In this article, the authors discuss the ability of a group of Kannada-speaking school children to dissect the orthographic syllable (or akshara) into its phonetic consonant and vowel segments. Although Kannada has generally been considered a fairly transparent writing system, the children (who had been taught to read the akshara as a single unit) had difficulty distinguishing the symbols for phonologically similar consonants, and were confused by some of the diacritics. The study suggests that previous understanding of writing system acquisition may have missed certain factors that contribute to the ease or difficulty with which a writing system is learned.