faster when I practice by performing the action that I am trying to learn. Focussing on recall, rather than memorisation works best. So when I’m learning to read a new alphabet, I’m practicing recall, looking at a letter in the new language, and pronouncing the sound out loud.
Here’s the process I used to learn the Georgian Alphabet in just 90 minutes of practice, learning just one letter at a time. I used a similar process to learn the Russian Cyrillic alphabet with just a couple of hours practice over a few days.
Start by starring just two cards, and practice pronouncing each character aloud while looking only at the Georgian side. If you can’t recall the character, flip over to the English side, before returning to the Georgian side and pronounce the character.
Continue working through the deck until you can confidently recall both cards, before adding a third and repeating the process. Add new cards to the deck one-by-one, until you have 10 in the deck, then remove the 5 cards you are most confident with. Continue repeatedly working through the deck, adding new cards when you are confidently recalling all cards in the deck, and removing the top 5 cards when you hit a total of 10.
Once you have made it through all of the cards, work through the whole deck, starring only the difficult cards that you can’t recall within 1-2 seconds. Repeat the whole process above, with only the difficult cards, until you can confidently recall the whole alphabet.
Some notes on learning the Georgian alphabet
I divided my practice into three 30 minute sessions, over three days, totalling around 90 minutes practice before I could recall the entire alphabet. Learning a new alphabet can be mentally exhausting, so I wouldn’t recommend sitting down and attempting to learn the whole thing in one sitting.
I found I learned faster when I pronounced the full name of each letter, rather than just the sound. So for the first letter of the alphabet I would say “an” rather than “a”. Doing this seems to occupy a new space in my memory for each letter, while still learning the sound of the letter. I also regret not learning the names of letters when first learning Russian Cyrillic, I still have trouble spelling words aloud in Russian as a result.