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May 20, 2022

For the love of a fading art

Shorthand, the speedy writing method used by journalists, is fast falling out of fashion in a digital age, but Adelaide tutor Helen Bibbo is passing the skill on to students from California to Ireland.

  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Pictures: Dimitra Koriozos

Speaking from her home office, Helen Bibbo estimates she’s taught Teeline shorthand to 3000 students over her 25-year career.

“And they range from 15 years old up to 83,” Helen says, enunciating every syllable as a teacher would. “It’s quite an achievement.”


Learn more about HelenBibbo’s Teeline course here.

Teeline shorthand is a method of writing quickly. It’s employed by journalists and sometimes doctors and lawyers, with the aim to slim words down to a skeleton. After you shed vowels, only the phonetic sounds and consonants remain. These are “the backbone of the words”, Helen says.

As media continues its shift online, the keyboard increasingly becomes mightier than the pen. Despite this, Helen’s online course, fittingly titled ‘Teeline by Helen’, has become a raging success, offering a range of teaching materials and videos on the increasingly anachronistic discipline.

“I’ve got a student in California and Boston and a lady from over in Ireland,” Helen explains. “It’s like learning another language. It gives you the skills to open up that part of your brain.”

Being one of very few experts in a niche field has given Helen a surprising leg up career-wise, online and off.

“When I taught some students at the education department, they tried to find out what to pay me by checking everywhere else. It all came back to me because I was teaching all the places,” she laughs. 

We’re chatting inside the room where Helen recorded all the videos for her online course. A large whiteboard stands in one corner, while a computer and desk littered with Teeline shorthand textbooks is in the other. After a long teaching career, Helen says she launched the program in 2019, after retiring in 2018,  to “complete that era of my work”.

“It wasn’t about making money. It was just something I wanted to do,” she explains.

Helen initially trained as a history, geography and English teacher. But after having a couple of children, moving overseas and repatriating home, she wanted to find a professional edge. 

She completed the University of South Australia’s first Teeline shorthand course in 1990 and “loved it”. She says she didn’t realise “where this little course, learning Teeline, would lead me”.

Across a three-decade career, a major career capstone for Helen was teaching cadets Teeline at the city’s major paper, The Advertiser, from 1994 to 2016. Reflecting on that time half a decade on, Helen says she was initially apprehensive of the job application when it landed in her lap.

“It was The Advertiser – you know, journalists,” she says, raising an eyebrow. 

But Helen remained, teaching some well-known journalists who got their start in South Australia, such as Annabel Crabb and The Australian Financial Review’s political editor Phillip Coorey. Her credits are a star-studded lineup, but this is not important to Helen. She says she cares equally about all her students.

“I taught the cream of students, but then I also taught some of the students who had missed out along the way for all sorts of reasons,” Helen says, referring to her time working at the University of South Australia and other business colleges.

“Some of them have been told that they were hopeless from primary school.”

When asked what qualities are needed to make a good teacher, Helen says you need to be able to make fun of yourself. This is especially important with teaching Teeline – an other-worldly discipline to the uninitiated.

“I always used to say to them, ‘Whatever mistakes you’ve made or you will make, I have made before you,’” Helen says. “Understanding the difficulties that I went through and passing it on to my students, but also inspiring them.”

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