I recently wrote a letter to an educator I admire who voiced the trouble he’s had learning to touch type as an adult. He still “hunts and pecks” and times in at around 30 WPM. He’s a writer, so his typing handicap is a serious hurdle for him.
I remember my dad yelling at me as a teenager for looking at the keyboard while typing. I was surprised at his reaction, since he’s actually a very relaxed man, not prone to outbursts like that whatsoever. Maybe he was overtaken by a vision of me employed scraping shit from behind horses when he saw me typing like a goon and just couldn’t handle the shame of it.
Years later, as a young adult out living on my own, I made the decision to finally learn to type right. I had tried several times, but just like quitting smoking, it was just too easy to cheat by looking at the keyboard. If you’re here hoping to learn to type, that’s probably your problem too.
So I made cheating impossible for myself. I switched keyboard layouts.
The Dvorak keyboard layout was developed to make typing more efficient and faster. It ships standard with every modern operating system.
The Obsolete Relic QWERTY
The ubiquitous QWERTY layout was literally developed to make typing as inefficient as possible. Early typists pre-QWERTY tended to jam their typewriters with their lightning-fast hands.
But no one uses typewriters anymore. QWERTY has lived on long past its best-before date on historical inertia and nothing else.
Through one day of typing, a QWERTY typist’s hands will travel 8 miles, likely far further than they will walk that day. During the same period, a Dvorak typist’s hands will only travel 1 mile. Folks with carpal tunnel or tendinitis who have switched actually find their problems clear up when switching to a Dvorak layout.
Switching my input language to Dvorak while still keeping my physical QWERTY keyboard forced me to learn to type without looking – or touch type. Switching the keys around is certainly much easier those first few days, but if your goal is learning to touch type you must resist the temptation.
Unfortunately, you will still have to know to type on a QWERTY. Every keyboard you come in contact with away from home will be set up as QWERTY, and some mobile devices such as iPhone don’t work for touch typing due to their lack of tactic keys.
If you follow my method, you will learn to type competently on your new layout Dvorak, and will retain your ability to type on QWERTY. When looking at the screen, your brain will remember Dvorak, but while looking at the keyboard you will type in QWERTY. I know this because that’s exactly how my brain has now organized typing. I am just as fast at QWERTY as I ever was – at least when I’m looking directly at my fingers.
How I Did it in Under 2 Weeks
I accidentally rode the bullet train of learning speed by playing World of Warcraft for 2 weeks immediately upon switching to a Dvorak layout. You can actually get a 2 week free trial of this game which will be long enough to learn the keyboard layout. Or choose any other MMORPG where you are required to type quickly and semi-accurately to your team members. You can’t rely on voice chat though – you’ve got to use keyboard as your main communication mechanism!
My first day was an absolute disaster. My team mates must have thought me mentally handicapped from my awkward sentences and terrible response time.
Learning by Dreaming
That first evening I say awake still imagining typing behind my eyes. And I dreamed of nothing but typing all night. After that, I progressed very rapidly. I was testing at 35 WPM by the end of my WoW trial, the same speed that I was typing on QWERTY.
It’s been 4 years since I did this experiment, and I’m still touch typing on Dvorak. I type 80 WPM+, which is about as fast as I can think. It’s not going to break any records but it’s a world of difference from the hunting and pecking of my earlier years.