Thursday, June 3, 2010

Steno 101: How to Do It?

Steno 101: How to Do It
Steno 101: Lesson Zero
Steno 101: Lesson One
Steno 101: Lesson Two
Steno 101: Lesson Three
Steno 101: Lesson Four
Audio version

A break from the What is Steno Good For series, just in case you've already been convinced by parts one through three and you're raring to get started. Obviously my dream of seeing steno sweep the world and capture the hearts and hands of Qwerty typists everywhere is not going to happen by itself. Efficient touch typing comes with practice, but anyone who knows the alphabet can hunt and peck on a keyboard and get accurate, if slow, results. That's not true of steno. You have to invest a fair amount of time in learning the different chords of the keyboard before you can start writing anything. When I went to steno school, they taught us a letter, then gave us a few sentences utilizing that letter, drilled us for a week until we were writing the practice sentences at about 20 WPM, then added another letter. It meant we spent a lot of time writing stuff like "The ape sat at the top step" over and over again, while my Theory teacher yelled "Use da pinky fingah!" at us in her charming Queens accent. I was bored and frustrated a lot of the time, and I think I could have gone a lot faster if I'd been left to my own devices.

I've been trying to think about how I've learned previous manual systems -- the B-flat major scale on a bassoon, the SNES controls for Super Mario World, the keyboard shortcuts in Vim. Mostly I've gone through a brief tutorial or overview of the system as a whole, and then I've just jumped in and tried to use what I learned, consulting a cheat sheet as necessary until I'd internalized all the patterns. I definitely welcome input from all the steno autodidacts reading this blog, because I'm very curious to discover how you wound up teaching yourselves steno. Ideally I'd love to make a steno theory computer game that offered both tutorials and practice; that's the best way I can think of to learn this stuff. But my programming skills are not yet up to devising educational fast-twitch action games with compelling gameplay and whupsnout graphics, so this is the best I can offer for the time being. First the cheat sheet, then (in a day or two, I'm hoping) the overview/tutorial in boring blog post form. Click to embiggen.

Audio version


Alice said...

Is that left side G right? May be different for you theory, but we do TKPW for initial G. Otherwise, not sure how you write "gl-" words.

Of course, the theory they taught us at school was a bit weird. We had initial and final for every letter. I'll admit having things like final C and H are pretty useless unless I'm really digging deep for a brief that doesn't conflict.

Mirabai Knight said...

Yikes! You are so totally right. Well spotted! The corrected version is uploading as I type this. Phew. I'm really glad you caught that.

Mirabai Knight said...

Wow, you have final C and final H? I'm trying to think of words where either of those would come in useful. I'm sure they exist, but I'm drawing a blank.

I use a lot of asterisk differentiation to select between homonyms, and vowel differentiation on top of that if there are more than two choices.

Stan Sakai said...

Question about briefs to all:

I started learning steno with the Phoenix theory on my old manual machine. I was actually surprised at how much of the practice sentences were phonetically and completely sounded out: /WHAUT/WAUS/HE/DAO/-G/TKUR/-G/TH-/...etc. and wondered how the heck this could be considered shorthand, me being a Gregg writer. I switched to StenEd unofficially after I downloaded Plover and started to play around with Mirabai's base dictionary until I was able to form a rudimentary understanding of basic phrasing and briefing. That's when I realized how abbreviated ACTUAL steno writing should be. Then when I got my steno machine and downloaded DigitalCAT, I also downloaded the StenEd dictionary listed on the free downloads page out of familiarity. I've always wanted to learn StenoMaster, but sadly I'm not able to cough up the $250 at the moment on top of pre-existing college-related expenses. Well, for the past week or so I've switched over *again*... now to the Philadelphia theory after hearing that many of StenoMaster's abbreviation principles and its overall structure are either derived from or inspired by many if not most of the base outlines in Philly. (Not saying StenoMaster is a ripoff or that it isn't a great theory in its own right)

Anyway, now that I've gotten more accustomed to such an extremely brief-heavy theory, I've gotten into the habit of pretty much abbreviating *everything* to oblivion. It's not uncommon that I write three or four briefs in a row in a lot of my sentences.


So I was wondering if this is okay as far as how it would affect my writing further down the road when I would have these habits of muscle-memory so ingrained that I wouldn't be able to write another way. I have never taken a class in steno so I don't really know how people come up with briefs or when it is appropriate to use one -- I just go all-out and make up briefs for everything possible as a side-effect of having studied Gregg. But mind you when I figure out a short but memorable way to write a given phrase, I ALWAYS try to maintain some sort of predictable consistency (notice that I used -UFP of phrases ending in "such" and -FP for phrases ending in "much").

I've even gotten to the point of creating briefs out of non-phonetic key combinations (TPHR = a lot) or adding phonetically irrelevant keys to pre-existing outlines to generate phrases: got = TKPWOT, got me = STKPWOEPL, got the = STKPWOT, got it = STKPW*OT, got all the = STKPWAOULT, etc. This "got plus word" principle applies to "get" as well, just with E stroked in place of O or added in.

Since I don't hesitate whatsoever using these shortcuts as opposed to writing them out in full it's all good, right? They won't test or judge me based on *how* I stroke out phrases on the CRR exam as long as I get the job done, would they?

I'm just concerned not knowing if these practices are completely normal (or considered positive) by formally taught stenographers or if they are building the foundation to really chaotic and sloppy writing once I get more advanced that could've been prevented had I just stuck with how the books recommended to stroke the phrases.

Thanks for reading my super-long post. I hope to receive the valuable wisdom of all you stenographic experts.

Mirabai Knight said...

Stan, your steno outlines look great to me. I'm definitely in favor of shortening one's writing as much as possible, and in my opinion you're doing it exactly the right way. You learned enough about a few different theories to grasp the general principles of steno, and now you're devising briefs as you find a need for them, reinforcing them immediately and consistently through useful repetition, using your own mnemonic tendencies and linguistic knowledge to avoid creating briefs that cause boundary errors or conflict with potential English word parts.

I know some people advocate that students adopt experts' theories and briefs wholesale, because they think that otherwise beginners will tangle themselves up trying to devise their own briefs, but I completely disagree with that way of thinking. I'm hopeless at memorizing other people's briefs, but I can't live without the ones I've invented. In my opinion, building one's own system piece by piece is the only way to get truly fast, efficient, and hesitation-free. I'm convinced that that's why Ed Varallo and Mark Kislingbury are so good: Not because they somehow both hit upon the One True Perfect Stenographic System (their theories are actually quite different from one another), but because they both built their own systems from the bottom up. They're intimately familiar with every outline in their respective dictionaries because each one sprang from their own brain and fingers.

You're well down that road already, Stan, and I commend you for it.

Mirabai Knight said...

Just to let you guys know that I've updated the chart slightly to make it more consistent in terms of ordering (before the middle section was ordered up-and-down while the other sections were left-and-right). I've also tried to make the text legends a bit less confusing. If you downloaded the prior version, you might want to redownload the new one, though it's essentially the same information. (I changed the color for R-R too, because I suddenly realized that I hated that awful wan custard yellow with a furious fiery passion.)

Alice said...

I'm fairly certain the final C has not come in useful at all yet. Even when I was doing cell bio and "lac" came up, I went with the asterisk first since it has that K sound. (Our final C is -SZ so maybe if there is ever a word that requires a soft C at the end, I might use it.)

The final H was kind of useful in helping me remember the outline for "uh"... until I realized that there was a conflict with my brief for "you had." :P I'm pretty sure I do use the final H on occasion though, just can't think of any good examples right now.

I find the final Q to be more useful - I use it for things like headquarters, liquid, aqua.

Also, I forgot to say this last night, but great work on that chart! It should be mandatory in all theory classes on the first day. :) The colors make it so much more effective in learning the placement of letters.

Your way of briefing is great! Actually, if you look at a lot of Mark Kislingbury's briefs, they also use lots of phonetically irrelevant keys. (I don't know if you know, but he's on Twitter and frequently posts briefs:

I am also very big on making my own briefs. You shouldn't be tied down by how other people write. Just as long as you don't accidentally make conflicts, however you want to write is good. (I hate when other students ask "What's THE brief?" for such and such a word. There's no one right way to write steno. That's why we have individual dictionaries.

Mirabai Knight said...

Oh, see, I find -SZ invaluable for making one-stroke plurals of words that end in S (so I guess it's my -es suffix, in a way). I wouldn't like to give that up.

I do liquid: KW*EULD

headquarters: HED/KWART/*ERS

aqua: ABG/WA

How do you do them?

I'm glad you like the chart! And I completely agree about the "What's THE brief?" thing. I remember even in theory I was annoyed by all the students who were asking for one definitive answer to every possible brief question. Give a man a brief, he has to memorize it alongside the other 26,500 briefs in the book. Teach a man to brief, and he can make them up his own damn self, whenever the need arises!

Tony said...

I wish I had had a chart like this when I was first starting to learn theory. This is so much clearer and more visually appealing than anything else I've seen.

I'm currently thinking a lot about theory too. I'm studying StenEd, but now that I'm in Chapter 16, where they're talking about "soundalikes," I'm finding I'm less than thrilled with their way of doing things.

I do realize that I am going to have to basically make my own theory because I'm just too opinionated.

I want all my briefs to be pronounceable, for one thing. I want there to be a consistent way of showing when one-stroke syllable-final consonant clusters are "out of steno order" as Carol Jochim (of Phoenix Theory) puts it.

Mirabai Knight said...

I want there to be a consistent way of showing when one-stroke syllable-final consonant clusters are "out of steno order" as Carol Jochim (of Phoenix Theory) puts it.

This is how I do it:

PHELT: melt
PH*ELT: metal

PWUBL: bubble
PWU*BL: bulb

The asterisk is a powerful tool!

I fall into the category of wanting my briefs to be pronounceable too. Of course, if they are you have to make extra sure that they're true nonsense syllables that don't occur elsewhere in English and not potential word parts that you might need for other definitions. The other school of thought (Kislingbury's) is to make briefs out of consonant clusters without vowels, and I certainly have a few of those, but by and large I find them hard to remember and easy to misstroke.

Tony said...

"This is how I do it:

PHELT: melt
PH*ELT: metal

PWUBL: bubble
PWU*BL: bulb

The asterisk is a powerful tool!"

This makes a lot of sense. Thanks, Mirabai! I think the learning curve is a lot less steep when things are consistent. One can drill anything into memory with enough practice, but it's great when a principle is easy to remember on the fly without consulting reference books.

Unknown said...

I also use -SZ for plural of words that end in S. (Though lately I find I've been doing the plural as a separate stroke because I am paranoid about misstrokes.) But the final C is just an extra option if I'm searching for a brief. Wouldn't use it if I thought it would conflict.

My final Q is -LGTS, so liquid would be HREULGTS, headquarters HELGTS (HQ without the E), aqua as ALGTS. I know Mark uses this key combo for either "this" or "that" briefs. I can never remember which is which, which is probably why I haven't used them even though they seem pretty useful.

Stan Sakai said...

Thanks for the feedback guys!

Unknown said...

A quick suggestion, have you considered converting your bitmap to a png? You lose no quality and reduce the filesize from 5.5M to 67k.

If you've a nix system handy then 'convert stengrid.bmp stengrid.png' will do the job for you.

Mirabai Knight said...

Heh, good idea. I've been using .pngs rather than .bmps for a while now, but I forgot to go back and change over the old files. Thanks for the reminder!

Mirabai Knight said...

Heh, I know it only took four months, but I finally changed the .bmp to .png!

leeo said...

I originally copied the "steno charts" of Pheonix Theory which has the keyboard layout with the "pressed keys" black. After about one hundred such charts I found it cumbersome. I needed something more concise, but the "standard" outline, which is the paper-tape reading without spaces /SPAEUS/-Z/ did not emphasize the fingering positions strongly enough for my taste. Hense I came up with the following:

....__'...: indicates an "untouched keyboard". The colon at the far right emphasizes the multiple positions for the right little finger. Each of the keys of course has its standard name

.t..__'...: .k..__'...:
..p.__'...: ..w.__'...:
...h__'...: ...r__'...:
....a_'...: ....o_'...:
...._e'...: ...._u'...:
....__'f..: ....__'r..:
....__'.p.: ....__'.b.:
....__'..l: ....__'..g:
....__'...t ....__'...s
....__'...d ....__'...z

Since each finger can also hit the "crack" between the two keys, that is given the following designation

.d..__'...: [TK]
..b.__'...: [PW]
...l__'...: [HR]
....@_'...: [AO] -- unicode utf-8: 40 commercial at
...._i'...: [EU]
....__'æ..: [FR] -- unicode utf-8: c3 a6 latin small letter ae
....__'.n.: [PB]
....__'..ç: [LG] -- unicode utf-8: c3 a7 latin small letter c with cedilla

The little finger has four buttons and four options four combination options:

....__'...¢ [TS] -- unicode utf-8: c2 a2 cent sign
....__'...$ [SZ]
....__'...þ [DZ] -- unicode utf-8: c3 b3 latin small letter thorn
....__'...ð [TD] -- unicode utf-8: c3 b0 latin small letter eth

I find this "charting" useful.
.kwr__'...: .tph@i'.n.d .t.h_i'...s .k.ha_'r..t ....__'..g: .kwr@u'...s .tph__'..l: ....__'fplt

Anonymous said...

Might I just suggest that the BEST theory out there is Philadelphia Clinic Theory! It is virtually conflict free, meaning it differentiates all homonyms...Much easier and more logical than StenEd or any other!

Anonymous said...

Might I just suggest that the BEST theory out there is Philadelphia Clinic Theory! It is virtually conflict free, meaning it differentiates all homonyms...Much easier and more logical than StenEd or any other!

Mirabai Knight said...

All dictionaries used with Plover have to be conflict-free, because Plover doesn't support conflicts, and if I have anything to say about it, it never will. Needless to say, the Plover default dictionary (from the NYCI/StenEd lineage with my own personal tweaks) is completely without conflicts. I can't stand conflicts.

Anonymous said...

Might I just suggest that the BEST theory out there is Philadelphia Clinic Theory! It is virtually conflict free, meaning it differentiates all homonyms...Much easier and more logical than StenEd or any other!

Clarissa Moreira said...

Thanks for the lesson and for Plover! \o/

I believe I found a typo in the alphabet image. Shouldn't the "K" on "Chorded letters only on left side/vowels" actually be a "C"?

At least when trying Fly 1.0 I get a C when making that chord. Also, I can't find a C anywhere else on this alphabet image, so I think this must be it. ^_^

Mirabai Knight said...

Yeah, that was an error by the graphic designer. She'll hopefully be fixing it within the next week or two. (':

game theory help said...
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David Friedman said...

Question on the letter z:

I'm wondering about the matter of whether z ought to be in the chart as S* or as STKPW on the left side.

On the one hand z is spelled as a single letter using STKPW (and *) but on the other hand S* is used for words that start with the letter z (e.g. zap, zit, zoo).

In Learn Plover! in Lesson 3B it speaks about z as being done with S*.

With it as STKPW there could be some confusion as people might find that single syllable words go as expected for the other letters but not for z.

Mirabai Knight said...

Yeah, it's a good point. There should be a note saying that Z is STKPW for fingerspelling purposes, but is sometimes done as S* (when there are no other conflicts) within words.

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Unknown said...

Thanks for the tips! I just started my classes and I want to get ahead of the game. I'm trying to get out of school in the allotted time frame being that the retention rate is so high! :/ Thanks for your time!!

Mirabai Knight said...

Good luck! Also consider Learn Plover, which is our updated and expanded online textbook: