Teaching and Learning Morse Code: The Personal Method

There are all sorts of ways to teach Morse Code. There’s the old Army way (check out these youtube clips: part 1, part 2). Then there’s the way the ARRL taught me back in 1978 — with cassette tapes. And today, students can download software that will teach them Morse Code with the Farnsworth Method and the Koch Method. It all works, so long as the student sticks with it.

How do you get a student to stick with it? First and foremost, by cultivating within him an affection for Morse Code. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery purportedly said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”1 But since so many things can thwart this affection (from discouragement to competing interests), sometimes you simply need to come alongside the student and encourage him. This is where cassette tapes and computer programs usually fall short. There’s nothing like The Personal Method — a real, live Elmer teaching you Morse Code.

Just ask my son! A few days ago I purchased a nifty Nye Viking Speed-X straight key and code practice oscillator to begin teaching him Morse Code. I hooked up my own Speed-X to it so that we could both key the oscillator — him on one side of the table with his new practice set, and me on the other side of the table with my own key. Thus equipped, we had our first lesson before bedtime Wednesday night.

I was surprised by how hard the bug bit him. At first he wasn’t so sure about the whole thing, but by the end of the lesson he was so excited he said he wouldn’t be able to get to sleep. He even told me that he wouldn’t enjoy his classical guitar lesson and horse-riding lesson quite as much the next day because he just wanted to have the next Morse Code lesson! The next morning, he woke me up by sending “GM” outside my door with this practice set. And later in the day, he started sending me code as went down the road, saying “dit” and “dah” like a true CW operator.

So to my fellow CW operators who know somebody that wants to learn Morse Code, I say let’s try The Personal Method. And to those of you who do want to learn Morse Code, try to find an Elmer who is willing to spend some time with you. If you can’t find one who can meet with you, hang in there with your cassette tapes or your computer program until you know enough code to work with an Elmer on the air. As the SKCC website says, “If you can only key at 3 words per minute, so be it.” There are SKCC Elmers who are eager to work with you (http://www.skccgroup.com/elmers.php). You’ll be amazed at how quickly you build up your speed, and you’ll enjoy the experience a thousand times more than by trying to learn all by yourself.

1 This quote is all over the Internet, but I’ve yet to see any citation for it. If you know where Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote this, please let me know!

Todd Mitchell, NØIP, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Minnesota, USA. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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