The Art & Skill of Radio-Telegraphy

-Second Revised Edition-
William G. Pierpont N0HFF

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Chapter 3 - Part III: Laying the Foundation


Most sound recordings for self-study introduce each letter something like this: "when you hear 'didah', say "A" to yourself each time you hear it, as soon as you have heard it. Do the same thing for each new character as it is introduced." Then they begin, for example with the first letter 'F': sending dididahdit and saying "F", dididahdit "F," and then follow with a long string of "F's" alone for the student to say "F" after each one, before taking up the next letter.

Whether learning with a teacher or in private study, repetition to the point of familiarity is vital. A teacher can usually judge quickly from student behavior how many repetitions are needed. For the self-study student it is probably good to over-do the number of repetitions of each character before going on, but don't do it thoughtlessly. Some teachers use up to a dozen to two dozen such repetitions of each new character before going on. Since the whole superstructure of telegraphy is built on this foundation -- be sure it is solid and secure.    Repetition sets in concrete what we practice. Do it wisely. Repetition with attention builds expert skill, making the connection between stimulus and response so strong that the response automatically follows the stimulus.

In these early lessons a little game of "odd-ball" may help. It goes like this: the same character is sent 5 or 6 times in succession, but at one place a different character is sent. The students, who are just listening, not writing, are to hold up their hand when the "odd-ball" is heard. A few minutes of this can liven things up and give variety. It can be extended to short words, too.

Learning on a one-to-one basis with a good teacher who can tailor each lesson to the student makes possible the strongest initial impressions of the sounds and rhythms of the code characters and to concentrate on any weak areas. The teacher can also safely introduce use of a key earlier than otherwise.    Character "echoing" method to reinforce learning:

  1. Teacher says: "Listen as I send the character .. ." He sends it and says its name as he sends it. "Now listen as I send again and again, and say its name each time as soon as I finish sending it."
  2. Next, "Now listen and write the letter down each time as soon as I finish sending it."
  3. Lastly, "Take your key now and send it back to me each time I send it, and say its name as you send it." It is important that steps 1 and 2 have enough repeats of the letter so that the student has a clear "feel" for the proper timing when he comes to step
  4. The teacher will insist on accuracy of sending.

For those studying alone, there are a number of good code-learning tapes and courses, as well as computer programs which have great flexibility. E.g., a code computer program which can project the printed character on the screen an instant after the character is heard can encourage the student to mentally "see" the letter as soon as it is heard. See Chapter 18.

If some students think that certain characters sound alike, send them several times alternately so the real differences stand out.    Typically the alphabet and numbers may be covered in a series of no more than five lessons. Everything possible should be done to make learning interesting and fun, and to avoid any sense of boredom or needless tension. One teacher says: "I write words on the board and the students sound them in unison., It is like directing a choir, a fun class, where everyone feels good about practicing the code."

If one is expecting to do a lot of copying in use, starting out by copying on a typewriter has the advantage of a better link up between code, brain and typewriter key than between the brain and a pencil. When this stage of learning has been completed, the foundation -- quick recognition of every character by its sound pattern -- should have been laid, and a speed of at least about 5 - 6 wpm achieved. All the pieces are now in hand for the students to be able to practice with normal English words and sentences, ready to build up speed and greater confidence by practice. One may then begin to reduce the spaces between words, which will speed up the overall rate of copying.

Every effort should be made to stimulate a sense of success in the student all along the way. This makes learning so much easier and faster. Let them taste success. Forget errors: praise achievements.    The goal is INSTANT RECOGNITION OF EVERY CHARACTER. That is what the next stage is to carry us forward to.  If there are letters you don't recognize quickly enough now, go back and practice listening to them until you do. This will save you time later.

Some of the published orders for learning the characters are:  5 0 E T A R - S L U Q J - H O N C V - I B Y P - W K Z M - D X F G.  F G H M J R U - B D K N T V Y - C E I L O S - A P Q X Z W.  E T A I M N - S O D R C U - K P H G W L - Q H F Y - Z V X J.  E I S H - T M O - A N W G - D U V J B - R K L F - P X Z C Y Q.  F K B Q T C Z H W X M D Y U P A J O E R S G N L V I.  E T I M S O H - A W U J V F - C G K Q F Z - R Y L B X D N.  A E I O U - vowels first, then some of most frequent consonants, such as T N R S D L H, etc., so that many words can be practiced from almost the first consonant letters learned.

Note: The teacher should explain at each new step exactly what is to be done and why, so the student will know what is expected of him.   Back in 1895 some psychologists asked expert telegraphers: "What is the learner's attention mainly directed to as he progresses?" Their answer was:

  1. at first you hustle to get letters,
  2. next you look for words,
  3. later as a fair operator, you are not held so closely to words, but can take in several words, a phrase or even a short sentence as a 'mouthful', and
  4. finally as a real expert, you have such automatic perfection that you pay practically no conscious attention at all to the details of the code, but concentrate on the sense of the message, or to transcribing (copying) it while our mind thinks about otherthings.


    The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy-Second Revised Edition-
    ©William G. Pierpont N0HFF