Shorthand marker’s blog: tips from the latest shorthand exams

A number of students were obviously very well prepared for their recent Teeline exams. The change of ink colour from black to blue, midway through the first two minutes of a dictation proved that the unfortunate candidate whose pen ran dry, had a reserve close at hand. Full marks for being prepared. A gold star for passing despite the major setback!

Quite a few candidates had obviously listened to their tutor about taking full advantage of the words in the title of a dictation piece. ‘Music Festival’ was one such example which was regularly reduced to ‘ms fst’ each time it appeared.

No student would knowingly give three marks away by failing to transcribe one tiny outline – but a few did in recent exam pieces. The treacherous little culprit? ‘a lot of’. The letter ‘L’ below the line is so easily missed, so be aware. It could make the difference between pass and fail.

Have you ever noticed that people who speak English as a second language have problems with our silent letters? The word ‘bomb’ often has the final ‘b’ sounded. Heaven only knows how they cope with words like ‘bough’, ‘cough’ and ‘gnat’.

I suspect that shorthand students who have a particularly good command of English spellings have to ‘unlearn’ their knowledge. To borrow a phrase from TV’s Masterchef, they need to deconstruct words and listen to their sounds.

Just to make matters more demanding, Teeline is neither a phonetic nor a literal system. It’s a mixture of both. That is something which can take some explaining. The word ‘bough’ for example, actually has an ‘ow’ sound and it is understandable why a student would stumble when hearing the word in a dictation piece.

It is worth both students and those who teach shorthand making a point of identifying and practising these idiosyncrasies.

Here are a few to start you off: kneel, tour, succumb, rogue, quiche, physique, lounge, doughnut, debut.

Sorry to go on about this, but punctuation is important. For those taking exams, a full stop or a question mark can help make sense of a shorthand note when the outlines are vague. For the working journalist, a misplaced full stop can completely change the sense of a quote. For example: ‘The raid took place at the bank on the corner of High Street at ten o’clock there was another robbery in another part of the town.’

Without a full stop it is unclear whether it was the bank raid or the other robbery which took place at ten o’clock.

I am sure the police inspector who briefed a reporter with the details of the crimes would lose confidence in the reporter’s abilities if they made the wrong assumption. Their editor would be even less happy if he had to wait for half an hour while the reporter tried to get back in touch with the officer to check.

About half a dozen students whom I recently marked had left full stops out of their notes. Most correctly guessed where they should be and inserted them accurately in their transcription. As always, a few got it wrong.