Good thread and lots of very valid input.
My learning was probably different from many others.
I was taught “professionally” at a marine radio college.
The very first morse lesson was looked upon, by all of us, with a little trepidation and some excitement.
The instructor sat down, handed us a sheet of paper containing a paragraph of text, place his hand on the key (everything HAD to be performed on straight key), and sent the text at 25wpm.
It was, to all of us, just noise!
Then he said, “to pass the 22wpm test (no errors allowed) under the stress of exam conditions, you will need to be able to comfortably copy that passage at 25wpm. What’s more, you all will!”
We were then all asked to open our operators “Bible”, Handbook for Radio Operators, of which we all had brand new, pristine copies and remove pages 152 to 154. This was the appendix which listed all the characters graphically, e.g.
We were then given the warning, "NEVER write morse or try and learn it as written! An A is not dot dash, it is a sound like de dah.
The lesson continued.
We turned to page 178/9 and were asked to study the phonetic alaphabet for 5 minutes. (crickey this morse is easy so far!).
The instructor then ran around the class shouting out letters at people and we had to reply with the phonetic or vice versa, e.g. H would get the response Hotel, Alpha was responded to by A etc.
Crikey this is still easy
This morse lesson had now taken 30 minutes and we had not learnt a single character!
To round of the final 15 minutes, the instructor went back to his page of text.
He asked us all to open our blank transcription notebooks, sharpen our pencils (pens were banned for transcribing morse), and get ready to copy his dictation.
He then started:
sierra oscar tango alpha_india sierra_ alpha november_ alpha whiskey alpha romeo delta_ sierra charlie hotel echo mike echo …etc…
Most of us were lost within about 30 seconds and could only produce a page of random gibberish.
We should have written SOTA IS AN AWARD SCHEME…
“That” he said, "was dictated at 25 wpm. None of you can even currently write that fast!"
End of lesson one!
The first 20 minutes were in teaching us how to quickly and unambiguously print upper case letters!
For example an E was written like a back to front 3, and lots of variations so that D, O, Q, P etc could not be mistaken when transcribing at high speed.
We then attempted the previous days dictation at slower speeds using our new found skills.
End of lesson - this morse is easy!
The instructor went to the black board and wrote the following:
A E O S T.
we all put on our headphones, he pointed to A and he sent de dah.
This was repeated many times. We all wrote it down waht we heard (A!).
As a test he then sent 5 figure groups containing all the characters we now knew.
We all wrote AAAAA AAAAA AAAAA AAAAA AAAAA
This morse stuff is easy!
Then he pointed to E and sent dit.
We all wrote it down and after the 5 figure groups we now all wrote down
EEEEE EEEEE EEEEE EEEEE etc.
Now he mixed them up for test #2 so we got stuff like
AAEEA AAAAE EAEAA AEAEA EEAAE
Still quite easy!
Now it was turn for O.
when it came to AEOAA AAOOE OEAOA
it all started to become a bit more difficult
This was the methodology which was now continued twice a day (45 minute sessions) every day, and an hours practice tape to listen to at night.
It was probably 5 days before we moved on to the next 5 letters, H I L N R. We only moved on when everyone could copy, error free, the previously learnt letters.
Characters were formed at about 18 wpm, but sent with a spacing initially of perhaps 8 wpm.
The end game was to learn the entire character set and be transcribing error free at 12 wpm.
Then it was just a question of pushing the speed up. The learning had been done.
The ear was connected to the finger tips, the brain was redundant, there was no translation of dots and dashes, no counting etc.
Reading what was sent was discouraged. If taking plain text it was best to cover up the words as you went along and think about what beer you were going to drink tonight etc.
If you missed a letter put a dash and move on. Never ever dwell on a missed character.
Reading would lead to guess work about the upcoming letter, which would of course throw you out if it wasn’t what was expected! We very often copied foreign language text to keep us on our toes (and obviously to make use of accented letters). Stocks and shares (which could be picked up off air) were the ultimate; they contained accented letters and figures with lots of % and fractions.
Reading in your head only came in year 2 when everyone was already comfortable at 20 wpm.
This came about naturally during normal operating.
Normal ship to shore or ship to ship chat was much like your normal amateur exchange, eg. GA OM TR QTO LIVERPOOL BND ROTTERDAM QSA? QRU?
Even signing off had the obligatory TU (and normally see u) to make a nice rhythm, TU SEEU.
So what am I trying to say?
Never learn morse by counting dots and dashes or looking at it written .- fashion.
Take it slow and steady with regular short practice.
Don’t move onto new characters until your brain has been wired for the current batch.
Write everything down with a pencil.
Never read what you are writing.
Let your mind wander - the brain should be bypassed.
Use morse all the time - transcribe in your head road side signs, newspaper headlines, car number plates etc etc.
You can sleep eat and breathe morse and it just becomes an automatic non thinking part of your life.
Don’t send anything until you properly identify all the sounds of the alphabet.
That’s how I learnt, steady consistent short lessons.