Bromley, Kent, UK
Painting, drawing, photography, shorthand of
course, gardening, sewing/knitting
My aim is to encourage you if you are thinking of learning
shorthand, or relearning from rusty, and to make available my own
experiences, notes, lists, artwork and photos, in a form that is
easily accessible and free. Free resources are a lifeline to so many
people in the world who are struggling to improve their education,
with limited or non-existent resources, in order to earn a living.
I also want to make it a bit more fun. Shorthand belongs in your
life, not just in the office, and this was Sir Isaac Pitman's
primary intention when he invented the system. When you want to
write something, there has to be a very good reason not to do it in
shorthand. For the novice, it's the quickest way to make it totally
familiar and stress free. Even when you are proficient, shorthand never runs out of
interest, as there is always something to learn and new words to
find the outlines for.
Charlton Manor Primary School, Charlton, London.
Roan School for Girls, Devonshire Drive, Greenwich, London.
I learned Pitman's New Era Shorthand in 1973-4 at Woolwich College
for Further Education in London, under the skilled guidance and
gentle encouragement of Miss Jefferson, who retired several years
later. She showed no partiality and everyone was encouraged equally.
The girls* in my class were there because they chose to be, and every
one of them wanted to learn and earn. The practicality of our
secretarial training was the complete opposite of the lessons that
one enjoys or endures in compulsory schooling, where there is often
no obvious reason to remember any of the facts beyond passing exams.
*Shorthand is for everyone!
I obtained a Teach Yourself Shorthand book and read up on the
subject, several weeks ahead of starting at the College. This took
away the strangeness of the shorthand, and made the first lessons
much easier. I continued reading ahead in the New Course book that
we were using, to get an idea of what was coming next, and found
this approach very helpful.
We were taught Business English by Mrs Bravery, another lovely lady,
who also did some shorthand with us. Our typewriting teacher Mrs
Trimnell was very friendly and efficient, and I remember one lesson
when she stood in for Miss Jefferson: she expected and insisted that
we write fast, and it was our first taste of rapid dictation a few
words to be repeated along the line, and then silence as we
struggled to catch up. There were no concessions to our delicate
novice status. It was like constantly running after your hat in a
gale. We had gone from drawing outlines to writing outlines in one
lesson, from walking to running, and never returned to our previous
frame of mind. Speed was no longer just a word, it was our goal, and
I am sure Miss Jefferson noticed the change in our demeanour on her
My "speed mate" was Sue, a left-hander, and together we made a
matching pair, using both hands between us. It was disconcerting to
see shorthand written so quickly with a left hand, but no doubt Sue
was more used to watching people use the "wrong hand".
Sometimes Miss Jefferson would dictate something for Sue and me
without telling us what the speed would be. "Would you like a really
fast test?" she would ask, realising that students tend to give up
when something appears impossible. We struggled through that 30
seconds of dictation, relieved only by the thought that it was a
super-stretcher, done for fun. She gave the rest of the class their
dictations and came back to us. "Did you manage to read anything
back?" "Only about 10 words." With relish she told us it was 200
wpm and although we were shocked, her eyes were beaming with
delight. The others were delighted too, because they had been
invited to have a go as well; I think they assumed it must be
faintly possible, otherwise the teacher would not ask them, and on
this premise some of them duly wrote what they could, although gasps
were heard after about 3 seconds. A glow of satisfaction filled the
room, because of the attempt rather than the results. The most
important point is that, because of that attempted
high-speed spurt, the rest of the dictations for all of us seemed
very slow, and Miss Jefferson certainly knew what she was doing.
At the end of the 9-months course, I obtained 120 wpm Royal Social
of Arts certificate, and 130 wpm Pitman Examinations Institute certificate.
At the time the PEI exam was considered to be slightly easier to
pass than the RSA.
had just been invented, which I viewed as a greatly simplified way
to write condensed longhand letters of the alphabet. Compared with
what I was learning, the outlines struck me as being more angular
and less flowing.
It was clearly aimed at those who preferred a far simpler system, and
it could be incorporated into longhand writing while being learned,
thus bringing the benefits of shorthand to even more people.
started work, one of the ladies wrote Gregg shorthand, just as fast
as the rest of us did our Pitman's, so I spent a short time having a
go at that, to see how it compared. Interesting as it was, I quickly
decided that those hours could be better spent speeding up my
Pitman's and a couple of years later I attended evening classes and
in 1980 I gained a Royal Society of Arts 140 wpm and a Pitman Examinations
Institute 150 wpm. After that I
ran out of energy for further speed learning, and the tiring evening
classes after a full day's work, although I always maintained the
habit of looking up and practising outlines that I had stumbled over. The evening classes were mainly
dictations, and a lot of practice work at home was also necessary, to
work on the faults and omissions shown up by the dictations. Classes
alone are not sufficient to get the speed up. It is well worth taking exams at
various speeds, and not letting everything rely on one exam at the
end of the course. They are lessons in themselves, as practising can
never quite be the same as the real thing. Nothing succeeds like
This quote from a
shorthand book by Bates Torrey sums up my own endeavours to present
Pitman's New Era. Although I have not watched lots of students work,
other than my classmates, I do vividly remember all the difficulties
that we eventually (and cheerfully) demolished as we went through
the college year, the evening classes and the examinations:
To the Student:
This book has been made especially for you after watching a great
many of you work, and inspired by your work, appreciating your
needs. Likewise your discouragements have been noted, and a
mitigation sought for and found. The aim has been to render
shorthand study interesting. If interest can be awakened early, and
maintained continuously, good work and tangible results will follow.
Assuredly work is necessary in shorthand study; but it would be
unreasonable to expect it to continue with stolid doggedness when
all the conditions were unfavorable. We have endeavored to make them
favorable by divesting the subject of disagreeable and useless
features, and clothing it with pleasanter ones. We trust that
success has attended our efforts. At any rate may it attend yours.
Therefore work - win! Bates Torrey, Instruction in Practical
Shorthand, 1893 (Graham version of Phonography)
I always enjoyed writing and drawing, playing with paper and ink,
and almost stumbling across shorthand filling in a year between A
Levels and University with something useful was the best thing I
ever did. I discovered something I thoroughly enjoyed, that was
practical and artistic at the same time, and one hundred per cent
useful all the time. The girls I studied with were those "not good
enough for A Levels" and by implication our course was some sort of
"second-best", at least that seemed to be the flavour of their
friendly, cheerful but somewhat resigned attitude. Absolute
nonsense, of course. The skills they learned on that business course
required attention, thought, work, application, determination and
practice, which they undertook with all the energy that they could
find in themselves. They all acquired varying shorthand certificates
and went out with the tools of their trade literally in their hands.
I would call that "first best" and furthermore, unlike other exams,
open to endless improvement through speed classes. At the time I
rather thought that even attempting a shorthand speed exam deserved
a medal for bravery, whether one passed or not.
Nothing one learns in normal
school education compares with the rigours of attempting to write as
fast as speech. It is a workout for the brain, doing for the mind
what a brisk walk in the fresh air and sunshine does for the body
and the mood.
If you never use it
beyond the shopping list, you will have achieved something a bit
different, and maybe get encouraged to find another subject that
provides for you the same absorbing interest that this has done for
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