Reading a book is simple, right? You pick up the book, turn to the first page, start at the upper left-hand side and read from left to right, top to bottom. But have you ever stopped to wonder if everyone in the world reads the same way?
English speakers read and write from left to right. Why? Well, there's not really a good reason except that's what the ancient Greeks decided was best.
Long, long ago, Greek scholars tested many different methods of reading and writing words on tablets. Based on their experiments, they decided that reading and writing left to right and top to bottom was easiest. So that's what they did.
When the ancient Romans conquered the Greeks, they applied the same rules to Latin. Since most Western languages, such as English, are based on Greek or Latin, we have followed their lead in reading and writing left to right and top to bottom.
Believe it or not, though, there are millions of people around the world who read in completely different ways. Let's take a look at some of these unique styles of reading.
Both Arabic and Hebrew are read and written from right to left. Many East Asian languages, such as Chinese and Japanese, can be read and written from right to left, as well as vertically — from top to bottom.
For example, traditional Chinese and Japanese texts were written vertically in columns, going from top to bottom and right to left. Scholars believe this practice developed due to the ease of writing with a brush in the right hand while the left hand continually unrolled a scroll to the left.
Times are changing, though. Today, it's becoming more and more common for these languages to be written horizontally (side to side) from left to right.
Experts believe this change is the result of the increasing influence of English, as well as the common use of computerized word processing systems that don't support right-to-left formatting.
One place children may encounter a right-to-left form of writing is in comic books. Japanese comics — called "manga" — often use vertical text. These comics also often have frames and pages that flow right to left.
And just when you think you've seen all the ways people read and write, don't forget the ancient Egyptians! Instead of using words, they often used pictures in their unique script called "hieroglyphics."
Instead of one standard format, the ancient Egyptians would write hieroglyphics in any direction — right to left, left to right or up and down — that happened to be convenient and pleasing to the eye.
If you happen to see hieroglyphics written horizontally, you can tell which way to read the passage by looking at the people and animals in the glyphs. The people and animals always face toward the beginning of the line!