I don't envy first graders.  Or their teachers. After more than two hours of braille homework today, I'm reminded that learning to read is no small thing.

I'm learning punctuation now, in my Intro to Braille course, and for the first time since perhaps the eighth grade, I'm aware of just how much of it there is.

Here is a small sampling of the braille punctuation code.

Notice the dollar sign, opening and closing parentheses, the question mark, the colon, and the dash are not included.

The first cell in the picture ("capital follows") is how you capitalize a letter in braille.   When you're reading, you know that if "dot 6" is raised, the following letter is capitalized.  Because you only have 6 dots to work with, a HUGE part of braille is about context.  A period and a dollar sign are the exact same symbol, but braille readers use context to determine which one  applies.  This is a direct quote from my textbook regarding that utter insanity:

"It also stands for the dollar sign. Don't be concerned, however - you cannot confuse them.  The dollar sign always has a space before it and a number sign after it.  The period always has a symbol before it and a space after it."

You cannot confuse them?  Oh really?  Watch me.

And because all the dots are numbered (letter A is dot 1; letter F is dots 1,2,4; letter N is dots 1,3,4,5), and because I'm still not fluent enough to read or write anything without talking myself through it letter by letter, I sound like a cracked out physics student reciting formulas when I try to transcribe a basic sentence.

For example, if I wanted to write the following sentence in braille:

"Mr. and Mrs. Smith, how are you today?"

I would sound something like this:

"Capital M, one-three-four, R! Period two-five-six space, lowercase A-N-D, space capital M-r-s two-three-four. Period! Space! Capital! S again! Dots two-three-four M-I-T-H COMMA, SPACE, "H" ONE-TWO-FIVE! "

(That got me through "Mr. and Mrs. Smith.")

So I talked to myself in my cracked out physicist voice today for more than two hours.  Dan came home from work, took one listen to what was going on, and swept Madeline out the door to run errands - I think he felt sorry for her.

But it's coming along!

I love language with my whole heart, and I experience a sense of wonder, amazement and accomplishment every time I sit down and put stylus (writing tool) to paper.  I wish I could share with you all the fascinating tricks and tips and patterns and codes of the braille world, but it seems this post is full enough of jargon.

A picture's worth a thousand words, right?

Reading is for everyone.  Braille matters.  Literacy matters.

(One day I'll learn how to italicize things in braille!)