Progress Report!

After several attempts over the past year and a half or so I’ve finally succeeded in establishing a solid daily study routine. This morning I finished Lesson 29 in Simplified so I’m almost half way through the core book, woot!

Reading was slow and awkward in the early lessons and made it hard to create consistent study.  What helped me get past it was acquiring a copy of Most Used Shorthand Words and Phrases (Kessinger Rare Reprints). I spent a week reviewing all the theory I’d covered so far with a fresh, expanded word bank and it made a huge difference. The word list given in the book with each lesson simply wasn’t enough examples of the new theory for it to really stick. Now it’s part of my regular study. I supplement the new “vocabulary” for every single lesson.

I’m starting to acquire a certain impatience to get through the entire book due to what for me are certain negative aspects of the reading and writing material. The first is that the male bias (due to the era in which the book was written) is really irritating to me as a woman. I can’t help thinking, “Yo. Mr. Gregg. Women are executives too.” The redundancy of words and phrases and lack of intellectual depth also threatens to drive me mad. I understand the redundancy as a learning device of course, and I can see the reasons behind lack of depth, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating. Every single day I think. “Geez, I can’t wait to finish this book so that I can go read normal and more interesting stuff posted in the forum!”

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18 comments Add yours
  1. I can really identify with your experience Laura, I felt exactly the same way with my French DJS manual and its horrendously boring reading material. Now that I have finished it, I can say the learning curve is really exponential, for me it went from very slow progress through I’d say the first two thirds of the book, to rapidly increasing ease and speed towards the end. And now that I’m done with it and can open the book and read any text almost fluently, I wouldn’t say I find the material more interesting, but at least it really isn’t as painful to read now as it used to be, I can even find myself reading a couple of business letters at night before going to sleep, and laughing at all that 20th century prejudice and misogyny. You are VERY lucky though because you have a wealth of very diverse material waiting for you after this book – in French we have none!

    1. Once you finish the manual, you will have all the stuff Carlos wrote in Simplified and it's very varied, Laura… 🙂

      For the rest, well, it's just the mindset of an era… It's the past.

  2. Glad to hear about your progress, Laura.

    About the language, as Christine mentioned, these books were published in the 40s-50s when women executives were few and far between, so it not unexpected that you would expect language like that. About the depth and content, remember that the manual was written for high school students; the author (in this case Mr. Leslie; Dr. Gregg didn't really write the Simplified manual) preferred the use of simple language (introduced very slowly) and lots of repetition to illustrate principles. Concentrate on the learning, read the lessons in the manual like one reads a book, write the lesson shorthand in your notebook, and forget about those minor inconveniences.

  3. There are definite reasons that the material in the shorthand textbooks, especially the beginning ones, is boring/uninteresting:

    (1) The letters in any particular lesson (say lesson 16) could only include words that could be constructed from the shorthand principles presented in the previous 15 lessons.

    (2) The letters in the textbooks were used for dictation speed building purposes in shorthand classes.  The students' minds needed to focus on constructing shorthand outlines rapidly, not thinking about the content of the letter.  Thinking about interesting content would deter them from getting down the outlines as quickly as possible.  Typewriting materials (timed speed tests in particular) were constructed with this same idea in mind.  This is a basic principle of the psychology of skill.  Much has been written about this.

    (3) The authors (Leslie, Zoubek, Hosler) of the beginning Gregg shorthand textbooks, both at the high school and college levels, tried to utilize, as much as possible, the most commonly used words in business correspondence.  A number of research studies (primarily at the doctoral level) analyzed business correspondence and developed lists of these words; i.e., the 500 most-used words; the 1500 most-used words; and the 5000 most-used words.  In shorthand dictation material, the idea was that if the student mastered the most commonly used words, he/she would be able to think a little longer on unfamiliar words that were encountered during the dictation process.

  4. Of course it's important to work through the textbook progressively. But that doesn't mean you can't try to read the posts to this blog before finishing the book. They may be hard at first, but just as would be the case of a language, wide exposure to the system is valuable to learning it. In fact, any skill is best learned through a combination of regular practice and extended exposure. In fact, early exposure through reading is the basic idea behind the functional method.

    When I was first learning shorthand, I had access to a library with a wealth of Gregg materials. I started to read stories in Today's Secretary after finishing only about five or six lessons. Those stories are very light literature, but plenty hard going for a beginning shorthand student. I remember the very first story I tried to tackle; I was stumbling my way through that mass of curlicues when I came on a phrase about a window with chintz curtains. I got the words "chintz curtains" immediately, though I'd never seen either word in Gregg before, and the sense of achievement was sublime. It stimulated me to finish the story, and to continue to read above my level regularly. I'm certain that the extended reading helped my learning.

    1. Chintz curtains! What a great anecdoe, thank you so much for sharing!

      You make a good point about "stretch" reading material. I know from the experience of learning several foreign languages as well as teaching ESL that what they call "reading for gist" is a valuable exercise so I may just put your suggestion to use and play around with some of the material in the archives. (I already have a ton of those passages printed out/hole-punched/stored in a binder for future reference.

  5. I found most of the reading material in Simplified to be excruciating in it's crass commercialism. The gender bias was unpleasant, particularly when almost every letter addressed to a woman seemed to target her as a spender of money (mostly on luxury goods), not an earner. Though it also wasn't entirely unexpected given the time period. I take both to be artifacts of the American business culture of the 40's and 50's.

    It was a great relief to read stories in Simplified here on the blog. I'll second that just because you're not through the Manual doesn't mean you won't already be able to read the stories here.

    Interestingly, the role of women as represented in the Anniversary material seems a bit more progressive than Simplified, even though some of it was written earlier. There's many references to women going to college, and some showing women being community organizers, or professionals attending conferences. In the Anni Functional method part one, in addition to a story on John Smith, there's stories about Joan of Arc and the "Molly Pitcher" figure from the folklore of the American Revolution. 

    There's still sales letters marketed to women primarily around fashion, and the material still reflects some of the gender disparities at the time, but overall it seems to represent women in more diverse roles than pure consumer.

    There is one Anni story that got my hackles up where a woman is lauded for giving up her college education so her brother could continue his when they didn't have enough money to do both (and she was the one who was motivated to get an education, while he dithered about not being sure what he wanted to do). The brother then takes care of her until she is "happily married" off to his colleague. The story is celebrated as a tale of commendable sacrifice on her part. For a minute or two it made my blood boil.

    Reflecting on it and trying to read between the lines of the cultural assumptions of the period, I'm guessing that around that time, while both of them could go to college, the brother might have had more earning opportunities from a college degree than the sister. I suspect college education for women might have been considered more a path to self-improvement and personal character (or possibly what my grandmother refers to as the "M.R.S. degree"; she went to college and got her history degree when she was 50 just for her own satisfaction) than a path to a career.

    To be fair to the Anni material, there is also a story praising a woman insisting on going back to college after dropping out because of pressure from her guardians.

    I'm not sure why the Simplified material seems to paint women in more narrow roles (consumer or secretary, usually). One thing might be that there's overall less Simplified material. Part of it might be due to the extreme focus on business dictation (and as I understand it, earlier more men had been secretaries, then it gradually became stereotyped as a purely women's profession). I also wonder if the Simplified material is reflecting something of the cultural developments of the time. Often there's a mistaken assumption that progress is linear, and doesn't backtrack; but it's possible that ideas around women's roles were actually more progressive in the 20's and 30's than the 40's and 50's.

    I haven't done the work of comparative research of the time periods, or making a systematic review of Gregg material publication dates cross-referenced with how women are represented, but those are just some of the thoughts and conjectures I've had while studying.

    1. Yes, what you term the "crass commercialization" really bugs me as well. And I have a degree in accounting! I am both proud and fond of my business educational background, but even still, all these collection letters where they try to be clever, these pushy sales letters, they test my commitment to finish the book.

      I think part of it is that, in order to get through it, I'm consistently doing a lesson every day. That means every single day, without pause, I'm having to read this stuff and my tolerance is starting to wear thin. Initially it didn't bother me as much.

      1. Can relate! That's what it was like during my slog to get through. The worst ones for me are the "Dear Consumer, we see that you haven't been spending money lately. Are you ok???" Very reminiscent of Brave New World.

        1. Also, Dear Person who's account is overdue: We want to help you pay because I'm a nice account manager, but I'll call my big bad boss if I have to.

    1. Hi Laura, I'm new to the blog but though I would chime in because I feel the same way 🙂 I know why it's written the way it is but it does grind my gears…though it also makes me appreciate my life in 2020 more than usual!!

  6. I'm in the very early stages of a cloud sourced project to create passages (and eventually sound files), introducing words in order of frequency. Roughly that order. We'll probably adjust it so that when you learn a sound or syllable, it will be used several times in the same set.

    If anyone wants to lead the project, I'd be happy to hand over the reigns.

      1. Reign is ultimately from Latin regnum (via French). It's related to the words rex (king), regina (queen), and regime.

        Rein is, well, part of reindeer–a deer that can be driven like a horse. But no g.

        Then there's rain, but that's a different thing altogether. Just to be confusing, its German cognate has a g: Regen.

        1. Reindeer…I need to add that to my list of words to always look up.

          I'll probably try regns next time.

          Reins just looks wrong in some fonts, and some moods.

          I'll try your mnemonic next time.


    1. Another Redditor is working on texts by letter frequency. There's already a fun short story with the 10 most common letters. Looks to be a much better approach, at least for learning the basics shapes. 

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