The palest ink is better than the
best memory – Chinese proverb
Making use of fast speaking
Dictation can be one of those words that is 49%
excitement and 51% trepidation for the shorthand learner. I would
like to see those percentages changed to 50% excitement and 50%
Trepidation or anxiety is a "hole in your pocket" through which your
confidence may leak away. It can affect both the exam candidate and
those beginning to use their shorthand in employment where the dictation
may race ahead of what you
thought you could do, or is intermittent, mumbled, with background
noise, intimidating surroundings, or full of new words that you do not know the shorthand for –
in all probability totally unlike your classes or home study with its controlled
conditions, and endlessly tolerant and amiable teachers and fellow
Taking lots of unseen dictation will not teach you
shorthand outlines, its purpose is to test your writing skills, let you know where
your shorthand is at, and get you accustomed to writing shorthand
without knowing what is coming next, so it does have its place in your
Purposeful preparation and practising of passages
before taking them from dictation enables you to write at a greater
speed than taking the passages unseen, and that is what you need to
be doing as often as possible. It will improve your vocabulary,
phrasing and neatness, thus building your skill and greatly
preparing for a dictation, practise the vocabulary and write out the
passages, either in one piece so you can write over the top of it,
or leaving every other line blank When writing over the top of ink
outlines, you may wish to revert to using a hard pencil, so you can
use the same sheet many times without making a mark. Do not write
ahead of the spoken words.
If you scan your perfect shorthand, you can print it out and reuse
it, but you need to keep the line-length the same as a normal
notepad, i.e. produce two A5 sheets at a time, not one A4 sheet of
shorthand. You can use uncut pages from the Print Your Own
Shorthand Notepad PDF on the
page for this, or print out the PDFs from the Reading Section –
these pages have been laid out so that the shorthand prints at
Your speed on the known passages will increase dramatically which is a
good self-encourager, as long as you remember that unseen dictations
will not be as easy to write.
There is no pressure as you practise at home and you will step up
your expectations of yourself.
All the BlogSpot articles
are available as MP3s on the new reading website
as ZIP files, to accompany the PDFs of the shorthand and text. There
is also one blog per month provided as a Facility Drill book and a
slow dictation of 40 wpm, this is generally the main dictation with
pieces of silence added between the words and phrases.
Audacity is a free and simple sound recording and
editing program, and I use this to tidy up the recordings. The speeds are as they naturally turned
out and range from 70 to
110 words per minute. There are 2-second gaps between sentences, so
although they may seem a little faster than the speed stated, you
have the gaps in which to catch up. This keeps the speaking more
lifelike and gives practice in holding words
in memory. If you can keep up with the words and are actually
waiting during the gaps, then your speed capability is greater than the stated
speed of the piece.
If you are just listening and not writing, you may notice that even the 100+
sounds quite slow, and not like natural talking, so this will give you an idea of how necessary it is to
reach and surpass that speed, if you wish to avoid struggles in
keeping up with speakers.
It is not only your shorthand ability that makes
any particular dictation seem slow or too fast, but also the frame
of mind that you are in at that time. I suggest you take a simple
but "too fast" dictation first, at the beginning of your session,
and do your utmost to get as much down as possible, even if it is
illegible and full of gaps. This will get the mind in fast reacting
mode, and then all the following dictations will seem very much
slower. It is quite
astounding how it can change one's perception of what is slow and
what is fast. Once you have experienced this, I hope you will be
encouraged to make use of this extremely effective shorthand
learning strategy. My shorthand teacher did this for us regularly,
knowing its benefits, and a warm-up passage was always given in an
exam, although the purpose there was also to accustom the students
to the dictator's voice beforehand.
At present, the longest passage is about half an
hour. It is very worthwhile to practise long passages (with the
stop button well out of reach!), as after a while your mind
gives up interrupting you with wondering when it will be over, and
you can settle into continuous writing. I suggest you do this at a
comfortable speed at first, so that you can keep up easily and there
is no excuse to give in to the temptation to stop. When you have
can survive a long passage, it is time to speed it up, or go for
more difficult matter. You can also practise stamina on long
passages by visualisation, easily done on the bus/train/queue if you
have the sound files on your device.
To change the speed,
open the MP3 in Audacity, go to Effect, Change Tempo and experiment
with the percentage slider. The change will apply to the section
selected, or, if nothing is selected, to the whole file. I found -20
to +70 to be a reasonable range. A more time-consuming
way is to go through the entire file in Audacity and use cut or
copy/paste to remove or add in pieces of silence, and this would be
preferable if you require lower speeds, as slowing down the Tempo
does seem to degrade the sound much more than speeding it up. As all
the sentences have a 2-second gap between, you can paste in longer
pieces of silence at those points, and thus slow it down quite
considerably - the sentence may still be too fast for you, but you
will have the longer gap in which to catch up. You can then
either save the Audacity project (which will be an *.AUP file plus
associated data folder) to a new file name, so that you have both
versions. You may also wish to retype the speed stated in the
metadata (File, Edit Metadata), as the original speed is listed
there, so that the correct speed shows up in onscreen lists. Working in the AUP file does not change your original
MP3 in any way, as it is a copy of the information.
Number of words divided by seconds duration,
multiplied by 60 = words a minute
An existing AUP file can be renamed but not the data folder -
if you do, the AUP file cannot find and use it. The best way to
rename is to use "Save As" for the whole project, so that the AUP file and its data folder
have the same file name.
Using all available spoken
material for dictation practice is essential for the home learner.
We are surrounded by the spoken word all the time and with a little
ingenuity you can get varied shorthand practice for free without
having to buy dictation CDs or tapes. You do not have to know what
the speed is to get the benefit – if it is fast, you can stretch
your abilities, or write snatches, if it is slow you can write
perfect outlines. You can do the bulk of your practising without
constantly measuring your speed. If you are putting in the work,
your speed cannot fail to increase.
There are many websites
where you can find sound files, some are listed on the
Links page. English
language learning sites are a good source to investigate. They
are slower than normal speaking, because the person is reading
from a script, and often
deliberately slowed for the benefit of non-native students of the
language. It will still probably exceed 120 wpm and so this lets you
know the minimum speed you should be aiming for, if you intend to
use your shorthand to take a complete note.
Links page for
details of the free Express Dictate and Express Scribe software for creating your own sound files on
computer, without recourse to dictaphone or tape recorder.
Express Scribe screenshot – all the functions of a
dictaphone, including variable playback speed, via keyboard, screen
or USB footpedal. Resist
the urge to use the stop/start button during the dictation as
this removes the sense of urgency that is such a vital part of the
shorthand frame of mind, and is a slippery slope to failure. The
best use for the stop/start facility is to practise holding the
sentence in memory – only begin writing when the sentence ends.
Speeches, narrations, poetry, quizzes, instructional and
children's programmes, and sports commentary for the more sedate
games such as snooker or darts, are generally spoken at much
slower speeds than normal conversation and more carefully
enunciated, because they are addressed directly to the audience or viewer.
You could read your course book sentences
out loud and thus ensure you are covering all the short forms,
contractions, phrases etc, with the added advantage that the book
provides all the correct outlines.
Once you have practised the same passage many times "beyond
the call of duty", and it has become comfortable at a high speed,
you will no longer tolerate a dragging hand, and it becomes clear
that instant outline recall is what produces speed. The better you
know your outlines, the neater and more reliable they will be.
Once your family and friends
know you are studying shorthand, you might be able to encourage them
to bring you their personal news by sending sound files, and relieve
them of the dreary burden of writing in slow longhand or slow
keyboarding. Or maybe gather memories from the older members of the
family, writing them in shorthand, either directly or from a
recording, and transcribing them into a family history scrapbook to
distribute back to them. A clutch of sound files read from a book on favourite hobby subjects would be the lowest-cost highest-value
birthday or Christmas present a friend could give you as a shorthand
learner, and you can send them a sample of the shorthand as a thank
you and to maintain interest. Sounds like yet another pocket-money earning
potential for youngsters, as well!
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For the slower speeds, it
might be quicker to record your own sound files, by reading from the
course book, than to spend precious hours trawling the internet for
the occasional suitable dictation. The vocabulary will then match
exactly what you have learned so far. In the early stages vocabulary is so limited
that found dictations may be more frustrating than useful – store
them up for later.
The easiest way to do free
dictation at the lower speeds, with no helper, no computer, no sound files
or tapes and no written
text, is to use something you already know, such as a song, poem,
rhyme, jingle, Christmas carol, hymn etc. You already know the whole
text and can recite it from memory. As long as you either say the words,
or imagine them being said, you are associating the outlines with
the sounds, and avoiding the intrusion of longhand text. If you
prepare and learn the shorthand outlines for your favourites, they will
always be available to you for odd practising moments when you are away from
your desk. You can do this mentally without even pen or paper, as
you sit on the bus or stand in a queue. You set the pace every time. You do not need to time them and
determination to write (legibly) as fast as you can will get you through. This
is similar to when youngsters first learn to write their
signature in cursive writing, they take great delight in writing
it everywhere, all the time, as fast as they can, until it can be done
without the slightest hesitation, and of course using the best
"statement pen" they can find.
shorthand – Yes. Dayglo and danglies?
Making use of fast speaking
Television and radio broadcasts are exasperatingly fast but they can
still be used for practice. In the very early stages of learning,
you can write down the occasional word that you know, or snatches of
common words or phrases. Talking speed may well be over 200 wpm
so it is unrealistic to expect to keep up when beginning learning.
You can always wring some use out of them, and not let them become
an excuse to give up!
A very good use for fast
speaking is to train your memory to hold the words that have got
ahead of you. This is a very useful skill to have when stretching
your speed, as you become accustomed to and relaxed about not always
being on top of the words as they are spoken. Write what you can and endeavour to finish the
sentence. Such an exercise must be done with that specific purpose in
mind from the outset, and with a firm will, and not used as a
fall-back excuse for constantly missing out chunks in other
dictations, a habit which will harm more than help. To prevent such
a habit forming while doing the memory-training exercise, wait until the
speaker finishes the missed sentence before
you start to write the next one. This breaks up the writing and keeps
it in a different category from the normal note-taking scenario. You
end up with lots of whole sentences, rather than just a mass of
A talk on the Ipod, an opportunity to practise some
neat shorthand to counteract the tendency to scrawl, doing whole
sentences as much as possible, and jotting down phrases when it gets
too fast. This is entirely different from attempting to get
I find that "My Best Speed"
is an unhelpful label, because it is changing all the time,
depending on how much time you are able to devote to your study. Living up to a
label means you are stuck there. "My Best Speed Yesterday"
enables you to enjoy past victories, but keeps it where it belongs, because you have since done some more
practising, had a good night's sleep and today is another day of
"It ain't over till it's over!"
"Watch this space!"
"Coming soon to a pad near you – words a minute in three figures!"
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When I took my exams in the 1970's, we were given
a short warm-up passage before the actual exam pieces, so that we
could accustom ourselves to the dictator's voice. The main
benefit of this is really to get brain and fingers in gear for a
high-speed performance. If you are just starting out
in shorthand, you may consider
anything over 100 words per minute to be way, way beyond you. But I
would say that can already write longhand "outlines" at that speed, because you are familiar with the shapes.
Try writing your signature as many times as you can in one minute,
then count how many letters of the alphabet you have written. One
letter equates to about 1½ outlines (or more), so multiply by that.
The result is your best writing speed in "shorthand wpm" and I am
confident it will be well over 100. You never hesitate over the
shapes of the letters because you know them so well, and there is no
fear, hassle or trepidation when writing your well-practised name.
Your shorthand can be the same, and in much less time, because you
are purposefully working towards that goal, unlike longhand where
gaining speed is
mostly incidental. When (not if) you
leap over the "100 hurdle" in your shorthand, you may wish to share your success and encourage
others via the Guestmap or Guestbook.
To celebrate writing so fast
(albeit longhand for the moment), you might like to print a
Pitman's Shorthand Flying
Fingers Poster from the
Downloads page as a light-hearted reminder, in order to reaffirm
your achievement and focus your future efforts.
A good way to advertise your
Do Well whilst practising =
Doubt Not during dictation
Click for full pic (863 KB)
Tunbridge Wells railway
bridge - The shield looks to me like wavy shorthand outlines,
surrounded by drops of ink, and a determined lion clawing his way to
the top against a background of dot vowels. Above is a helmet with
visor to prevent distractions, topped by a triumphant lion holding
his shorthand achievement medal. The leaves, of course, are an
encouragement to form beautiful flowing lines and curves. Just right
for the cover of your
Own Shorthand Notepad!
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