We all know that cursive is disappearing from American schools – and one of the favorite arguments against that is that cursive is faster to write than print. And, according to the science of the 20th Century, that was too. But what about today: Is it genuinely quicker to write in cursive or print?
Cursive is not faster to write than print, although it does have other benefits. The most rapid style is D’Nealian, a hybrid between printing and cursive. However, the best technique for an individual depends on the type they are comfortable with and like most.
Now that we know cursive isn’t the fastest, we can figure out why that’s the case and why all schools used to teach cursive in the past. Not only that, but we’ll also look at D’Nealian writing and how it compares to the unique writing styles of most adults.
Why Is Cursive Not Faster?
I’m sure we’ve all heard that writing cursive is faster because you lift your pen from the page less frequently. However, does that make a significant difference?
It does not. Lifting the pen off the paper and immediately putting it back down is quick to do, even if you do it multiple times per word. While keeping your pen down the whole time you write feels natural for many people, this feeling doesn’t translate to speed.
A 2013 study from the University of Toulouse, France, and the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, confirms this fact. Through studying writing speeds across various schools, the researchers found that children who exclusively wrote in cursive did not write faster.
Instead, they wrote slower. Compared to students who had to write in print or were allowed to choose which style they wrote in, children who were forced to use cursive were slowest.
See, not only does cursive take longer to teach, but the complicated letters take longer to write. Even though it feels more fluid, the amount of time spent writing each letter and then linking them is longer than the time spent lifting the pen to write print.
Why Did Schools Initially Focus On Teaching Cursive?
While you might not have learned cursive yourself, your parents did. They had to. But since we understand that cursive isn’t faster than print (and can be slower for many people), why did schools focus on teaching it so much?
Science Initially Supported Cursive
Only the most recent studies have debunked the speed of writing cursive. Before those studies were published, science seemed to support writing cursive.
The idea that cursive is faster because you lift the pen less often makes a lot of sense at first glance. Many teachers still swear by it. Furthermore, the few reliable studies on cursive did not prove that wrong.
Similarly, scientists argued that cursive was better in other areas too. Speed is not the only reason why people write cursive. Older studies (which often contradicted each other or used unreliable evidence) argued that cursive helped with spelling and dyslexia.
However, newer research contradicted these studies. Dyslexic people often struggle to read cursive, even if individual letters or words are more evident than print.
Likewise, writing cursive is also more difficult for dyslexic people. Instead of writing a letter and moving to the next one, you need to know which letter you’ll write in advance so you can connect the two correctly. For dyslexic people, this style of thinking is quite hard.
It isn’t true that cursive helps with spelling, either. Although writing entire words with their letters joined might help people memorize them, that argument doesn’t apply to words people have already written many times.
When trying to remember a word they’ve seen, cursive doesn’t help at all. Most text is printed, regardless of if you read it off a book or a screen. For a child learning to write, it can be unclear that they aren’t allowed to copy the style of words they see most often and must use cursive instead.
Cursive Is Traditional In America
Of course, schools did not only teach cursive because of its science. Cursive is also traditional for us Americans. Our grandparents wrote it, their grandparents wrote it, and the Founding Fathers wrote it too.
Cursive connects us to history. Some of our country’s most important documents are written in cursive – the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Reading those texts is still essential for many people (and was far more critical in the past).
Schools also teach cursive because of their particular traditions. Updating a curriculum is a lot of work, so staying reliable is often the easiest.
If a school has been teaching cursive for decades, why should they change unless they have to? If the science of the time agreed with them, they’d have no reason to change.
Parents also approved of cursive. Before this current wave of print writing (thanks in part to laptops and tablets in the classroom), most parents vehemently opposed schools teaching their children print. They learned cursive, so their children should do the same.
Are There Benefits To Writing Cursive?
Even if cursive is not faster, there are still benefits. Apart from being traditional, cursive helps you write neatly and work better academically.
Cursive Leads To Higher Grades
Children who have learned cursive are more intelligent, at least academically. Their test scores are noticeably higher. Cursive SAT essays scored better than print ones.
The reason for that is that cursive helps integrate the left and right halves of the brain. This synergy between the brain’s hemispheres improves your memory and use of language.
Cursive Is Beautiful
Cursive is the most beautiful writing style. And even if you aren’t interested in it as an art form (calligraphy), it can improve your handwriting.
Making letters and words distinct and elegant is a skill taught by cursive. People who learn print and cursive generally have better handwriting. Not only is it neater, but they make more precise separations between words.
Learning Cursive Improves Motor Skills
Since you need to keep your pen on the paper and connect the letters in cursive, it improves a child’s motor skills more than print. Doing so forces a child to focus on their hand’s movement and keep it fluid.
This practice improves a child’s hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Not only that, but cursive gives them feedback about how words are shaped. In contrast, print instead encourages them to hyperfocus on individual letters.
What Is D’Nealian Writing?
The fastest writing style, D’Nealian, combines aspects of cursive and print. Although few schools have adopted it, it is noticeably quicker and easier to learn than either print or cursive. It takes the best aspects of both.
D’Nealian uses a base of print writing and adds simple connecting strokes to it. This way, you don’t have to lift the pen off the paper while writing it, but the individual letters remain simple.
It also streamlines the print letters it uses. Doing so cuts down on the pen strokes needed for each letter, again saving time.
D’Nealian writing is faster than other styles but is also more intuitive. While cursive looks fluid and feels sensible to write, D’Nealian is closer to the unique handwriting scripts most people develop.
Unless you specifically choose otherwise, your default handwriting will probably be a mixture of cursive and print. That’s because connecting certain letters is intuitive to do, but doing it all the time is not. Likewise, that increases speed – especially since you are the most practiced with your handwriting.
Cursive is not faster than print. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful, traditional style that can help a child develop motor control and improve their handwriting overall. The quickest type is D’Nealian, a mix of cursive and print similar to most people’s default handwriting.