Learning CW, it just doesnt stick!

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by SA7CNG, May 21, 2020.

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  1. M0LEP

    M0LEP Ham Member QRZ Page

    I have very little doubt that your classroom method would have worked for me a whole lot better than Koch ever did, but when I was wanting to learn Morse such classes were a thing of the previous century and on-line courses like the CWops Academy and LICW hadn't yet been started, so "teach yourself, somehow" was the only available alternative, and Koch was what I was pointed at. If anyone pointed any other way it was only to say "Don't do this, use Koch." As "this" was usually either something like "Code Quick" or EISH5 TMO0 type drilling starting at 5wpm, I have some sympathy with the "Don't do this" part of the statement, but it took me way too long to realise that there were possible alternatives to the "use Koch" part that might work better for me.

    ...but when you're trying to learn, you are putting in the time, and yet you don't see any positive results (as was my experience for something like two years, and which seems to have been the experience of the writer of the post at the top of this thread), then it's probably a good idea to find somewhere you can talk through what you're doing. That way you stand a chance, perhaps, of figuring out what to change in order to improve your chances. This thread's been pretty good in that respect, with a good proportion of the responses offering positive alternative ways to get past the roadblocks.
  2. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    As stated by me and some others, the "buddy system" usually works better, and that doesn't require formal classes or a classroom or a teacher -- but it does require having one friend who either knows the code or is willing to learn it with you.

    I believe it's way easier that way.
  3. W6MK

    W6MK Ham Member QRZ Page

    Seems to me that there is a fundamental flaw in the Koch method. The method assumes that a learner
    can distinguish between one character and another at "full speed." Yes, some beginners may be able to do this, but others, perhaps even a majority, will not be able to distinguish between characters at
    "full speed." Whatever "full speed" is.

    A fundamental principle of learning anything is that one needs to be able to distinguish between
    the things to be learned. If one does not speak Chinese (Mandarin) for example, or does not
    have some familiarity with tonal aspects of Chinese, then they will not be able to distinguish
    between the sound "mah" spoken with the first tone (level pitch) and "mah" spoken with the
    fourth tone (falling pitch).

    Thus a basic critical factor is for a beginner to be able to distinguish between two characters
    at a certain speed. At first that speed may only be five or ten words per minute overall. Once
    the ability to distinguish between character sounds develops somewhat, then learning can
    proceed at a higher speed.

    I would guess that many code learners get stuck using methods like Koch in which speeds
    are higher than the learners can deal with, at least at first.
  4. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    You may be right, but I have a somewhat different take on this.

    I really believe "slow code" is more difficult to learn because the brain processes information at rather blinding speeds and isn't used to slow data intake. When we take a glance at anything using our eyes, the brain is taking in information at rates that would make computers blush.

    I took high-speed "reading" courses back in 9th grade (called "Evelyn Woods Reading Dyamics" at the time) and one of the first things we learn in that course is reading slowly makes comprehension very poor compared with reading very quickly. By the end of a 12-week course, the worst students in the class were reading about 400-500 wpm and the good ones were reading way over 1000 wpm. "Comprehension" was tested by a series of very detailed questions about the material: Either you could answer them correctly, or you couldn't.

    The students who were the fastest readers always answered more questions correctly than the ones who were slower. And by the end of the course, we learn reading a book from the end to the beginning works just as well as reading from the beginning to the end, if actually understanding what was written is important. This doesn't apply to mathematics and formulas, it applies to prose. The best student in my class, Burt Kessler, was reading >2500 wpm, which is so fast he needed a page-tuner because his hands couldn't keep up. After reading Dante's Inferno, which he had never even heard of before, he answered 49 out of 50 questions about it correctly.

    That convinced me that "faster makes it easier" for some things. The brain is an amazing instrument.
  5. W6MK

    W6MK Ham Member QRZ Page

    Your thesis is essentially confused I'm sorry to say.

    "Faster makes it easier" is not shown, indeed not at all credible, from your examples. The
    significant aspect of performance regarding speed reading and other such activities
    is likely to be some aspect of individual cognitive function. The kid who reads the fastest
    may simply be a superior verbal performer who not only can read faster than most but who
    also can remember, restate, etc. better.

    With learning code, which is a rather simple task, it is not memory which is relevant in
    what I posited. What is relevant is the simply ability to discern between two kinds of
    sounds. We can see this easily in different musical abilities. I have a friend, a composer
    and pianist, who can listen to a jazz improvisation and then write it down. I can remember
    and recognize such a piece of music but I cannot remember it as precisely as she can nor
    can I write it down.

    This is what I am talking about. Many people who like and enjoy music have a great deal
    of difficulty singing a tune they like and know well. A bit of instruction can work very well
    towards giving them a better sense of pitch and rhythm so that they can, with some practice,
    sit down at the piano and pick out that familiar tune.

    So too with Morse Code. Most people can learn to discern one sound from another even if
    at first they cannot tell the difference. WWII era U.S. military Morse Code instruction programs
    began with tests to see whether potential radio ops could tell one Morse character from another. They
    were not tested as to whether they could identify a character, but only whether they could tell
    whether two characters were the same or were different.

    My point regarding speed had nothing to do with ultimate speed performance or other aspect
    of Morse Code mastery. It had to do with the simple ability to learn to listen a bit more

    My point also was not that speed is good or bad, but that not using it sensibly can
    create a barrier to learning. I think that such barriers, which are usually overlooked, can
    make learning Morse Code very difficult for people who otherwise would learn Morse Code
    very quickly, as was the experience of most Code learners.

    Morse Code is a very simple learning experience. The contemporary difficulty which many
    beginners have with learning has to do with inappropriate learning methods which are,
    incorrectly, assumed to be superior.
  6. M0LEP

    M0LEP Ham Member QRZ Page

    I could distinguish the first two characters, M and K, well enough. Having got them sorted I then added the third character, U. The Koch theory is that you should know the first two, so the stranger must be the new one. However, what I found was that there were now three strangers, and I had to sort them out. Each new character seemed to scramble the ones I thought I'd learned in the previous lesson. Not surprisingly, each lesson took a while. Eventually I realised that I'd have to learn all the characters in one hit, and abandoned Koch. To this day I have more trouble with the characters early in the Koch sequence than seems reasonable.
    I'm certain Koch works for some people because I've met a fair few who have used it successfully, including at least one person who claims to have gone from nothing to 20 wpm test-passing competency in two weeks, but it was clearly not right for me, and I know a few others who've not been able to make progress with it.
  7. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Well, I wasn't born yet during WW2 and had no idea what they did back then!

    But I was around to work at Ft. Monmouth, NJ, which at the time (1960s) was a U.S. Army Signal Corps training center. I didn't see them perform such a cognitive test, although perhaps they did. What I did witness was a terrible way of teaching the code: Very similar to "Code Quick" today, where you identify a code character by relating it to a phrase it sounds like, e.g., "the L with it" for L, etc. I thought that was positively horrendous: Adding an interpretive step to help "decode" only 40 characters? Nutty.

    But, the "students" were enlisted, being paid to be there, and it was part of "the job," no matter how long it took, so I suspect they all graduated eventually.:p

    At least at Ft. Monmouth I got to operate the ham station K2USA many times. BIG antennas (huge log periodics on tall towers, only 2 miles from the ocean with completely flat terrain) made it easy to work the world. And the easy callsign (K2 U.S. Army) probably helped. I'd go home from there and kick my little tower.:)
  8. WA1GXC

    WA1GXC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Former Mayor of Providence, R.I. and convicted felon Vincent "Buddy" Cianci got sent away to Federal Bureau of Prisons
    camp at Ft. Monmouth--He was convicted of racketeering and soliciting bribes.

    Just before his surrender-date to turn himself in to the U.S. Marshals, he gave a brief news conference to local reporters.

    He said, with characteristic sunny optimism, "I'm gonna lose 15 pounds , quit smoking, and learn Spanish."

  9. WB5YUZ

    WB5YUZ Ham Member QRZ Page

    If you learned through the Armed Forces Institute (sort of a correspondence school, offering all kinds of courses to all kinds of Armed Forces personnel), there were three 78 RPM sides worth of aptitude testing!


    I listened to all three sides. They send two sets of dits and dahs (not all of them are real characters) and you are supposed to be able to tell whether they are identical or not. I think I can tell about eighty to ninety percent of the time. The rest I would have to guess, which means I would have had a fifty-fifty shot at them. Wonder if that was good enough to continue with radio school or if I would have washed out?
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2020
  10. W6MK

    W6MK Ham Member QRZ Page

    I think not at all nutty. I remember that the character "f" was supposed to sound like "fraternity."
    Which it does in a way. So the idea of suggesting that characters have an overall sound (as opposed
    to containing a certain number of dits and dahs, to be counted) is a perfectly reasonable way
    to direct some learners' minds.

    The human brain needs to be distinguished from a computer. Not at all the same. Because one
    learns a certain skill in a certain way does not mean that that kind of learning remains in the
    mind (the hard drive) forever until it is replaced.

    As our familiarity with any kind of topic develops, we are constantly relearning and simplifying.
    For example if I am counting out medicine in tablets I don't have to count from, say, one to five for
    each five-tablet dose. I learn to visualize what five tablets look like. Faster and more efficient. If I
    am counting out groups of five screws for assembly of something I am building, I do not have to count
    one to five for each group of screws. I learn to recognize what a group of five screws looks like.

    Similarly for those who begin learning Morse Code by counting character elements. They may well
    start out that way, and it is inefficient. However, with an approximately average IQ, most people
    will automatically develop the ability to recognize Code characters by their overall sound, whether
    or not they first began by counting dits and dahs.

    A final example: when you were learning to drive a car, there were lots of things to think about: what's in front of you; what's behind you; what is coming towards you on a side street; clutch pedal,
    brake pedal, gas pedal. For the first week or two there's a big load of things to think about when you
    are out driving. After a week or two, or a month, it's totally automatic and seems very simple.

    Don't underestimate the human mind. It is not a computer.

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