Learning to Copy Morse Code

How not to learn!

When I wanted to learn morse code I started having a read into it online and looking around and there are a plethora of different methods around, one of the first things I noticed were a variety of “visual” methods or crutches for learning. We all learn differently and what works for one person may not work for another, but one thing that is pretty consistent amongst the advice from radio amateurs (as opposed to random survivalist websites and “100 things you should know” lists etc.) is not to learn visually.

As radio amateurs we are listening to Morse code like a heard language, we’re learning a new alphabet which we’ll only ever hear or send as sound, we’ll never write it, and ideally we want to learn to hear and immediately recognise the letter. The problem with these visual aids is they require you to hear, count the dots and dashes, or dits and dahs as we call them then use these images in your head to translate the letter and most probably write that down. Thats hard to do quickly! That isn’t to say that it’s impossible to learn this way, over time the instant character recognition will develop, but it does add a hurdle which will most likely slow down development. And this is a recurring theme with many of the recommendations of what to do or not to do, they aren’t hard and fast rules but trying to avoid picking up bad habits which will hamper learning efficiently.

How to learn

When it comes to learning morse code there are number of different methods. The ‘traditional’ method is to learn the alphabet and then work up from something like 5 wpm (words per minute). The problem with this is that when you get to about 10 wpm you move from thinking in terms of dots and dashes to sounds so you almost have to relearn. The current wisdom is to learn at the speed you intend to use, so somewhere between 15 wpm and 20 wpm.

There are a couple of popular methods of learning at the speed you will use, the Koch method and the Farnsworth method.

The Koch method was developed by Ludwig Koch back in the 1930’s and is allegedly the fastest method for learning morse code. The theory is simple, you expose yourself to full speed code from day one, starting with 2 characters and working your way up, for example you might start with K and M working at 25wpm and once you hit 90% accuracy over say 5 minutes you move on to the next letter. Koch himself apparently managed to get a group to master 12 wpm code in only 13.5 hours, however he handpicked the students himself, so your mileage may vary!

Secondly the Farnsworth method, the theory behind this is to learn the characters at fast pace but with slower spacing between characters and words, so for example 25wpm character speed but with only say 9wpm spacing between the characters and words, so you hear the character at the speed you will use it but have a chance after each character to think about it. A combination of these is what seems to be the most popular way to learn.

The reality is that different things will work for different people. The method I originally chose was a combination of the Koch and the Farnsworth methods using the Chuck Adams K7QO Code Course, however I found the character speed of 17 wpm and spacing speed of 5 wpm a little slow and character counting a little too easy. Once I managed to get G4FON Koch Trainer working on my machine I moved to that, I love the flexibility, it’s just a fantastic piece of software.

See Morse Code Resources : Software and Morse Code Resources : Standalone for more information on learning resources for Morse Code.