In Issue 1/2023

Shorthand in the Czech language exists in several forms, which were created over time, considering the technical abilities and requirements of the shorthand users of the time. In this article, I provide a short introduction to different forms of Czech shorthand. I have divided the forms into three, following the traditional categorisation: graphic shorthand, or recording texts using a pencil; chord stenography, or steno machines with special hardware whose use is based on chords; and string stenography, or machine shorthand with a standard keyboard whose use is based on string writing with a modular set of abbreviations. After the general introduction, I put particular emphasis on the string writing system called ZAVPIS, which has gained considerable popularity in the Czech stenographic community.

Graphic shorthand

Graphic shorthand is the oldest of the shorthand technologies. A key figure in its development in the Czech language was Miloš Matula (1919-2005), a parliamentary stenographer, a statistician, and a development worker at the Czechoslovak State Shorthand Institute. Matula was able to achieve speeds of up to 200 words per minute. In addition, he was a great inspiration for Jaroslav Zaviačič (born in 1939) in the development of machine string stenography. Together with Zaviačič, he established the traditional division of stenography: graphic, machine chord, and machine chain. However, Matula himself was sceptical about the development of machine string stenography at that time.

Matula’s success in graphic shorthand was based primarily on the use of his own frequency dictionary, a quick hand, and superior concentration. This is evidenced in his seminal work, Teorie a praxe těsnopisu (“The Theory and Practice of Shorthand”), published in 1958. Graphic shorthand is no longer taught in the Czech Republic today. It used to be taught mainly in the business academies, but they do not offer these courses anymore and there are no new graphic stenographers. However, the use of shorthand still remains in the Czech Republic, especially in parliamentary practice.

Chord stenography

In his work about Czech shorthand, Matula states that the Czech language has a much larger average word length than other languages that use chord stenography. Compared to English, it also has many open syllables and needs a larger number of alphabetic characters. This is a handicap in creating a successful chord shorthand system.

Nevertheless, there were attempts at chord machine stenography in Czech. Matula’s work includes a chapter on the Vrátný system of machine shorthand, which used machines of American design. Vrátný’s method was not eventually applied. A few decades later, the ZAV Internet School, under the leadership of Jaroslav Zaviačič, tested multiple layouts of shorthand machines with the aim of building a machine shorthand system for the Czech language. Since 2007, Zaviačič has been working on a system using the Chinese Yawei Sulu shorthand machine with 24 keys. However, the solution is complex, so it has not led to more efficient text capturing. This seems to have confirmed Matula’s hypothesis that steno machines are unsuitable for the Czech language due to the need for a large number of characters.

String stenography

The idea of string machine stenography dates back to 1958. At that time, Professor Akopjan from Moscow imagined it as a shorthand system for a basic typewriter. He was thus ahead of his time because the full potential of this type of solution could be realised only with the advent of computers and computer keyboards. Jaroslav Zaviačič worked on this solution in the 1990s, which led to the first version of ZAVPIS machine stenography for Microsoft Windows.

String stenography is made efficient with the frequent use of abbreviations. For example, a word stem like “stav” can be used to make several words by adding certain characters (see below).

In the illustration, there are several words with the stem “stav”. The stem is abbreviated as “sv”. In all the words, there is a prefix “vy”,abbreviated as “_y”. The words differ in suffixes, or endings. In the two first words, there are just simple endings. The rest of the words have a suffix that appears in many Czech words and is abbreviated as illustrated.

The use of ZAVPIS string stenography works as follows. The transcriber has the ZAVPIS application installed on the computer. The application contains a dictionary carrying a set of abbreviations that is continually being added to and improved for the needs of machine shorthand users. Once the application is activated, abbreviations work anywhere in Windows.

Mastering string machine stenography requires typing with all 10 fingers. Without this prerequisite, the use of machine stenography is not possible. ZAVPIS machine stenography is a part of the e-learning ZAV, which is widespread in the schools of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. In addition, there are also German, Polish, and (partly) English versions available. The teaching of ZAV starts with training in keyboarding. During the first 600 exercises, a considerable part of the keyboard is covered to enable the transition to keyboarding in practice. A student begins at the first exercise and, according to the results, they proceed to higher exercises; when the results are bad, the student repeats the previous exercises. Later, after 1,200 exercises, the whole keyboard is covered, including all special characters. This is followed by training to increase the speed and accuracy of keyboarding. After 2,400 exercises, the student has learned keyboarding and learning ZAVPIS machine stenography may begin.

Exercises in ZAVPIS training focus both on the abbreviations themselves and on their application to writing continuous text. The more the student can apply the abbreviations, the more effective their writing will be. However, it is not a requirement that the student must learn all the abbreviations first and then start using machine stenography in practice. Just a few central abbreviations can make the work considerably more efficient.

ZAVPIS stenography is used daily by transcribers for the deaf. It is also frequently used at conferences and text-processing competitions. Some of the major events where ZAVPIS has been used include the Colours of Ostrava festival. The festival includes the Meltingpot discussion forum, which brings together English speakers from all over the world. In order to convey the experience to non-English speaking participants, interpreters simultaneously interpret the speakers to transcribers who immediately transcribe it on the screen. This model has proven to be very successful, providing the audience with a virtually real-time, high-fidelity translation from English to Czech. The transcription is done with ZAVPIS machine stenography.


Machine stenography places high demands on its users. Not only do they need to learn and automate all the principles of stenography but they also need a high level of concentration, since a single error can cause many more mistakes than when simply typing out words. However, the efficiency of such a method is considerable, and it allows users to achieve performances that could not be achieved by ordinary typing.

Jonáš Vala is a Czech competitor in text processing, a typing teacher and a board member of Interinfo Czech Republic. He uses string stenography and reached speed of 786 strokes per minute at the last Intersteno world championship in text production.


Matula, M. (1958). Teorie a praxe těsnopisu (“The Theory and Practice of Shorthand”). Praha: Státní ústav těsnopisný.

Showing 3 comments
  • Quaverly


    I am an American using a self-made “string” stenography system (including a special QWERTY writer, a Windows-based CAT software, and my own methodology). I’ve taken this system into the courtroom for live verbatim writing and it works well! I enjoy a successful career as an unconventional shorthand writer.

    I would love to chat with Jonas and exchange ideas, as I don’t know any “string” stenos in the US. There are, however, several great chorded steno writers in the US whose ideas and practices are easily exchanged and applied across systems, as there are universal concepts applicable to any system of shorthand. But a colleague more closely related in method would also be wonderful to discover.

    There is also a small group of hobbyists on the Plover Discord server who refer to string steno as “serial” steno, but they are generally at the early stages of exploration and invention rather than in a teaching or practical-application stage. I found that environment to be a cheerful and creative space to work collaboratively on some of my own ideas over the years.

    While I can envision someday teaching my method, reproducing my one-of-a-kind writer, and providing user-friendly software, it would be a massive project for which the demand is not currently present in the US, where chorded steno thrives and needs no substitute.

    I am happy to see that there is a use for string steno in the Czech Republic so that others can see, indeed, we do have the technology today for this to be a perfectly viable method of shorthand writing. It took several years for me to convince skeptics in the US, but it is plain to me that both chorded and string methodologies work just fine nowadays.

    Looking forward to meeting great minds like Jonas at Intersteno! — Quaverly

  • Jonáš Vala

    The Czech translation of the article is available on

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