How can I possibly learn shorthand when no one teaches it any more? This page can answer all your questions!
First off, you need to select a shorthand system. (Please forgive the long-winded discussion on selecting a system!) Your selection of a system should be based on the time you have to learn shorthand and the speed at which you wish to write. As a guide, normal speech is approximately 140 words per minute:
|Shorthand System||Relative Level of Difficulty||Learning Time Required*||"Usual" Maximum Speed Potential*|
|Gregg Pre-Anniversary, Gregg Anniversary, and New Era Pitman||Most difficult||The longest of all||All were used for court reporting and are capable of 200+ words per minute with lots of work.|
|Gregg Simplified||High but less than above||Moderate||Was also used in court work by a few people; capable of 200 words per minute with adequate work.|
|Gregg Diamond Jubilee or Pitman 2000||Moderate, certainly less than above||Less than systems listed above||Used primarily for business work; a good student can obtain 160 words per minute or more with adequate work.|
|Speedwriting, AlphaHand, and other alphabetic systems||Easiest||Least time required||It may be possible for some students to go over 120 words per minute with adequate work, depending upon the system.|
|*Both these columns are dependent upon how much time you're willing to invest in learning shorthand. Clearly, "Learning Time Required" is relative and "Maximum Speed Potential" can only be reached with adequate practice and preparation.|
Take this table with a huge grain of salt, people! All systems have an upper limit on speed which can be more dependent upon the person writing it than on the system itself. I've tried to give you relative speeds for comparison purposes only. Learning any system of shorthand requires lots of dedicated practice. There are plenty of Anniversary writers who may never break 80 words per minute and there are plenty of Speedwriting students who can whiz along over 150!
And there are plenty of other systems out there which may be excellent which I've left off the table. My entries are based on the most common systems available today for which books and other learning materials are readily available.
In general, there are two broad types of shorthand systems which use a pen or pencil:
1. Alphabetic systems, which are based on the the Roman alphabet (a, b, c) and are represented in the last line of the table. Alpha systems are faster to learn but have more-limited speed potential. They're probably best if you just want to take notes at meetings.
2. Symbol systems, where sounds are presented by simple lines, curves, and circles. Symbol systems take longer to learn but have far greater speed potential. The two major contenders for symbol systems (listed in the table above) are Pitman and Gregg. Both have proven themselves over the years as real work horses; one is not instinctively better than the other; they're just different:
Pitman systems require shading of characters (some strokes being lighter than others). Shading was common when people wrote with steel pens; we no longer develop that skill when we learn to write. Pitman also does not have connected vowels--when vowels are required, they're written after the shorthand outline is finished, much like one crosses T's and dots I's in longhand.
The various versions of Gregg shorthand do not require shading and have vowels written in their natural order.
Any of the systems in the table will serve you well depending upon your requirements.
Since shorthand is no longer taught in the U.S., you're going to have to go it alone. Books are available on Ebay, can be purchased on-line, or possibly at your local bookstore since some books are still in print. One reader suggests using a book-search website such as Amazon.com and typing in "shorthand" or "Gregg shorthand"; by doing so, I found a wealth of new and used books at reasonable prices.
"Text kits," which contain dictation records or tapes, the text, self-tests, and other materials designed for self-study, are also available. The records will require you to have a working phonograph which plays 33 1/3 recordings or a working cassette player.
If you want to download an Anniversary Gregg text for free, it can be found at http://gregg.angelfishy.net/, on the left under THE ANNIVERSARY MANUAL. You may also want to print out 5,000 MOST USED OUTLINES while you're there.
Once you acquire the book or kit, it's going to take some work to make your shorthand usable. Despite claims that you can learn certain systems in a few hours, USEFUL shorthand takes longer. You're probably looking at a year or more of study. Be thorough in your mastery of each lesson before going on to the next one. The guiding principle should always be MASTERY BEFORE SPEED. Speed will come from a complete and thorough knowledge of word-building principles.
Since shorthand is a skill subject, it requires REGULAR practice, preferably on a daily basis. Forty-five minutes to an hour a day would be a good goal if you can squeeze it in.
Always read the shorthand first until it can be read fluently using the longhand key when necessary. Read it as many times as necessary; for some, that may mean three times, for others it could mean ten times or more!
Next, copy the shorthand as described below. After writing, compare your shorthand outlines to what you've written. In Gregg, in particular, the longer strokes need to be longer, the smaller ones smaller. In Pitman, the thicker strokes need to be darker and the light ones should be very light. Some writers exaggerate the differences in length or thickness which I think is good since rapid writing will tend to "shrink" differences, but don't get too crazy! The size of notes in the your text is a good plan to follow, but your natural writing may be larger or smaller than average, just like with handwriting.
Write the sentences and word lists from your text repeatedly until you can write them fluently--and fluently does not mean sloppily or hurriedly or even rapidly. (But do not write too slowly either!) Never read one word and then copy the word; with connected matter, try to read phrases of about 10 words or so and then begin writing. Some experts advocate not writing word lists, but writing just the connected matter. I think it's good to write words to get a "feel" for the words before you start on the connected matter, but don't write the same word over and over and over. Write a group of words, perhaps five or six, and then start with the first one again, repeating the whole group a total of maybe five times or until you feel comfortable writing them. Writing the same word hundreds of times results in mental and physical fatigue; learning will stop long before the tenth repetition has been reached.
If you can get someone to dictate the material to you after you've practiced it first--or use a tape recorder and dictate it yourself--that's even better than merely reading and copying shorthand. Compare your shorthand outlines to those of the book and give extra practice to the outlines you didn't write correctly or well. Most shorthand books give instructions on how to dictate the material and how to calculate the words per minute you dictate. If you're scribbling away and then can't read back what you've written, the dictation was too fast. I repeat: MASTERY BEFORE SPEED.
Lesson 1 should be dictated around 40 words per minute. It sounds horribly slow until you begin writing! By the time you finish theory, you should be able to comfortably write 80 words per minute or more on material you've practiced as listed above.
I was self-taught in shorthand and managed to master it. From this website, I've heard from hundreds of other people who have done the same thing--and some in several different shorthand systems! You can do it too but it does take effort. But, as I've always said, the skill of shorthand is well worth the time it takes, not just for business use, but for personal use as well.
Good luck in all your shorthand endeavors!