Dictation is one of those words that is 49%
excitement and 51% trepidation for the shorthand writer.
We need to do something about those unhelpful
because the fearful part serves no purpose whatsoever. Fear is a
"box of snakes" on your doorstep that you do not want to be
accepting or taking in, or a "hole in your pocket" through which your
confidence may leak away. It can affect both the learner 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.
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 120wpm 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, such as office
Links page for
details of Express Dictate and Express Scribe software for creating your own sound files on
computer, without recourse to dictaphone or tape recorder, and a
free Typing Tutor. (Scribe is free,
and you can use WAV or MP3 files made on any other audio software).
Express Scribe screenshot – all the functions of a
dictaphone, including variable playback speed, via keyboard, screen
or USB footpedal. Ideally you should prepare the passage
beforehand, so that you know all the outlines and phrasing. 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. They make ideal dictation material for the student.
you record them for home dictation use, you might consider inserting
extra silences at intervals into the sound file, thus slowing down the
overall speed and enabling you to catch up, while retaining the
normal speed of speaking. This also helps you to practise holding
the words in memory while your fingers are completing the sentence,
and is more like real-life dictation.
This is very
easy to do in Audacity, you simply clipboard a few seconds of
silence, and then keep pasting it in wherever needed, then re-export
the file to another WAV or MP3.
You can convert any piece of
speaking into dictations of varying speeds by this method, thus
saving you from hunting for material and giving you the same passage
in several speed versions. 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 they will be and so reliability is
achieved as well.
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!
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?
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
Shorthand In Bed! 4.15 am,
listening to 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
everything down to improve speed. Dictation correctly done means
paying close attention to the content, so you also do not miss
enjoying and learning from the talk. As your shorthand skills
improve, you can listen closely to the talk, and your hand will just
get on with its job of writing the outlines, in exactly the same
relaxed manner as you now do with longhand – more so, as longhand
can never keep up with any spoken words, a frustration that you are
now rapidly leaving behind for ever.
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!"
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. Anything that speeds up your mind and attention will have a similar effect and to this end I think the following
music link may get your shorthand pen or typing fingers into the "fast lane" safely and pleasantly:
I would not advise listening to music whilst practising
outlines, as you need to be hearing the words (either saying them out loud or in your
mind) and not the music. The same music piece in the video below shows that speed and
dexterity do not need
decades of practice to achieve, but it is certain that this young man put in
hours to attain his chosen goal:
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
This provides an opportunity to take the
ultimate dictation with perfect English and impeccable
pronunciation from HM Queen Elizabeth. I have provided a complete shorthand word list for
the messages below. I have not written the passages out in
shorthand or reproduced the longhand, as the text is Crown
copyright. The text and videos are on the Queen's website:
To let yourself in
gradually, you could write out a neat ink version, and then write
over it lightly in pencil as you play the broadcast. Or you could
dictate and record the speeches yourself at a speed of
your own choosing, and then graduate to the real thing later on.
Your enthusiastic offspring/siblings may also be delighted to be the Queen
for you and I trust you will reward them appropriately!
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!
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)
"The earnest, heartfelt,
continued prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous
power available, dynamic in its working." James 5 v 16
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to report mistakes in the shorthand - Thank you.