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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Hills

Spark's Tips for Using Shorthand, and How It Can Help Your Student Take Better Notes.

In our last blog we discussed different note-taking techniques. Today, we want to talk about how shorthand can help your student take better, faster notes in class. In fact, certain shorthand methods can deliver 150 to 200 words a minute! That’s close to the speed required by a court reporter!

Shorthand is a system of simplified abbreviations or symbols used to speed up the writing process. According to Omniglot, the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages, in antiquity, the ancient Egyptians had a shorthand system of simplified hieroglyphics and the Chinese developed a shorthand style that reduced and connected all the characters together in one long stroke. Moving through history, the Romans had a shorthand method that ended up being used in Europe, and the Greeks found ways to reduce letters to a single stroke, with common words, prefixes and suffixes having their own special symbol.

In English, we have quite a few shorthand methods, but before we get into those, let's discuss how your student can get started.

Baby Steps to Learning Shorthand

1) Start with abbreviations. There are certain words that are really long, like to name “Napoleon,” and writing them down every time they come up is just annoying. As far as your child’s writing goes, depending on the class, there may even be a specialized vocabulary which can lend itself to shorthand.

You or your child might already be using abbreviations. Wonderful! You are already technically taking your first steps into shorthand writing.

2) After you are comfortable working with abbreviations for long words, follow the Greeks’ line of thought. Begin looking for replacements for some of the shorter, more common words. First, find the words you and your child write most frequently. If you look, you will likely find many conjunctions like “and,” “but,” and “or;” pronouns such as “it” or “they;” and some of those multi-use words like “that.”

Look for symbols that make sense to you and your child as replacements for these small words. Refer to the shorthand systems if you need some ideas. For example, the Pitman shorthand symbol for “is” is a small circle resting just atop the line you are writing on, while the word “the” is a dot located right on the line.

3) After you have the shorter words down, work towards switching out different vowel sounds and different prefixes like “dis-” or “inter-” and suffixes such as “-ment” and “-tion.”This starts working the symbols into the words you are writing.

Remember that even these bits and pieces will need a lot of practice before their use becomes second nature to you and your child. Try introducing one new symbol every weekend so you both have time to practice before the week starts. Then you have to whole week implement that symbol.

If even that seems like it might be difficult, make it something you both learn over summer. A summer class taken together with lots of time to practice could work really well. Or a tutoring session here and there to give your child some help and a chance to practice. If you decide a tutor is the way to go, reach out to us here at Spark Tutors; we are proud to be a part of any scholastic support or academic endeavor. Whether you sign up for a class, schedule a tutoring session, or work on your own, learning something new is always exciting. And, as an additional benefit, it keeps your child mentally sharp and in the rhythm of studying so there is less learning loss over the vacation.

Now let's get in the more technical methods pf short hand. The most famous are two that were developed in the early and mid-1800s and another invented in the mid-1900s. The first two are phonetic, which means the writer records the sounds of a word as opposed to the proper spelling of a word. Phonetic shorthand systems lend themselves to faster writing, but require more learning and a mental shift in how you write. These are the systems that can get up to 200 words per minute. The last is a spelling-based system based on the alphabet. This makes it easier to learn, but slightly slower in terms of writing speed, though still clocking in 150 words per minute as the top speed. These three shorthand methods have been adopted and adapted by many people in various cultures and languages around the world.

Pitman Shorthand

The first shorthand method systematized and taught was created by Sir Isaac Pitman, hence the name. This is one of the two phonetic systems of shorthand.

The appearance of Pitman shorthand included lines with angles and curves, with a unique emphasis on thicker and thinner lines for further symbol possibilities. It also uses not only the space within the writing line, but some the space outside of the line as well, since the placement of a symbol can change the meaning. The symbols primarily refer to consonants with the vowels being smaller dots or dashes in specific locations around the other letters.

Gregg Shorthand

This was the second method of shorthand invented. Its creator was John Robert Gregg and it is the second of the two phonetic systems of shorthand. This shorthand technique is similar to Pitman Shorthand in that it focuses on consonants, but the letter symbols differ as do the vowels.

Consonants are swishes, lines, and squiggles with the vowels being either hooks or circles on the other letters.

Teeline Shorthand

The is the final system of shorthand, developed by James Hill as a standardized shorthand for journalists and is still taught today. This is the spelling-based shorthand system. While this method does focus on the actual spelling of words, students are instructed to omit silent letters and even vowels if they can. Teeline shorthand is something of a visual collision of the Pitman and Gregg systems. Teeline includes straight and curved lines with many acute angles, mounds, and circles. Placement within the writing line changes the meaning of the character.

Learning an entire system of shorthand might be a little overwhelming for most people. Though it ends up being worth it, there is a lot of memorization, study, and practice in the beginning. It might not be something your child is prepared to do right now.

However, if transitioning completely to shorthand is a little ambitious, dial it back a little and use bits and pieces.


New approaches and creative solutions are all around us. Hopefully, this article sparked an idea in your mind for different ways you can support your child in school. We’ll see you at the tutoring table!

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