Stenography and Unpredictability - [225 and Beyond #002]

Stenographers have to deal with unpredictability every day of their careers—you never know what the next word to be uttered will be. Maybe it’ll be “and”; maybe it’ll be “heterodoxy”. 

So unpredictability is part of the job. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a bad thing; in fact, you can learn to use unpredictable situations to your advantage.

When an extremely uncommon word comes up, a mediocre reporter will freeze and drop; a good reporter will pull through, either by fingerspelling or writing the word out phonetically. The ideal reporter will not just manage to deal with the situation in the moment, but after the job will put the word in his dictionary multiple ways to be ready for next time. From something seemingly negative, he has become stronger.

Let’s consider two things you can do to prepare for unpredictable words.

The Importance of Options

It’s crucial to have different ways to write something because if you forget one way, you can fall back on another. For example, if you only have a brief defined for a given word and nothing else, there is nothing to fall back on if you forget that brief.

However, if you have various ways to write out a given word as well as a brief, it’s more likely that the word will translate in the heat of the moment. Obviously, then, dictionary-building work is important. 

It is even more fundamental to have as many prefixes and suffixes defined as possible, and even more fundamental than this, in turn, is having good fingerspelling skills. With a combination of these skills, you will be able to get any word to translate.

Exposure to Uncommon Words

Just as you get stronger by lifting heavier and heavier weights, you develop the ability to deal with uncommon words by practising to increasingly difficult dictations.

This holds true for both students and reporters. If you only practise what is familiar—for example, accident cases—you will never push yourself and get to the point of doing what is harder, and more lucrative, such as reporting patent cases or captioning a microbiology class.

One of the biggest mistakes that students make is only practising to the standard dictation given in school. Whatever NCRA test you have to pass probably doesn’t reflect what you’ll have to report in real life. By not exposing themselves to more technical material, students can stunt their realtime progress because they are simply not exposed to enough new words to challenge them and make them build their dictionary.

It’s unbelievably simple to start putting this into practice. There are hundreds of college lectures on YouTube from universities like MIT and Harvard that you can practise to. Here’s a link to the biology classes that I’ve been practising to recently: MIT Biology Class.

If a lecture is too fast at its original speed for you right now, then download the video speed controller Chrome extension and just reduce the speed until it’s at a speed that you can handle.

Doing 15 minutes a day of this sort of practice on top of your normal speed practice will help you immensely to develop your realtime skills.

These two strategies can help you to prepare beforehand for unpredictable words, but they are ultimately defensive.

What can you do to go on the offensive and actually benefit from your mistakes? Next week’s article will talk about just that.


Elsewhere On The Web:

How to get in the flow — A quick guide to how to get in the flow of doing something. This is a skill which I think is incredibly valuable, as it means a spare 10 or 15 minutes can be used for a good practice session.

The Long Game — This is applicable to this week’s subject! If you take a long-term approach to pretty much anything, you can do extraordinary things that people who think in terms of the short term could never dream of. Think how fast you would get if you practise every day for the next five years. Think how good your dictionary would get if you added five words to it every day for the next five years. The time’s going to pass anyway…


Quote Of The Week:

It's hard to escape average performance if you need someone to make sure you're focused and disciplined. The best — in any field — drive themselves when no one is around. They don't need someone pushing them.” — Sean Parrish


I hope you gained some useful insights from this week’s newsletter. If you thought the punctuation looked a bit funny, I’m going by British punctuation rules.

If you have any questions you’d like to ask, just hit reply to this email. I’d like to start doing a “Questions from Readers” section in the newsletter.