Long thoughts on shorthand and Spanish

Tonight, I was gazing at the bookshelf in our hallway. One of my roommates is obsessed with antiques, and much of the furniture in our house came from one of our elderly neighbors. It’s clear that many of the books came from her as well, their dilapidated spines and shabby covers revealing their age, and my eyes fixed on a small burgundy spine that said GREGG SHORTHAND. Intrigued, I thumbed through the first sections. I had never really been clear on exactly what shorthand was before, but now I finally understand it. What’s more, in the book I’m reading right now, it’s mentioned a certain character writing in taquigrafía a few times. What with the context and the description, I guessed that it was probably shorthand, although I never looked it up. Is the universe conspiring for me to learn this obsolete written language system? No, but look at what I read in the book’s introduction. Read this and mentally substitute Spanish for shorthand and speaking for writing and make all the other necessary tweaks. This was written in 1916–almost a century ago!–but I so agree.

Success in any study depends largely upon the interest taken in that particular subject by the student. This being the case, we earnestly hope that you will realize at the very outset that shorthand can be made an intensely fascinating study. Cultivate a love for it. Think of it as the highest form of writing, which is itself the greatest invention of humanity. Be proud that you can record the language in graceful lines and curves. Aim constantly to acquire artistic skill in executing those lines and curves. You can, if you will, make the study of shorthand a perfect joy instead of a task. Skill in the use of shorthand is a possession that has been coveted by the wisest of men and women, for it is not only a practical instrument in commercial work, but a much-prized and valuable accomplishment and a means of mental culture.
Be Thorough.    Skill in anything is attained by repetition with interest; therefore do not shirk the careful, painstaking practice on the elementary forms given in the Manual. Write each outline many times, and aim always at the attainment of fluency and exactness in execution.
Devote Much Time to Reading Well-Written Shorthand.     By reading a great deal of well-written shorthand you will become not only a fluent reader, but you will enlarge your writing vocabulary. Unconsciously you will imitate in your own work the easy execution of the forms shown in the printed plates. All expert writers have devoted much time to reading shorthand.


Yes, cultivate a love for Spanish, a deep, abiding love. Think of it as the highest form of speaking. Take pride in being able to speak it in ever-so-graceful lines and curves. Avoid pauses, avoid choppiness, avoid staccato. Try to speak as artfully as you can. Skill in the use of Spanish is coveted by the wisest of men and women. Just think about all the mental culture you’re building up and drool.

Don’t shirk practice! Don’t try to get around the painstaking work of building your vocabulary, word by precise word. There are no shortcuts. Each word is a gem carefully inlaid in your mind, and each one will be of inestimable value to you one day. Each one will be le mot juste for you in some situation you can’t foresee right now, that is, if you plan to indwell the language, not just be a scholar of Spanish, studying it under a magnifying glass. Last week, I learned the verb escindirse from a newspaper article I read at work. It was talking about a Mexican drug gang that had splintered off from a larger gang. In the dictionary, it said “to split into something”; “to break away from something.” My Ecuadorian coworker (who has a vocabulary of the gods) didn’t know it. I jotted it down anyway. Tonight I was chatting with my friend in Medellín on Facebook- a more informal conversation no se podría tener. And, what did she write to me? No sé por qué te escindiste. That always happens to me.

Devote much time to listening to well-spoken Spanish. Who speaks it best? Native speakers, claro. Steal from them, plagiarize every one of their expressions, copycat them shamelessly. Eventually it will become unconscious for you, innate. Learn to become a fluent listener. You don’t have to move abroad to immerse yourself in Spanish. It usually doesn’t even work, anyway.

I think my favorite line was this one: You can, if you will, make the study of [Spanish] a perfect joy instead of a task. That’s exactly how it is for me. A perfect joy. I have Spanish love practically oozing out of my pores, just ask anyone who knows me. I’ve had that love for a long time, and so my interest naturally remains high. I’d do anything to speak it perfectlyIt will happen sooner rather than later. It’s just a matter of time for me. I will if I desire to.

It does seem odd, though, to command someone to cultivate a love for something. I guess you probably either have it or you don’t. Tell me to cultivate a love for economics or even Portuguese (I wish I did, but I don’t, at least not currently) and I’ll just change the topic and politely tune you out. If you don’t have a love for it, maybe you should simply free yourself from the burden of trying to learn something that’s nothing but drudgery for you. It’s OK. You can always come back to it later and pick it up. Life is long! What’s the rush? Once you get the burning desire in you to learn it and the irresistible need and self-created urgency, you’ll learn it quickly without a problem. Why go at a snail’s pace and grow discouraged over your minimal progress in something that doesn’t really inflame you with passion in the first place?

And if you do love it, then I know you’re not having any problem learning and improving and perfecting your Spanish. Our motivation and seriousness is always clearly indicated in our actions and progress. We are what we do. Sometimes I just dabble in Spanish and then I wonder why my results are those of a person merely playing at learning a language, as if I were content to be a lifelong dilettante, a word here, a word there. Am I? Are you? No! I’m not enamored of learning in and of itself– I’d rather learn this and be done with it, move on to other things. I just want to use Spanish for my own nefarious purposes, bwahaha. I want to be a Spanish speaker– not a Spanish learner, not a Spanish knower. I want it to be effortless. But, as we all know, you have to put in so. much. damn. effort. before you can “achieve” effortlessness.

Well, this is me publicly sharing that I am going to kick up my Spanish learning by several notches starting right now. I will be much more intentional, much more intense, and significantly more disciplined. No more frittering away eons of time. I will speak, listen, read, and write for several hours a day, every day (I already do this, but lazily). I will do everything possible to banish English from my life and suffuse every waking moment with Spanish (within reason). I will not let myself feel good about my Spanish merely by comparing it to the very mediocre Spanish/English that most of the bilingual people around me have. I will spend time around truly bilingual people to fill myself with envy and healthy righteous indignation–who are they to speak Spanish/English so well and make me look bad? I’m every bit as intelligent and capable as they are. I refuse to let idiotic laziness keep me permanently mediocre. I refuse to settle for good enough, which is utterly useless. I am cracking a whip at my own back. I’m lighting a fire under my ass. Estoy poniéndome las pilas. I want to move on.


12 responses to “Long thoughts on shorthand and Spanish

  1. Wow. You’ve got my vote for post of the year. You made so many good points.

    It’s nice to see that someone shares the same obsession and passion for Spanish, although you may have me beat, which is scary because I’m pretty obsessed. You’ve so eloquently expressed many of the same thoughts and observations I’ve also had over the years. Thank you! Now I don’t feel so alone in this journey, and more importantly I don’t feel like as much of a weirdo anymore knowing there is someone else like me out there.


    • Muchas gracias por tus palabras tan lindas, amigo. El post del año? Tampoco. De todas maneras, me alegra que te haya gustado y que yo haya podido expresar algunos de tus propios sentimientos con respecto al español. Me gusta ser sincera. Yo me decepciono con frecuencia con ciertos defectos míos, mi pereza sobre todo, y eso se ve claramente en mis resultados! Pero comparto todo eso con ustedes para que me puedan ayudar y para rendirles cuentas. Siempre hay mucho para mejorar, y lo podemos hacer juntos.

      No eres el único bicho raro, créemelo. Somos dos!


      • Jaja, tal vez no sea la entrada del año, pero sí es buenísima.

        Creo que no sufres de flojera, sino eres una perfeccionista. Ademas, tienes que tener en cuenta nadie puede esforzarse al máximo todo el tiempo, y eso no significa que sufres de flojera. Simplemente que necesitas un descanso de vez un cuando. No seas tan exigente contigo mismo. Ya tienes un excelente manejo del idioma y vas a seguir mejorando poco a poco con el tiempo. Créeme, tu vocabalario es mas amplio que el mio, en español y inglés. Si alguien tiene flojo, seria yo.

        Pero bueno, tu lo dijiste…”Siempre hay mucho para mejorar, y lo podemos hacer juntos.”


  2. Let me quote a dear friend of mine that goes by the name of Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. You said it yourself but more succinct, “We are what we do”.

    I will follow your journey to the island “Perfecto”. Think you are one of the chosen few able to get a citizenship there. ¡Buena suerte!


    • Gracias!

      I’m not one of the chosen few by any means. We choose ourselves. We decide whether we “deserve” to do things excellently or if we’ll dwell in mediocrity all our lives, forever making excuses for why we didn’t accomplish our goals. Or, of course, you can just go through life without goals. But, that’s not really living. Doing the bare minimum– eating, sleeping, and working– and just eking by does not a life make. That’s merely existing. We all deserve much more.


      • Well said! so inspiring… I’d love to see that written in Español


      • Yes, you are right. Everyone has the potential. It’s your own choice. Unfortunately, far too few people realize that. It’s hard to get them to realize that. Some do realize it, but don’t act on it. You’ve made the decision. As you see here with Angela’s reaction, you are an inspiration. You are paving the way for others, enlightning them. “If I can do it, you can do it.” So hopefully with your goal here to achieve perfect Spanish, you will not only become better at Spanish, but also making the world a tad bit brighter by inspiring others to achieve their goals.
        I hope You realize That :)


        • Thanks. It’s all about putting it into action– I can write these kinds of posts with my “enlightened” thoughts until the cows come home, but it won’t mean jack if I don’t put all my good intentions into practice.


  3. “But, as we all know, you have to put in so. much. damn. effort. before you can “achieve” effortlessness”.

    So true. Me enojo mucho cuando veo cosas como “Hable inglés a la perfección en solo 3 meses” :P

    Creo que tu amor por el español se asemeja mucho a mi amor por el inglés. Es buenísimo que haya cosas que no tengan techo, y que uno pueda ponerse metas diferentes y desafiantes continuamente.

    “I want to be a Spanish speaker– not a Spanish learner, not a Spanish knower”.

    Jaja, otra de mis ambiciones con inglés :P


    • Sí, somos muyyyyy parecidos en esta cosa, y, bueno, no es cualquier cosita, es LA cosa predominante en nuestras vidas, por lo menos por ahora, pero espero que sea una cosa y una etapa de muchas por venir. Y quiero que podemos utilizar y sacar mucho provecho de este gran interés y talento que compartemos. Por eso el afán. Hay que tener algo de paciencia, pero a la vez un sentido de urgencia. Si no, seremos nonagenarios, todos tranquilos, todavía escribiendo textos en Lang-8 sobre bobadas :p


  4. Amen!!! Learning Spanish or any language for that matter is all about the journey! If you can’t find a way to enjoy the journey, then the realization that there is no gold at the end of the rainbow will be even that much more disappointing. What I mean is Language learning is a life time goal. I still work on Thai and to be honest I still work on my english(my wife says I have bad english even for an american). The process is what keeps me giong, not as much the end goal!


    • Well, it may be all about the journey for you and many others, but that’s actually not my perspective. Nor do I see it as a lifetime goal. Sure, I can reach a level of truly spectacular Spanish and still be learning more things every day until I die, but it does not take decades to become highly fluent in a language. It will take decades if you use poor methods or are content to go at a snail’s pace or don’t have much motivation in the first place, but when you really need to know the language and have or create urgency, you will learn it quickly. There are lots of things I want to accomplish in life and more languages I want to learn– I’m not going to let learning Spanish sap all my time and energy, hogging them so I can’t learn other things.

      As far as there being no gold at the end of the rainbow, well, if you are fully fluent in a foreign language, you can earn a lot of money. Kind of fluent? Pretty good? Enough to get by? That won’t cut it, and you won’t be of any use professionally.

      Please understand that my goals are VERY high and thus so are my expectations of myself. It’s very personal, and is by no means a judgment of how others learn Spanish.


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