How to Read Braille

Thinking of learning braille? If so, here’s your first lesson: instead of thinking about it as a language, you should see braille as a set of symbols.

See, braille is all about its cells. Each braille cell consists of six dots arranged in two columns of three dots each. As long as you know which cell represents which letter (or symbol), you can easily read braille by touch.

Want to learn how to read braille? Here are the main things you need to know about its alphabet, punctuation, and shorthand.

The Braille Alphabet

In braille, the first ten letters of the alphabet are the basis for everything else. These letters only use the top four dots in each cell. Here’s the list:

  • A: dot 1 (top left)
  • B: dots 1 and 2 (top left, middle left)
  • C: dots 1 and 4 (top left, top right)
  • D: dots 1, 4, and 5
  • E: dots 1 and 5
  • F: dots 1, 2, and 4
  • G: dots 1, 2, 4, and 5 (all top dots)
  • H: dots 1, 2, and 5
  • I: dots 2 and 4
  • J: dots 2, 4, and 5

For the next ten letters (K through T), all you need to do is add dot 3 (bottom left) to the previous letters. For example, the letter K would be the letter A (dot 1) plus dot 3. The letter L is the letter B (dots 1 and 2) plus dot 3.

Similarly, the letters U, V, X, Y, and Z are simply the letters K through O plus dot 6 (bottom right). Therefore, the letter U would be the letter K (dots 1 and 3) plus dot 6. The letter V is the letter L (dots 1, 2, and 3) plus dot 6.

Finally, the letter W consists of dots 2, 4, 5, and 6.

Symbols and Punctuation

Now that you know the basics of reading braille, let’s move on to punctuation. First, braille doesn’t have capital letters. Instead, it uses a cell with a dot 6 to indicate that the first letter in the next word is capitalized.

Next, we have the main punctuation marks. Here’s the shortlist:

  • Comma (,): dot 2
  • Semicolon (;): dots 2 and 3
  • Colon (:): dots 2 and 5
  • Period (.): dots 2, 5, and 6
  • Exclamation mark: dots 2, 3, and 5
  • Opening and closing parenthesis: dots 2, 3, 5, and 6
  • Question mark: dots 2, 3, and 6
  • Number sign: dots 3, 4, 5, and 6

The number sign is important because it always precedes numbers. To write a number in braille, use the number sign plus one of the first ten letters of the alphabet. The letter A stands for number 1, B is number 2, and so on.

Contractions and Short-Form Words

The above rules form the basis of braille, but they don’t account for readability. For example, if you’re making ada signs, you should try to save space and make reading as easy as possible.

One way to do that is to use single-cell contractions, where a single cell replaces an entire word. For braille uses, these include:

  • For: all dots
  • And: dots 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6
  • The: dots 2, 3, 4, and 6
  • As: dots 1, 3, 5, and 6
  • But: dots 2 and 3
  • Can: dots 1 and 4

On top of that, many letter combinations are often contracted into a single cell to save space. Learning these patterns isn’t necessary, but it can make reading braille much faster.

Now You Know How to Read Braille!

As you can see, learning how to read braille isn’t hard. You’ll spend most of your time learning the various abbreviations. That said, you only need to know the basic rules (see above) to take advantage of braille benefits.

Interested in learning about the other ways you can improve yourself? Keep reading our Lifestyle section!