One of the new things I’ve been trying to learn 220+ days into lockdown, is morse code. I wrote this in my last blog post Learning About the Secret Code Breakers of World War II.
You have to understand that being close to two years and for much of it under the roof of my home, unable to go out, travel further away than 5 kilometres or meet up with friends and family, you get to a point where you will do anything just to pass the time. That is, you allow yourself to go down rabbit warrens to explore, to meander and to let the mind wander.
It helps that I only work three days a week so that I can then focus on my imagination a bit more for four of them. I don’t think many others would have this luxury during lockdown having to work full-time AND manage remote online schooling. It would be physically impossible.
It also makes me realise that we are all in completely different situations and we shouldn’t just everyone by our own standards of our life in lockdown. It’s never that straightforward because we simply don’t understand everyone’s situation.
With that, it’s been interesting reflecting on my learning journey for the last two years. I picked up a new skill in the process, to get myself to an intermediate level in French and along the way, made new friends who are native French speakers.
It’s also made me realise the importance of aural skills. One of the things I struggled with learning French is to discern the words when a native speaker speakers. There are lots of silent letters in French and when they run them along each other (the liasion) it becomes one long sentence and my brain can’t discern the separate words. So you take the “overall gist” of the sentence and go from there.
While learning morse, I started to think that this is EXACTLY like learning a language. I would hear the code but to my ears it was a long stream of dits and dahs but I couldn’t discern the separate letters because my ear wasn’t tuned in to the spaces. So what I had to do was to not only learn the alphabet first (I’m still learning it because it requires memorisation of the dits and dahs) but I also had to slow down listening and transcribing because my brain simply didn’t register it instantly what the letter was.
That is, I wasn’t fluent in Morse. Just like I’m not fluent in French.
It got me thinking about how I’m picking up on building my aural skills through learning language but now I’m also doing it with Morse. Part of me thinks, I will have the same issue if I learned music.
What got me thinking about this is going through the classes, “Learn Morse Code with KN4GB”.
He’s got a whole heap of these classes on YouTube where he instructs a class every week of radio enthusiasts and he does it in such a way that blends story, examples, practice and it feels like you’re in the class with him.
On weekends, I sit down and do a class and I must admit it’s helped me out with the spacing – discerning the spacing – between the letters and he also slowly increases the speed so that you’re forcing your brain to discern.
Another positive factor that I’m learning about myself here is how my listening skills have improved immensely because you’re tuning your ear to the code.
It’s funny now that I hear morse code around me everywhere….
Some people think that you can learn from apps and I have an alternative view. Sure, apps are good to help you get the basics but if you’re not blending different ways that allow you to PRACTICE and get FEEDBACK consistently, then apps don’t help you. For example, to learn the alphabet in Morse, I downloaded an app called Morse Mania.
Morse Mania is a way of learning the letters two at a time and then building your knowledge over time. I find it’s not bad for remembering the letters and then undergoing the challenges however, there’s going to be a point in time where I will need to DECIPHER a string of letters and words as well as INCREASE the words per minute.
So in this situation, I turned to good old fashioned mnemonics. This helped in some sense for me but again, I found that I couldn’t remember the mnemonics of some letters because they weren’t MY mnemonics also, they stressed the syllables at the wrong places (due to American accents) which was useless to me.
So it meant that, in order for me to learn and memorise the morse code alphabet, I had to come up with my OWN WAY.
So where am I at with this?
It’s made me realise that Morse is simply, another language that I have to learn.
It’s akin to notes of music that when you see them on a page, you can hear the music in your head.
With morse, you hear the dits and dahs, and then in your head – and on paper of course – you see/write the letters to get the message.
I’m no brain scientist but I wonder if there’s a correlation between language, music and morse learning and the importance of honing your aural skills in learning?