How I learned Personal Shorthand

Shorthand Textbook

My sister needed to use shorthand for her work. She kept looking for shorthand training courses at so many places but couldn’t find a single place offering shorthand courses. After a long search, she finally stumbled upon one place that offered shorthand courses. After she took the training course and brought the textbook with her, I got curious about shorthand. I was still studying at university by that time. I started looking through the shorthand textbook and my interest grew.


I then set about to learn shorthand from the textbook on my own. I used lectures I attended at university as an avenue for practicing my shorthand skills. It was not that I was learning shorthand so that it could help me write down lectures I am attending but it was actually the other way around. I was curious to learn shorthand so I used university lectures I was attending back then as an excellent opportunity for practice.

Personal Shorthand

I remember I started on that journey during the second semester of my third year at Cairo University. The type of shorthand I was learning is called Personal Shorthand or PS for short. It is a renaming of what had been known before as briefhand. What distinguishes PS from other types of shorthand, such as Pitman shorthand, is that it relies solely on the 26 letters of the alphabet and therefore is very easy to learn compared to most other shorthand methods and can even be typed on a computer since it contains no special symbols and relies only on letters of the alphabet.

Full Lecture Transcription

I started reading in the personal shorthand textbook and doing the exercises it had. I started practicing during all lectures I attended at university. It was a lot of fun. By the second semester on my fourth year at university I was able to write down every single word the lecturer was uttering during the lecture. I no longer needed to rewrite my shorthand notes into longhand as I came back home. I just kept the shorthand sheets I had written during the lectures as they are and studied from them directly.


When I went to university I did not need to take any notebook with me, all I needed was a few folded foolscap folios and a pen. A whole 2 hour long lecture could be transcribed in full in just 2 foolscap folios since I wrote on both the front and back sides of each folio.


As the time for the final exam came at the end of the semester, I used the transcripts of the 12 or so lectures that I had stapled together as a way to revise all lectures before taking the exam. I was surprised at the amount of information they contained most of which I would have totally forgotten had I been attending the lectures without caring to take notes during the lectures.

Lessons Learned

There are many lessons to be learnt from this story. One of them is that a new skill can help you do better in life. Another lesson is that lots of practice is required to master a new skill. Practicing in a real life context also proved more effective. A third lesson is that one can learn some skills from a book plus practice without the need for external help.

Have you ever thought about learning shorthand? If so, what might you be using it for?

Stories of Extreme Training

Extreme Handball Practice

Many years ago my cousin once told me about a friend of his who played professional handball. His friend told him that during their handball training, before entering into competitions, they practiced by playing handball while wearing weights tied to their shoulders, legs and around their waists. He said that practicing while having those extra weights tied to their bodies was very difficult and put enormous strain on their bodies. As they kept practicing one time after the other with such extra weights attached to several parts of their bodies, they started to get used to the extra weights and were eventually able to play handball normally with such extra weights on as if they did not have them attached at all.

When the time came for the actual game during the competition, they were asked by the coach to put off their extra weights. During the matches, having put down the extra weights they had long been practicing with, it felt to them as if they were flying! They were so agile in the field, moved extremely fast, had strong stamina, never felt tired and achieved outstanding results.

Stretching Arrays

One of the main lessons from this story is that extremes can be used during practice in order to boost abilities even though such extremes would not be part of the actual performance when the time for the real ‘game’ comes. For instance, I remember when I started to learn a concept in computer programming called arrays. I started to use it extensively in my programs. I jam packed computer programs I created with arrays. I used arrays to the extreme even where they were not needed or where they were not the best solution of choice.

After such period of being extreme in using arrays in computer programs I created, I then moved on to normal usage and used arrays only when appropriate and suitable. The period of time when I used arrays in an extreme way helped me in fully grasping them and mastering their use. It is as if you are stretching your body to revitalize it then getting your body back again in normal position.


Going to the edge of something and getting close to its extreme states as a form of practice helps one master such thing and makes the learning and skill development great.

Have you ever experienced going to the extreme in something then coming back and found yourself mastering it well after such experience? Tell us about it and what happened.

Overcoming Calculator Dependence

Calculator Love

I used to love using the calculator during the time I was at preparatory school. I kept exploring the scientific calculator I had bought for school playing with all its interesting statistical and trigonometric functions. I used to rely on the calculator to do any form of simple math as well all the time. I had not been good at memorizing the times table.

Buying Milk

One day, I went to buy milk from the milk shop near home. As I got the milk and received the change I was totally clueless if such change the guy at the milk shop was giving me was the right change or not. I did not have a calculator with me to check it out and it was long before cell phones (that had calculators) were popular or even present at all. Even if I had had a calculator or a calculating cell phone it would have been totally embarrassing for me to get it out to make such a simple calculation in front of the guy at the milk shop giving me the change.

Breaking Dependence

The situation was a stressful one for me. As I went back home I relented relying on the calculator so much that I had not been practicing my ability to use my own brain for doing the math on the fly when I needed to. I felt it was too late for me to start now and that I should have started practicing my math skills long before. Nevertheless, my deep embarrassment back there at the milk shop made me determined to improve my personal math skills. I was determined to be able to calculate the change remaining when buying stuff from any shop.

Sustained Practice

I therefore set about practicing such skill by slowly attempting to calculate the change whenever I bought anything. I gave myself ample time every time I attempted such a calculation and never tried to rush it. Rushing it meant breaking my ability to improve such skill forever. Gradually, I became better at calculating simple math on the fly and never faced the embarrassment of not knowing what the right amount of change was any more.

Lessons Learnt

One lesson from this story is that facing a difficult situation can lead to a strong determination to improve one’s skill in order to be able to face similar situations in the future. Another lesson is that practice makes perfect and that it should be approached gradually.

What other lessons can you come up with from this story?