Thursday, September 8, 2011

Helping Arabic Speakers to Write Cursive

When we were children in elementary school, we learned to print letters and later on, we learned to write in cursive. My husband and many other native speakers I know gave up writing cursive once it was no longer mandatory. That is, teachers used to demand handwritten essays, not ones with printed letters. Because these native speakers had already mastered printing, they did not have the interest to learn yet another writing system. Not only that, their handwriting was evaluated as poor or illegible which made these students dislike writing even more.

Apparently, there were and are some teachers that think we shouldn't go through a two-stage process teaching students first to print and, later, to write cursive. We should just start with cursive. If young adults want to learn to print later on, they can easily pick that up. Before I started teaching Arabic speakers, I never thought about why non-native students have such difficulty writing longhand. Now that I have seen Arabic speakers writing in Arabic and realize that they didn't go through a two-stage process to learn Arabic, it seems obvious that we should teach students to write in cursive first. The letters flow into each other in one direction whereas when you print, you have to pick up your pen or pencil to make a new letter.

Since, as far as I know, there are no classes offered at IEPs to teach students how to write cursive, I decided to go online to see what materials are available for my students to learn. Arabic writing definitely seems to bear resemblances to cursive writing in English, except the script is produced and read from right to left instead of from left to right. Because time did not allow me to actually teach my students to write script, I did some research online and found some great sites. I'm passing them on to you in case you are facing the problem of wanting to learn to write or are a teacher wanting to guide students to learn by themselves.

For those students that would like to see an animation of cursive writing, I recommend Donna Young's site. On this page, you can see the letter "a" being written. To the right in another box, you can click on other letters (small or capital letters) that you want to see "animated." If you want to see how words are written in cursive (i.e., how the letters are connected together), you can also choose many examples at this same site. Unfortunately, the whole word examples are not in animated form. Nevertheless, you can download numerous worksheets for practice writing words in cursive and connecting the letters together.

Another site, perhaps easier for lower level students to understand how to use, is called "Handwriting for Kids." On the page I have just linked you to, you can find study sheets that students can practice using, including writing numbers (showing which direction to move your writing instrument depending on whether you're right- or left-handed). At this site, to see the animation of lowercase or uppercase letters, all you have to do is place the cursor over the letter.

A final consideration in helping non-native speakers to write cursive is the relevance of handwriting in the modern world. For a brief discussion on that topic, check out this FoxNews clip between a young entrepreneur and a former 4th grade teacher.


KateGladstone said...

If your Arabic-speaking students learn only cursive writing for English, what will they do about forms that demand "Please Print" when no computer is handy and there is no opportunity to take the forms home to type on them?

For a wealth of simple handwriting resources, visit

Evelyn said...

Thank you for the comment. That's a very good point. I did give my Arabic speakers a list of sites where they can learn both and practice both cursive and printing. Most of them learned to print in English before coming here, but they are frustrated by how slow it is to write that way. So, they want to learn cursive, which is faster and more similar to Arabic in the way letters are connected. I will remind my students that sometimes being able to print is important - and they can be happy that they already have that skill for filling in forms and documents.

I will check out your site, too!

KateGladstone said...

Thanks, Evelyn! It will be helpful to your students to see that printing doesn't have to be rigidly circle-and-stick: there are rapid, flowing forms of printing which are absolutely clear (and, yes, my site has links/info re resources for learning and practicing these).

Would your students also benefit from resources showing ho the printed letters relate to cursive ones? Let me know, and I can point you to a couple.

Evelyn said...

Hi Kate,
Certainly, anything that encourages students to learn ways to print in more fluid forms would be helpful. I know thing about how the printed letters relate to cursive either. I am sure that readers would appreciate some links to that from you, too. Thanks again for your feedback here.