To the uninitiated, shorthand looks like a strange group of lines and shapes, but to secretarial staff who have learned this skill through a minute taking course, it is the key to them performing their job to the best of their ability.
In the past, most professionals learned Pitman as part of their secretarial training, but these days many more people are opting for a modernised version, Teeline, says Elly Hyde, training manager at the Pitman Training Centre in Holborn.
“It’s much easier to learn than a lot of the other types of shorthand on the market. It takes a lot less time to cover,” she explains.
“It’s based on phonetics so it’s easier to write, you don’t have to use thick and thin strokes.”
It works by removing as many vowels as possible from a word so that, in most cases, you are just left with the consonants, and then using strokes to represent these, creating words and phrases, or ‘outlines’.
The strokes are based on the shapes of normal letters, but shortened forms of them. There are also strokes to represent common sounds within words, such as ‘ink’, ‘ant’ and ‘ence’.
Users can also develop their own personal outlines for words they use regularly, such as proper nouns.
Another advantage of Teeline is that it can usually be read back and transcribed by other people, even if they were not the ones taking the shorthand note in the first place.
The speed at which secretarial staff can pick up the skill is also appealing to trainees.
“Pitman is still available at some centres, but when people find out the time involved, they normally pick Teeline, because it’s much easier.
It just seems to be the more modern way to go,” Ms Hyde explains.
In terms of securing employment, it does not really matter with which system you do shorthand training.
“Most employers aren’t bothered about what type of shorthand you use, as long as you can write fast and read it back,” says Ms Hyde.
“The only time somebody would specify a particular type of shorthand is if they already had a pool of shorthand people and they wanted everyone to have the same style, so they can read each other’s notes,” she explains.
According to Ms Hyde, the main concern is that whatever type of shorthand you use, it is practical and allows you to take down information quickly, concisely and, most importantly, accurately.
The simplicity of Teeline has also meant that it is easy for non-English speakers to pick up, allowing people who have come over to this country to further their careers and learn it without too much trouble.
Ms Hyde suggests that the reason for this is its base in phonetics.
“There’s a lot of logic involved because once you’ve learned the rules you just apply those rules to any outline. So it’s quite simple to learn and also it can be translated into other languages as well,” she explains.
Furthermore, learning Teeline, in some ways, is like learning another language based on your own, so anyone who has managed to become fluent in another tongue is likely to be able to transfer the skills they used to become bilingual to picking up shorthand.
It is also transferrable across various professions, so if you decide to move from being a legal secretary to working in the medical secretarial sector then you will still be able to use your Teeline shorthand.
If there is a word that you have never written before then you simply need to apply the rules you have learned to create the outline for it, says Ms Hyde.
Trainees taking courses in secretarial studies can learn the basics of Teeline in just 35 hours through shorthand courses with Pitman training.
This will take you to a speed of around 40 words per minute (wpm), although Ms Hyde stresses that employers look for speeds of 70wpm.
Those wanting to achieve this speed are advised to sign up to the 80-hour course, which also includes speed development and vocabulary extension, rather than just the theory taught in the ‘fast’ course.
“It’s advisable to do lots of practice to build up speed and confidence. There are lots of dictation exercisies within the course,” Ms Hyde adds.