For self-learning nothing is superior to a Personal Computer (PC) or a keyboard where the student can push a key and hear each character (and see it in print if there is a screen), as often as he wishes or needs to get the feel of its rhythm. The PC especially has become such a valuable tool that some teachers (as Gary Bold) consider it to be superior to private or classroom learning.
See also Chapter 18. Computer programs have been and some are still available for the Commodore and Apple computers, but most have been for the IBM-compatible PC's. They have been of all sizes and varieties, according to the skill, teaching experience and ingenuity of the programming writers. Many provide for connecting the computer with the transmitter and using the computer as a keyboard Some provide an evaluation of the student's sending skills.
One of the important features for rapid learning is the degree of adaptability to the student and the amount of interaction with him that is provided. How flexible are they? Do they provide checks on skill and accuracy? One example of an interactive computer program (Gary Bold's) starts the new student out by having him hear the character, then keying in his identification of it. If his identification is correct, the character is then displayed on the screen. But if he is wrong, his answer is ignored, and the character is repeated until he correctly identifies it. The same character is then presented several more times for his correct response before taking up the next one. If he delays too long in responding, the character is repeated (and may be displayed simultaneously) until he gets it.
After a number (per student's request) of new characters have been introduced, they are repeated in random order, and if one is misidentified, it is repeated until the student correctly identifies it. This program then ingeniously ratios the next series of random characters in proportion to the number of times any of them have been misidentified, until the student reduces this ratio significantly. Many PC programs provide a considerable variety of practice material beyond the initial learning and recognition stage. Computer programs can be versatile tools for rapid advancement, tailored to individual needs. Keyboards may provide for some of these various factors, depending on how they have been designed and programmed. There are some smaller pocket sized "computers" which are limited to hearing practice only.
Old timer George Hart W1NJM is one who learned the code originally, as he says, by "osmosis" from an older brother who was a ham -- just by listening, with no intention of learning it or getting a license. This way he learned frequent letters and operating procedures until one day he discovered he could communicate by code. From then on he was hooked! He later wrote: "[I was] practically born with a key in my hand, so cw [was] as natural to me as talking."
A few hams in years gone by have said that they initially "learned the code" by listening to fast commercial press dispatches (probably 35 - 45 wpm), which were then available day and night. (Did they mean starting out, or advancing? Just how they actually began is not clear.) They claim that they found they could identify a letter here and there, then short words, and within a couple of months were reading it all. However, this approach may not have been very efficient -- for most of us it might prove discouraging -- and probably depended greatly upon the mental makeup of the learner as well as his enthusiasm. We mention it here only to show what can be done if one is determined enough.
With many modern computer code programs available, programmable keyboards and keyers, as well as tapes, etc., there are several attractive alternates available. With these, material can be better tailored for our individual needs. The Farnsworth method suggests itself here in the high speed range, too, to allow the mind time to digest and identify characters and words. Using this, some have found that to set up a character speed in the 50 - 60 wpm range and then widening the inter-letter and inter-word spaces initially, gradually reducing them as desired, can speed up the recognition process.
A number of operators in the past who desperately wanted to increase their receiving skills deliberately tried sleeping beside their receivers or playback recording equipment (or their line telegraph sounders in the case of landline operators) with fast code signals coming through for several hours or all night. They claimed that within a surprisingly short time they had great increases in receiving speed. This procedure has been challenged, but apparently works for some people.
One ham, who says he can copy at 70 wpm and still wants to increase above that, has for years been listening this way every night. Maybe it works for some people, but I wonder if it is actually effective, and also whether they got any restful sleep that way. It is interesting that in the early 1920's a group of doctors were being trained to use Morse code. Their teachers tried sleep-learning with them, and found that if the word "doctor" was sent while they were sound asleep during the night, it would nearly always wake them immediately -- showing that there is some kind of unconscious receptivity and response.
When someone comes to me and asks how to make the 13 wpm requirement for General class, I give them the following plan of working:-
"You need to listen every day to good sending, and I suggest the W1AW CW bulletins. They are at 18 wpm. Start out the first few days and just listen for no more than one minute. Then turn it off. As you listen, pick out the characters you recognize. Don't write anything down at all the first few days like this. After a few days, increase your listening time to two minutes and continue to pick out as many characters as you can in your head-- and don't write anything down yet. Then turn it off, as before. After eight to ten days of this practice, go back to the one minute period of listening, but this time write down everything you can recognize. Try to leave blank spaces where you miss out. Write down every letter you can catch for that one minute period, then turn it off. Repeat this practice for several days, then extend the time to two minutes, writing down everything you can recognize. After several days or a week or so this way you will find your comprehension coming up fairly rapidly because your concentration is improving and you will be surprised how much you can copy in just this short period of time. From here on gradually increase your listening time to 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 minutes. When you can copy somewhere around 60% of the bulletin materials you will find that you can copy 13 wpm, the test speed, with flying colors. This scheme has worked well for a number of people who had reached speeds between 5 and 10 wpm, but had difficulty in advancing. This general pattern should prove of help to others aiming for the 20 wpm test or higher."
McElroy's Course and His Claims For It
Although this does not fall into the above categories, here is what was said:-
In the Nov. 1945 QST, p 115, was an ad in which Ted McElroy's Company offered to "send you this complete course of instruction (McElroy's 'Morse' Code Course) free so you can see for yourself what it'll do for you. It was said to contain "everything he has learned in 30 years of operating experience." "Assuming that the average person will practice several hours the first day, we can tell you ... that you'll be copying THAT VERY FIRST DAY, words and sentences at the rate of 20 wpm. The thing is that ingenious! Ted has taken one-half the alphabet which appears on his chart No. 1, prepared a practice tape which runs for at least one full hour without attention at the rate of 20 wpm. You won't copy 20 full words in one minute. But each letter you write will hit your ears at a full 20 wpm and the space between letters becomes progressively shorter as the rolls go along." Since Ted's receiving speed records were tops in almost every official speed contest, it would be very interesting to see this document. At present, the above is all that seems to be available.
The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy
©William G. Pierpont N0HFF