Shorthand Dictation Files

Shorthand is a hobby of mine, but I don’t know anyone who dictates at learners’ speeds as a hobby. So, I started creating my own files. Then I decided to share them:

So far it’s only a few chapters of Gregg Simplified, but I’m willing to add more methods. Once I have a decent recording, it takes 5-10 minutes to produce a full set at different speeds, independent of length of passage. (Yay computers!) An original at 60wpm produces a reasonable set ranging from 40 to 90 wpm.

Contact me if you want other passages or speeds, or if you’re interested in helping.


Shorthand Dictation with Audacity

Remember the complicated method, where I typed in the passage, then used text-to-speech (after first putting in codes for pauses)? The un-natural sounding dictation and random reminders that I was too cheap to buy the licensed version?

It’s history. Honoured history, but still history.

The new method involves reading at a reasonably constant speed (or a variable speed, if that’s what you like), then using Audacity, an open source (free) sound file editor, to change the tempo.

Alternatively, you can change the speed of any sound file. Start with an audiobook, and change it to your preferred speed.

The new method is also faster, even if you’re a fast typist. Cepstral would sometimes hang, especially if I wanted to replay something. Exporting to a sound file happened in real time, which was a pain if I wanted to prepare a large batch.

Audacity lets me scroll around in the file however I want. It’s fast enough that I can make individual sound files one at a time without going nuts. It will export to many different formats. I can also cut and paste, to make one file with several passages at one speed, or one passage at several speeds. It takes me five minutes (maybe ten) to open the book and prepare a passage at five speeds.

Details, starting with text you want to record.

  1. Calculate how long it should take at different speeds, in seconds.
  2. Read it to the computer at a fairly constant speed, near the middle of your range. You don’t have to be exact. 60wpm is good if you want 40 to 100 in the final recording. Audacity records fine.
  3. Open the file in Audacity, if you recorded with a different program.
  4. Select (drag over) the sounds. (Ctrl-A selects all.)
  5. In the menus: Effects / Change Tempo. Put the target time in “length”. Ok.
  6. Either Save the file, or follow the next set of instructions to get many different speeds.
  7. Select and copy the track.
  8. Click on the sheet below the first track.
  9. Paste to create a new, identical track.
  10. Keep pasting new tracks until you have one for each target speed.
  11. Select the contents of each track and Change Tempo to the target time.
  12. Click on the info to the left of each track and Rename the track. This will be the file name of that track. I like the book, paragraph and speed.
  13. You can add a brief audio description to the start of each track.
  14. In the menus: File / Export Multiple. Each track to a separate file. (It’s easier to use them this way, but you could make one big file with all the tracks.)
  15. Copy files to iPod, read the boards one last time, turn off the computer, and work on shorthand.

Other Info:

If you want to try the beats per minute feature, start by forcing it to the right length for 60wpm. Then tell it you’re starting at 60bpm and you want whatever. I found it easier to go by target length.

You can record in other programs. Audacity will read most of the common formats. The recording program that come with Vista only makes WMA files. Audacity will not read them as first installed (MS doesn’t want them to). It’s easy to add the extension to Audacity, but if you already have Audacity, why bother with the Windows method?

If you start with a different sound file, you’re on your own for deciding how much to change the speed. 50wpm to 60wpm is a 17% increase, but 100wpm to 110wpm is only 10%.

Shorthand Milestone: 60 wpm Cold and 80 wpm Drilled, and Better Dictation Method

The first dictation practice today seemed a bit fast, but just within reach, so I checked the math I used for the dictation. It was 10 wpm faster than I had intended. Instead of a cold take at 50, I had just finished 60. So, I added 10 wpm to each step of my usual routine, and drilled it up to 80.

I remember when the entire assignment was 100 words, and it took twenty minutes to write out five times.

Go me!

Milestone Met! 70wpm for prepared passage.

A successful take at 70 wpm, without needing to overshoot and drop down again!

I worked up to it over four takes. I always do a slower take or two, and check against the text, before working up. When I really want to push the speed, I then do one at target, one at +10wpm, one at +20, and then down again, by which point the target seems rather slow.

I updated my study routine to include the new speed for every passage, and took out the slowest. I’ll keep to this routine for another few lessons, then start pushing the speed again.

15 more wpm and I’ll have met my goal for prepped material! My final goal by the end of the book is 85 for cold takes, limited to words I’ve already encountered. At this rate, I may not have finished the theory, so once I reach speed I’ll do less speedbuilding and more theory (although speed-building does help reinforce the theory).

Once I’m done the theory, it’ll be random passages alternating with word lists. If I rely on random passages to build vocabulary, it’ll take forever, since most words in a typical passage are the same ones, over and over.

Go me!

Typed Shorthand

Latest obsession: Typed Shorthand

No, I’m not abandoning Gregg, which is a pen version. Not making great progress, but not abandoning it. I like it, and pen and paper are more convenient than a computer.

Meanwhile, Son’s teacher has started him using an AlphaSmart Dana. His handwriting will never be good enough for him to compose with, and he now needs to write longish passages. He can dictate them reasonably well, but if he has to write them, he shuts down. With it, at least when it was new, his output was 5x the volume. A few weeks later, though, and it’s no longer new and fascinating. Still, the fact that he did it for a while is promising.

We bit the bullet and ordered one. The school’s IT department says he can print from it without networking (which is a risk to their system). The principal agrees with us that it will increase the school’s resources rather than being an unfair advantage for the rich kid. After watching him use it at home, I’ll even let him use spellcheck — he consciously uses it, and looks for the right word. He’s also aware that “doe snot” passes spellcheck. When writing by longhand, it’s such a struggle to get things down, and even he can’t read the results, that spelling is totally skipped.

Some have tried converting Gregg to a typed form, but I’m not thrilled with the result. Yes, Gregg has fewer than 26 shapes, but they don’t line up well to English letters. There are two forms for a few sounds, and which one you use counts.

This summer, we’ll resume the printing practise. For some things, the AlphaSmart doesn’t make sense, like math problems. For now, though, we’re letting him use the computer for everything at home. Yesterday he even tried BBC’s DanceMat Typing.

Just my luck,…

A very few days after shifting to Simplified, guess what appeared in the mail.

Anni Speed Studies, third edition. It was recommended when I said I was having trouble. It looks like a good book. It has penmanship pointers and lots of practice for each theory point. It also breaks the pre/suffixes and vocab into smaller sections. If I’d had it earlier, I’m not sure if I would have gotten as frustrated. The book I had been using, Fundamental Drills, has a bit more prose, which makes for more time in each chapter, but not as much advice.

I’ll read the advice in Anni Speed Studies and do the penmanship drills. They are for all editions. Gregg really is a robust and adaptable system. Many of the drills and pointers are in the Simplified manual already. Speed Studies is a good book to have on the shelf, but I still think Simplified is a happy medium between super high speeds vs more confidence that there’s enough info on the page to be unambiguous. I don’t usually put in much context, so “you’ll tell by context” just doesn’t give me the confidence it would give someone who always writes in full sentences.

Also, Gregg’s original system was much simpler than Anni. His competitors claimed that his system was too simple (anything to discredit your opponent!), so he made it more complex as a marketing ploy. Interesting, that these days marketing would want it simpler (unless it’s a video game, where the hard-core market likes complex). His early students, though, did phenomenally well. (I still think the one who was tested by the Pitman company, where the dictator gave up after six minutes, had reverted to “nouns and verbs”. I wish they had made him set aside his notes for a day, then transcribe, and marked his transcript. The way the story is written, the Pitman guys might claim he was only pretending to write, or was relying on memory.


Shhhh, Don’t Tell

I’ve switched shorthand methods again. For those not following, last summer I had committed to the most difficult edition of Gregg Shorthand, namely Anniversary. It’s also the one with the highest speed potential, if you use the advanced tricks and really work at it.

(And I bet you didn’t know there were different types of shorthand, let alone editions within each type! Trust me, there are, and I’ve tried most of them. Each has pros and cons, so it depends on what you want to use it for. Gregg has the best online group, it’s the first I tried as a teenager, and I like the way it looks.)

I was about half done Anni, depending on how you counted, enough to know it’s too frustrating for me. It assumes from day one that you want to reach court reporter speeds, where the person talks at his normal speed and you have to keep up, so it has all sorts of time-saving tricks. A lot of information is left out, so you need to rely on context. Some things are subtle, at least unless you’ve learned earlier chapters very, very well. Also, many of the brief forms are words that haven’t been used in over a century, but they don’t have them for words that are common. (Eventually, when more confident, I would have exchanged the meanings, but all the practice material uses the standard forms.)

I’m not comfortable leaving information out, or relying on subtle things. Yes, I’ve read material that does this. You get used to reading sentences twice and filling things in, like listening to a toddler or someone with a strong accent. But I want comfort.

I finally switched to Simplified (which isn’t all that simple compared to even later versions). It starts with a slightly  more modest goal, so there are fewer “tricks” in the core theory. Yes, pure Simplified maxes out about 50 wpm slower than pure Anni, but I’m not interested in those speeds. I’ll be very happy with a reliable 100wpm. (That’s enough to be a journalist in the UK. Court reporters need 225 wpm. Championship speed is 250 to 280, depending on the system and contest. There was a lot of competition between systems, and some sponsored their own contests. One claimed their writer could maintain 500wpm for several hours, which is faster than an auctioneer talks.)

The alphabet is the same for all editions of Gregg. The main differences are the order of presentation and the tricks, although the first few lessons are similar. If you can read the hardest, you can read all of them. It’s fairly easy to upgrade as well. Most high speed writers use a combination of systems, and their own tricks as well.

I’m 1/6 done writing out the new theory chapters already. I was planning on doing dictation for every chapter, but that adds half an hour or more, times 70 chapters is 35 more hours. On the other hand, if I were taking it in high school, they’d expect 100 hours in class and another 100 at home, and at the end of those 200 hours you take new material at 85wpm. We’ll see how it goes.

Don’t tell the Gregg group, though, at least not until I’m at least as far in the new one as I was in the old one.


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