How do I go about learning Braille?
August 31, 2012 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have experience learning to read braille (using my fingers)? How difficult is it?

It may sound strange, but I am interested in learning how to read braille with my fingertips.

My motivation is twofold:
1) I like learning things and challenging my brain, so this would actually be fun for me

2) I think it could actually be useful to me... I could still read in an extremely noisy environment (like my daily train commute) without getting dizzy.

If this article is correct ( they might even be building a "Braille Kindle"!

I haven't found many online communities for this (I guess I'm in the super minority), and Grade-2 Braille seems quite challenging... is reading Braille fluently something that can be done within a year in my free time? Or is it more of a full-time endeavor that takes years to master?

And once one learns to read English Braille, is learning Spanish, Chinese, Korean Braille easier to learn?

I would love to hear from people who have attempted to this!

Thank you!
posted by Struan to Education (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't answer any of your questions, but I can offer one tip towards learning Braille, which is how I learned some as a child. I used my grandfather's stylus and slate to write out lessons he made for me. My grandfather went blind as an adult, and that was how HE learned braille, by spelling out letters, then words, then sentences. He would write out the words, then retrace them to insure they were correct. I did simple kid-appropriate words. I recall he made me write a little story about Louis Braille as a lesson. Sadly, he died young and I didn't keep up with my studies.

I don't know how long it took him to be perfectly fluent, but some of my earliest memories are of the large braille books he read. He loved to read, and would have loved a braille Kindle.

Good luck, what an interesting endeavor!
posted by msali at 9:04 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, learning to read Braille by touch is difficult and will take a lot of work. I am a mobility specialist for the blind and part of my Masters degree required learning Braille by sight. That was much harder than expected. As you mentioned, Grade 2 Braille is tough. There are lots of contractions and many rules.

The other thing to think about is that you can't haul around paper Braille books. They are enormous! Most of my students have a Braille Note or Apex. It looks like a rectangular purse that has a Braille key pad and you can download books to the device or get online. However, these cost about $8,000. I'd imagine a Braille Kindle, if they ever make one, will be just as costly.
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:25 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

With your fingertips? What else would you possibly use? Your nose?

Your public library probably has resources for you. If there is an institute or organization for the blind in your city, they can probably guide you to some resources as well.

I'd suggest learning on children's materials and working your way up. Good luck!
posted by windykites at 9:28 PM on August 31, 2012

Windykites - I think the OP was specifying that he/she doesn't want to learn it by sight. Many sighted people who work with the blind learn it by sight in order to be able to visually read Braille when working with students, making tactile maps, etc.
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:32 PM on August 31, 2012

Oh, I understand. I never realised that. Apologies for snark.
posted by windykites at 9:44 PM on August 31, 2012

It's like learning to read print as an adult. It'll be hard and slow, and you'll never read it as fast as print. (I'm a professional Braille transcriber and I read it with my eyes, and it's still pretty slow going.)
posted by Melismata at 6:47 AM on September 1, 2012

Life-long Braille reader here. I was born visually impaired and learned both Braille and print as a child. I'll give you what insight I can offer.

Grade 2 Braille is by degrees much more difficult than grade 1. This is because the rules for word construction don't adhere merely to the language you're working in, but also to a standard unique to Braille. If you intend to learn by touch, start with grade 1. I second the idea of working with children's books. Last time I saw, there were kids' books with a clear plastic sheet overlaid on top of a normal sheet of paper. The print version of the text is underneath and the Braille is superimposed on top. This would be an ideal setup for your learning because it'll allow your brain to make more distinct connections between the two sets of symbols. This was well over fifteen years ago though. I don't know if anything's really changed since then. Most upwardly mobile blind folks I know use Braille less and less these days because of the prohibitively expensive tech required to make it work. If you're not being funded by a government agency, grant, or institution, you aren't buying that gear.

I'm getting a little off-topic. Short answer is that it will be difficult, but so are most things worth doing. You have age and in-built experience working against you here. I was fortunate to learn at six years old. If you think it's worth your time, go for it. You've got nothing to lose. Memail me if you want to discuss this further. I'd be happy to help you in any way I can.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 3:37 PM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I learned Braille as a child so I could read in the dark after my parents made me turn off the lights. I can still read Grade level 1.5, but only by sight. It is really hard to read by your fingertips. It simply is a different way of interacting with your world. I never got to where I could read in the dark, but it has helped me in construction finding incorrectly brailled signs.

If you do want to learn, you can take the Library of Congress's transcription program.

And to start writing, you can use regular paper with a 19 cell slate. Slates usually come with a stylus.

If you would like a braille pen pal, pm me.
posted by Monday at 4:33 PM on September 1, 2012

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