Fluency uncertainties on CW

languagesConditions have been great on 10 meters lately. So good that last week I did something I haven’t done in a very long time – I spun the VFO dial up to the phone portion of the band so I could hear QSO’s in progress.

Spoken QSO’s, not that dot & dash Morse Code stuff that I love so much.

28.400 to 28.600 was buzzing with activity. Germans and Belgians were working American stations, Americans were working Dutch and French stations.

Bostonians, Canadians, Scandinavians, Texans, Slavs, New Yorkers, Dubliners…they were all in there, mixing it up in dozens of accents. What a hobby!

And it was all in English.

It didn’t take long to realize what I miss by being a CW op. By choosing that mode’s efficiency, I’ve traded away an insight into my QSO partner’s English fluency and, in so doing, have undoubtedly missed what could have been lengthy and fulfilling QSO’s.

On CW I have no quick & easy way of knowing if the OM on the other end will know what I mean if I tell him what I do for a living – or even if he cares to move the QSO beyond the basics.

No such problem on phone – I could instantly gauge a person’s ability to converse in what to him was a 2nd language. Almost everyone I listened to from a non-English-speaking country spoke English incredibly well.

This shouldn’t surprise me – and it didn’t. Instead, it reminded me the truism contained within an old joke:

“A person who speaks 3 languages is called tri-lingual. A person who speaks two languages is bi-lingual – and a person who speaks only one language is American.”

My only choice – and thus my MO – on CW is to let the DX station take the lead and initiate any path into a conversational QSO.

Maybe I’ll invest in a microphone for this rig….someday.



  6 comments for “Fluency uncertainties on CW

  1. October 24, 2013 at 1:44 am

    John, just like you I seldomly operate phone (except for two or three major contests), but when propagation is above average I grab the microhpone and work NA. I like ragchewing for a change but almost exclusively with American stations or at least native English speakers.
    I don’t want to offend anyone but it seems to me that non-native English speakers don’t like to ragchew and leave the trodden paths of the standard format name-QTH and sometimes their setup or a short note on the WX.
    I might have my hand in that too because when I get called by someone else I tend keep it short myself and move on to the next American caller. For those two or three times a year I work phone, I go for maximum efficiency… Come to think of it: maybe the others think the same and rather elaborate a QSO with an American station than a Belgian.

    Working USA never lost its magic for me even after all these 52344 contacts (I looked it up HI).

    BTW your ‘old joke’ does not only apply to Americans! That’s what you get when you let John Wayne talk French on the big screen or let Dirty Harry molest the suspect in German. In the Dutch speaking part of Belgium we see and hear everything in original English with Dutch subtitles. It is my belief that this is a huge asset for learning English compared to dubbing everything over in the local language. At least that’s how I picked up some vocabulary and idioms as a kid. Grammar was hammered in at school with a sledge-hammer. Sledge Hammer, yet another eighties TV series I watched in my early teens!

    BTW English is only my third language ;o)

    All of this does not apply to CW where we all speak the universal Q-code.
    – ON5ZO

    • October 24, 2013 at 6:25 am

      Franki, every time I read one of your postings your fluency makes me wonder if you grew up here in the US or some other English-speaking country. If only I could be so fluent in Spanish – my wife’s 1st language and one I’ve been struggling to improve for longer than I’ll admit.

      We both enjoy subtitled movies although usually for entertainment rather than linguistic value (recently: ‘Fist of the Reich’ about German boxer Max Schmeling – what a great movie. Loved every minute of it).

      On the air, regardless of mode, I tend to think that ragchews are few and far between. Band conditions are only sporadically good and most folks seem to want to maximize how many (entities) they can contact rather than how long they can talk to any particular station.

      I’m that way myself, yet the few times a year I have a long CW QSO with an interesting person, I enjoy it immensely.

  2. October 24, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    Hi John,

    If you’re working someone who’s a member of a CW club, like CWops or FOC, you can be sure that that person is quite conversational both in CW and in English, I find. My web site might come in handy for finding CW club members on the bands…

    73 de Frank PA4N

    • October 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Thanks for that info, Frank. For some reason I’m unable to access your website from work but will check again when I get home later. I did look at the CWops website and it looks interesting. From their membership roster I see a lot of familiar calls.

      Some readers may be interested to know that their monthly newsletter is freely available:

      • October 24, 2013 at 3:38 pm

        Hi John,

        Well, just after I had posted that message, my internet provider had a problem. So I guess that was the reason you could not reach the web site. It’s now again operational: http://pa4n.xs4all.nl/bandmap

        Yes, many well-known hams in CWops. It’s a nice group to be part of. I think you’d be a wonderful addition to that group…

        73 de Frank PA4N

        • October 25, 2013 at 6:52 pm

          Thanks Frank – I’ll seek those guys out on the air and see if I can scare up a nomination ;-)
          That’s a website with a unique capability you’ve put together with all the many filters to enable you to find who you’re looking for.

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