A year after switching to Colemak

Blog

About one year ago (in September 2016) I decided to try keyboard layout other than QWERTY. I wanted to learn touch typing and be able to still use QWERTY when needed. I had already heard a lot of good things about Dvorak that time, but I wanted to be able to still use QWERTY ocasionally and I thought that Dvorak is too different than QWERTY. At that time I was aware of Colemak existance. Colemak is advertised as easy to learn and ergonomic layout which increases typing speed (especially in English) and is quite similar to QWERTY. Colemak moves only 17 keys. So I decided to give it a chance.

I'd like to tell you something about training process, summarize my progress and tell you why using alternative layout is not so painful.

Training process

As the first step I have been doing a few series of trainings at thetypingcat each day for about two weeks. It is good, but set of exercises on this website is quite small. After few days it was too easy for me.

Next training application which I have been using was keyhero. This website was quite helpful. It contains huge set of extracts from books, articles and other texts sent by users. It is very good program, because each example contains punctuation characters and upper case letters which is not common in typical typing training software.

During whole training process I have noticed that it is more important to type accurate than fast. When you make a mistake you have to press backspace and correct key besides incorrect one, so it must take more than typing just correct key. The only application which places huge emphasis on accuracy is GNU Typist. It works in CLI and has quite limited number of exercises, but each one is adjusted to keyboard layout which you want to master and requires very good accuracy to pass each step. Undoubtedly GNU Typist helped me the most. Simple user interface is one more good side of gtypist. There are no elements which could create a diversion of trainee and the results are presented at the end of test.

GNU Typist is great tool for training, but when it comes to keeping track of progress and competing with other people there are some other solutions.

I have found that quite popular website which fulfil that requirements is 10fastfingers. It offers simple 1-minute typing tests, advanced tests, competitions and simple but good enough statistics for each user. I liked it and use it now more often than GNU Typist.

Progress

How my training process has been proceeding? After about 6 weeks of learning when I was able to type about 40 words per minute, I did QWERTY a 'cold turkey'. Now I'm reaching about 75 WPM in English and sometimes more than 80 WPM in Polish (which is my native language and I use it more often). If you want to see my progress, visit my 10fastfingers profile.

Conversion from QWERTY

Some people who switched to alternative layout say that now they cannot type on traditional one. Maybe in some cases its truth, but we change layout not to learn that, but to use it. You will probably always be able to set your favourite one on any OS. If you use Linux you can change your keyboard layout at any time without any problem (setxkbmap command). On Windows you need to download small application which doesn't require installation and run it. I have to use QWERTY very rarely - only when I type something on computer that is not mine and it is going to take me no more than few minutes. In other cases I'm always able to (and do) switch to Colemak.

One more thing that I would like to mention (and maybe it is the most important advantage of doing a conversion) is convenience and efficiency. Using Colemak is really comfortable. Fingers move rarely (especially when you use English), both hands are equally engaged in typing which is not so obvious in case of QWERTY (and QWERTY-based layouts). It is also said that using Colemak prevents you from getting sore wrists, but I haven't tested that because I hadn't that problem using QWERTY so in this aspect I cannot see the difference.

To sum up, I strongly encourage you to try some new layout. It doesn't have to be Colemak. There is a lot of other ergonomic layouts (you can find interesting information about them here). Two or three weeks of training will not cause that you will forget how to type using your current layout :-)