The Surprising Benefits of Shorthand for Your Brain


Ever since the invention of writing, scribes have used various techniques to take notes quickly and effectively. Formally taught systems, called “shorthand” began to be taught in the 1800s, and a variety of systems of shorthand (or stenography) have been popular, including Gregg Shorthand, Pitman Shorthand, Speedwriting and Eclectic Shorthand.

Teeline Shorthand, developed by James Hill in 1968, is the accredited system for training journalists in the United Kingdom. It was created so that the basic alphabet can be quickly learned, and with practice speeds of up to 150 words per minute are possible.

Because Teeline is based on the alphabet, rather than phonetics, it’s simpler to learn, and it’s flexible enough for people to create their own word groupings, allowing them to take notes even faster.

Other than an ability to take fast, accurate notes, which is an asset throughout our schooling and working life, research has found that learning shorthand actually has many other surprising benefits.

Professor Waldir Cury’s paper The Stenographic Brain: A Superprocessor talks about a number of them, including:

  • Space Management – Where symbols are (closer, farther, further down or further up) in relation to one another is important, so at the same time that the stenographer is writing in shorthand, they are building a visual map of each symbol on paper so that each one stays in place. Space management skills become vastly improved.
  • Accuracy – Writing in longhand, we can still read back our work even if we’ve made errors, so perfection is not really necessary, but in shorthand the stroke perfection is crucial. This trains the brain to do something called “integrated processing”, where it converts the sound heard into a symbol, tests the sound of the symbol for perfection and possible errors, and then transcribes it to the paper. If the wrong symbol gets written, the brain realises the error and there is a feedback loop to the hand to fix it, all within a fraction of a second.
  • Cognitive Speed – You might think that the speed you can write in shorthand is determined by your hand, but it’s actually the brain that limits the speed. So, as you practice and get faster, what you are seeing is your brain speeding up. The achievement of speed happens step by step, grade by grade, through progressive training. That training is a real “shorthand workout”, an intellectual exercise which matures and strengthens the brain’s abilities.
  • Cognitive Capacity – As well as thinking faster, as you train for speed, with more words added every minute, you are actually significantly increasing the volume of data to be processed by the brain. It becomes an increasingly complex and intense intellectual activity. Using a term from Data Processing, you could say that each time the speed increases, we perform an “upgrade” in the brain areas responsible for all the learning, training and shorthand speed acquisition, as well as those multiple simultaneous operations. We put a more powerful “processor” in our brain and a more effective memory RAM.
  • Motivation – Shorthand is a daily conquest of “small victories”. Each small victory will strengthen motivation: success generates success.
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