It may look like another language, but we promise it’s not! This is the speed writing method of shorthand.

What is shorthand?

Used by journalists, court transcribers, and interpreters for many years, shorthand is a helpful tool for today’s consecutive interpreter. When consecutive interpreting, we may be conveying a lot of information into the target language, and must maintain accuracy even if there is a significant amount of information. Shorthand is an easy way to make notes in real time during these situations. This skill used to be regularly taught in school as preparation for the workforce. In fact, I completed my education in Mexico, and took shorthand in high school. To this day, I use many symbols while taking notes in court hearings, depositions or during 3-way calls with clients.

Many Different Types

There are many methods of writing in shorthand, some of them dating back to ancient Greece. One method of shorthand, Tironian, was developed by a Roman member of Cicero’s household and used throughout Europe for a millenium. Perhaps because pages of shorthand look a bit like runes or spells, the method fell out of favor when it started being associated with witchcraft or paganism. Each method has its own technique and features; some rely on simplified versions of letter, others have symbols for sounds. In Taylor shorthand, for example, the alphabet is reduced to 19 letters of simplified shape. C, for example, only either makes a ‘k’ sound or an ‘s’ sound, so is therefore omitted as a letter. Unless at the beginning or end of a word, all vowels are left out.

Taylor Shorthand

The industrial revolution created a demand for more accurate note-taking in business, and new methods of shorthand were developed. A German by the name of Franz Xaver Gabelsberger created an enormously popular shorthand method. The flowing nature of the letter forms and simple rules made his system easy to learn and quick to write. It was used as a system of shorthand in many languages, including Italian and Swedish.

Gabelsberger Shorthand
The Future of Shorthand

The proliferation of recording devices means that shorthand is not so regularly taught in school anymore. While some professions, such as journalism, often require the skill, it is largely falling out of use. For those who do want to learn, however, a number of resources exist. Books for the majority of systems are readily available online. Teeline, Gregg, and Pittman shorthand classes are available online, and often for free! And in today’s ever-connected world, a variety of online communities exist. Do you use shorthand in your professional practice? Let us know in the comments below.