Learn Braille on Your Way Home from Work

I had a sensuous train ride today.  I’ve gotta tell you – you would be amazed what two Taiwanese women on a train will say to each other in Chinese in front of you when they think that you don’t understand them!   I milked the situation for all it was worth, listening for about 20 mins of my 1.5 hour journey to one Taiwanese girl tell in gory details to her other Taiwanese friend what she should do for her boyfriend and how to to it if she didn’t want to lose him. It was hard to top that, but alas … my mind wandered onto other things to keep it occupied… and then I spotted it …. BRAILLE!

I went through a passing Braille phase several years ago.  I managed to get hold of a few Braille books, and after a few days I reached the stage of being able to slowly read texts.  I think if I had have kept up with it for another couple of weeks, I definitely would have gotten faster, but something happened.  One of the Braille books I was using must have been contaminated – I contracted a vicious eye infection that caused my eyes to puff up and get conjunctivitis and at one stage I couldn’t see a thing.  Ironic I know.   The conjunctivitis passed and so did my stint with Braille.

Seeing that big ol’ sign up there on the train in Braille rekindled the flames, and off I went – ‘re-learning’ the Braille alphabet.

What is Braille?

Braille is a system of using a series of raised dots in a 2×3 matrix for each letter developed by Louis Braille (January 4, 1809 – January 6, 1852).  His system was a modified version of Charles Barbier’s ‘Night Writing‘ that was developed for the military.  By changing it to a 6 dot combination, it made it easier for him to read.

When you’re learning Braille, you really should learn it through ‘touch’ and not the visual representation of the dots.  The kinesthetic  trait of Braille is why it works.  You start to feel objects rather than dots.  Learning it visually can be misleading.   In the beginning however, examining the visual patterns of dots and mapping those to the ‘feeling’ of the bumps is a good way to get a jump start on it.

How do you Learn Braille on a Train?

I love puzzles and finding patterns in things.  As soon as I spotted the sign on the train, it was like a big tactile jigsaw puzzle for me and at the end of this rainbow, I knew that I would have a refreshed skillset of being able to do something that in my eyes is pretty cool – READ BRAILLE.

So, for the time being, rather than answer the question ‘How do you Learn Braille on a Train?”, I would like to change it to “How do you Crack the Braille Code on a Train?”

Cracking the Code

You see, the words written in normal letters on this sign and the way I noticed the Braille words grouped didn’t match.  Take a look:

Time to solve the Puzzle!

If you start mapping out the sign letter for letter between the written letters and the Braille letters, you’ll be O.K. for the first few words and then you’ll hit a snag.

A Learning Technique that you can use with Learning any Language

I have to confess.  This whole article isn’t because I want to teach you Braille.  It’s because I want to help you develop what I think is a critical skill for learning languages.  It’s all about getting the language into your muscle memory and associating it with emotions and sensations that can be programmed to be recalled by instinct.

The first thing I would do in this situation is memorise the first 3 words ‘PRIORITY SEATING AREA’ (before the anomaly), close my eyes and place my fingers on the letters.  Don’t worry what the other people on the train think. You’re probably providing them with some well needed entertainment on their long boring trip too!

The first thing I would do in this situation is look for recurring letters in these three words.  The first obvious letters to me that recur here are ‘E’, ‘I’, ‘A’ and ‘R’.  Now when you have a feel of ‘E’ and ‘I’, you’ll notice that as a ‘sense’ on your fingers, they actually feel like a box at the tip of your finger.  It’s weird to explain unless you’ve actually felt Braille letters.  The letter ‘I’ is the mirror image / feeling of ‘E’.   ‘R’ kind of represents a letter ‘R’, and the letter ‘A’ is easy – one single dot.

A  I  R  E

I then start feeling over those three first words seeing if I can stop my hand on one of the four letters that I just learned.  First I choose ‘A’.  It’s pretty easy to recognise.  I brush my hand back and forth and stop each time I get to it.  I then keep drilling myself with combinations of the letters.

I also scan the rest of the sign and see if I can pull out those letters in the text that I hadn’t memorised yet.  It’s a little slower, but not impossible.

Knowing where those letters are placed in the words now, I slowly work out the other letters.  I spend about 5 minutes on this.

So as to keep my brain active, I stop the drilling and go back to visual mode.   It’s now time to work out what the rest of the sign says.

I can see that in the next word, there’s a letter that I know now – ‘R’.  It’s a 3 letter word with the letter ‘R’ at the end.  I soon realise that it must be ‘FOR’.

I have a feeling I know what is going on now.  They haven’t included the ‘Please vacate these seats’ section in Braille because:

  1. It would take up unnecessary space
  2. Blind people reading the Braille are in the group that would have the right to use the seat – no need to tell them to vacate the seat.

With that in mind, I quickly work out what the rest of the sign says:

The rest of the sensuous train ride was spent drilling myself letter by letter until I could get most of them down.

Like I confessed earlier – I didn’t really write this article because I wanted to teach you to learn Braille. The reasons for writing it are:

  • To remind us that when we’re enthusiastic and motivated, anything can turn into a learning experience
  • Learn techniques of embedding a new ‘language’ into our bodies – using Braille as an example hear, it’s very easy to conceptualise.  I use this principle with EVERY language I learn.  Tones in a tonal language for example aren’t any different from training your body to respond to raised dots on a sign.
  • Learn drilling techniques for learning new vocab items and new writing systems
  • Learn the golden rule of thumb (for my 2 dear Taiwanese travel friends) …

If you are going to say something (bad or something you don’t want people to hear), assume that EVERYONE around you understands what you’re saying.

If you’re going to say something good and DO want people to hear it, assume that no-one understands what you’re saying and take extra measures to ensure that they do finally get the message you intended!’

I’ve mirrored the Wikipedia Braille Alphabet table below for your reference.

Tell me  in the comments section to this post – What techniques do you use for learning new words / scripts?

Reference – The Braille Alphabet from Wikipedia

Braille ASCII Braille Meaning Unicode Char. Number
‹ › (space) U+2800
‹'› (apostrophe) U+2804
! «the-», “the” U+282e
" {contraction5} (a contraction prefix) U+2810
# {number}, ‹#›, «-ble» U+283c
$ «ed» U+282b
% «sh» U+2829
& «and» U+282f
( “of” U+2837
) “with” U+283e
* «ch», “child” U+2821
+ «ing» U+282c
, {capital}, {contraction6} U+2820
- «com-», ‹-› (hyphen) U+2824
. {italic}, ‹.› (decimal point), {contraction46} U+2828
/ «st», ‹/› (slash), “still” U+280c
0 “was”, “by”, ‹”› (close-quote) U+2834
1 «ea», ‹,› (comma) U+2802
2 «-bb-», ‹;› (semicolon) U+2806
3 «-cc-», «con-», ‹:› (colon) U+2812
4 «dis-», «-dd-», ‹.› (period) U+2832
5 «en» U+2822
6 ‹!› (excl. mark), “to” U+2816
7 ‹(›, ‹)› (parens), «-gg-» U+2836
8 “his”, ‹“› (open-quote) U+2826
9 «in» U+2814
: «wh» U+2831
; {letter}, {contraction56} U+2830
< «gh» U+2823
= “for” U+283f
> «ar» U+281c
? «th» U+2839
@ {accent indicator} U+2808
[ «ow» U+282a
\ «ou», “out” U+2833
] «er» U+283b
^ {contraction45} (a contraction prefix) U+2818
_ {contraction456} U+2838
a ‹a›, ‹1› (one) U+2801
b ‹b›, ‹2›, “but” U+2803
c ‹c›, ‹3›, “can” U+2809
d ‹d›, ‹4›, “do” U+2819
e ‹e›, ‹5›, “every” U+2811
f ‹f›, ‹6›, “from” U+280b
g ‹g›, ‹7›, “go” U+281b
h ‹h›, ‹8›, “have” U+2813
i ‹i›, ‹9› U+280a
j ‹j›, ‹0› (zero), “just” U+281a
k ‹k›, “knowledge” U+2805
l ‹l› (ell), “like” U+2807
m ‹m›, “more” U+280d
n ‹n›, “not” U+281d
o ‹o› (letter oh) U+2815
p ‹p›, “people” U+280f
q ‹q›, “quite” U+281f
r ‹r›, “rather” U+2817
s ‹s›, “so” U+280e
t ‹t›, “that” U+281e
u ‹u›, “us” U+2825
v ‹v›, “very” U+2827
w ‹w›, “will” U+283a
x ‹x›, “it” U+282d
y ‹y›, “you” U+283d
z ‹z›, “as” U+2835


By signing up for the Siskin mailing list you will receive exclusive finance and marketing resources, be the first to hear about events, workshops, and have access to subscriber only content!

Written by

Stuart Jay Raj