Shorthand - my place in its history
In 1971 I was put in one of the lower classes for the ‘O’ level streaming (being more interested in boys and the top twenty than chemistry or maths!). This meant that, instead of doing Latin I did Pitman shorthand – I’ve never looked back!
I spent 2 years learning the system and was then able to get “glamorous” jobs during school and college holidays working in offices instead of stacking shelves in Lennon’s supermarket!
I reprised my shorthand classes in 1976 at Salford College, again doing Pitman shorthand, but this time in English and French – another 2 years’ study.
Learning shorthand is a long slog – it’s a skill, like driving or learning a musical instrument. To achieve the speeds required to take verbatim notes, or even detailed notes in meetings (particularly disciplinaries), it is essential to practise every day. The practice can be repetitive, but it is the only way. Mind you, I did reach speeds of over 120 words per minute.
Pitman shorthand uses no letters as we know them, it comprises lines and curves – some thick, some thin. Dots (thick or thin) replace vowels and the position of the outline is vital to transcription. Hence the 2 years’ study required.
Teeline can be learnt much more quickly, but the high speeds of Pitman can’t generally be reached. It still can take 6 months at least to get the basics. Teeline uses outlines similar to our letters and, like Pitman, the vowels can be omitted or replaced by a brief symbol known as a vowel indicator. Teeline is definitely not as aesthetically pleasing as Pitman, which is really quite artistic. My father, who trained as a journalist before the Second World War and was an extremely competent artist, could write text book shorthand – anyone with a knowledge of shorthand could read it.
In the 21st century I started teaching shorthand – Pitman and Teeline. Yes, there is still a requirement for this skill, despite what colleges tell us. However, many people find the commitment and expense of a 6 month or 2 year course can be difficult or even prohibitive. For this reason I investigated various speedwriting systems which could help people. All the systems I studied I found complex and confusing and couldn’t understand how anyone might use them.
Why can’t speedwriting be like shorthand, but using letters instead of lines and using some of the shorthand techniques?
Hence the conception of BakerWrite. Many of the usual tricks of speedwriting are used – omitting vowels, not using double letters – texting really! But I also used the shorthand techniques of brief prefixes and suffixes...... that’s the secret to speed. And all this can be learnt in a day, it then takes a few weeks to become proficient – depending on how much you practise.
By Heather Baker
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