Unfamiliar words in dictation

What do all of you do when you run into unfamiliar words in dictation? I notice that even at 60wpm, I totally flip out, make some vague scribble that’s always wrong, and then end up so behind I have to start over.

For example, I’ll be going along just fine: “I trust that you will have made the appropriate…” and then boom, “accommodations” I’m lost and write some weird “akmsh” thing only after trying to figure out how to write it for a good second or two, which puts me behind. And if more unfamiliar words crop up, all hope is lost, and I end up at least 10 words behind and have to stop shortly thereafter. It’s really discouraging!

Is there any particular technique to overcoming this? I’m sure it’s impossible to have every word always on the tip of your pen, but there must be some trick to getting it down and staying on time anyway.


(by niftyboy1 for everyone)

7 comments Add yours
  1. To quote Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, "DON'T PANIC."  I know that is easy to say and I don't mean to be flip.  Your instinct to write *something* is a good one.  You need to not freak when you realize you blew an outline.  Once you write something, let it go — you know that that's not the last shock to your system.    With more practice you will also develop the ability to carry a few words.  I also have the best comfort when I'm right on the heels of the dictator.  Lately in my practice (I'm pretty rusty) I find I need to write through that panic.  I try to write out the syllables of the word.  I can usually carry 5-7 words behind the dictator and hanging on will allow me to be rescued by a good phrase.  The dictator will have to take a breath at some point soon, too.  Repeat the dictation a time or two.     

  2. In practice, when given an unfamiliar word, one writes anything that comes to the mind (more than likely, phonetically).  However, when one is learning shorthand, one should avoid unfamiliar words for the very reason that it may create a mental block!  So my recommendation is to do a preview of the passage and highlight the words that may create a problem.  Practice those words first, then take the dictation at the desired speed.  It may sound like cheating, but in fact, it is not.  It both helps your speed, and at the same time, it increases your vocabulary.

  3. Chuck makes a good point.  If you are doing unfamilar dictation in practice and you don't have a transcript, you could stop where you don't know an outline and look it up in a dictionary, then start over and see how far you can get.  But this should be outlines you could know if you have the rule all ready, if it's from a rule you haven't learned, then you may want to wait on unfamiliar dictation.
    If you have learned the entire shorthand theory and are doing unfamiliar you could write it out the best you can.  I'd suggest to keep going for a few more words, like said above, 5-7, and see if you can catch up.  If not, then practice the outlines you are unfamilaar with, then start over and see how far you can get the next time.  If you want you could even skip some words, or write the first outline, and finish the dictation, as you may be able to figure out the words.    One thing to remember is that you probably won't get perfect shorthand outlines until… well I don't know when I'm still waiting! LOL.  But I do the best I can and usually can figure it out or if it's not suppose to be transcribed exactly (I don't have that in my job and haven't) then I can substitude an appropriate word.  So as you're taking dictation in practice, write down as much as you can and keep moving.  Eventually you'll get all the outlines perfect, or close to perfect. Besides you can't say you take 60wpm if you only do 5 words of that dictation, can you?  If you try to take down the entire letter you can… with errors, but still 60 wpm.  At least I would prefer that for myself. Debbi

  4. I have found that if you don't know the word, write an abbreviation for it – in this case "accomodations" becomes accom.  I was a secretary for many years and the others are correct, you don't have time to "think" about the outline so the abbreviation method worked for me.  Later when you do have time, look up the outline to make sure you will write it correctly, then add it to your list of words to practice.  When I am listening to someone, the news, or translating a book, whatever, while practicing now and I come upon a word I don't know, I still do the same thing.    So that's my two cents…

  5. I agree with both Chuck and JoanneK.

    In the learning stages, words should be previewed and practiced before dictation begins.

    But in actual dictation, I found the unfamiliar words–no matter what I scribbled–stood out in my notes (probably because they were no where near as neatly written as the surrounding outlines). As long as I got the first few sounds, I could figure out what the word was for the transcript and then look it up for practice.


  6. Thanks for all the great tips, guys! After leafing through my copy of Gregg Speed Studies (1961 edition), I found a page describing just that, and it says pretty much what all of you said. It even said, interestingly, that when you're practicing, if you get too far behind, just drop the words and pick up where the dictation is because the point is building speed, not making a 100% transcription.

    I'm at that point (finally) where I've finished all the theory and am now trying timidly to build speed. I'm at 50wpm at the moment. Not very fast, I admit it! It feels really weird to be writing Gregg at 60wpm when I'm pushing myself, since I've been writing it exclusively for penmanship (so pretty slowly with lots of crossed-out outlines) for the past four years.

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