I made my last post right after I began learning Dvorak. Now, I am going to give a little update on the experience I had learning it, and the problems that I ran into. First off, let’s get something out of the way: I am typing this article in Dvorak, and I am typing at about 50 words per minute, a speed that I have perceived to be above-average for only 1-2 weeks of practice. So, how did I come this far in such little time? Simple. I immersed myself.
Two weeks ago began my spring break, and, as a programmer with a limited range of interests, I was inclined to spend pretty much all of my time in front of a computer, either typing out code or messaging friends online. Because both of these activities require lots of typing, it is safe to say that I spent at least 10 hours a day pounding away at my keyboard. Of course, being the huge geek that I am, I did not let this time go to waste. Instead, I spent every moment of it with my computer set to the Dvorak keyboard layout, despite the agony that I knew I would experience in the midst of my slowness.
However, such a task as immersing oneself in Dvorak does yield dangerous consequences. There was a point a few days ago when I wondered how my QWERTY typing was being affected, so I flipped back over to give it a try. Now, I may have been a rare case, since I never typed correctly in QWERTY to begin with. I typically find that, when using QWERTY, I use the wrong hand for keys such as Y and B, and I sometimes even use my index fingers in the place of my pinkies. Because of this, touch-typing 100% correctly in Dvorak seemed to have adversely affected my QWERTY muscle memory, leading to the trouble that I encountered. In fact, I could not type anything comprehensible at all. However, after several hours of looking at the keyboard and thinking when I got confused, I completely regained my QWERTY abilities. However, once I proved my ability to recall QWERTY if necessary, I transitioned once again to Dvorak and continued my immersion.
One of the interesting things I found when learning Dvorak was this: there are really three unique stages of learning to type with Dvorak, or any other keyboard layout, for that matter. The first stage is what I like to call the “Visual Stage.” This is the stage when, having been previously unexposed to the Dvorak layout, a typist needs to look at a diagram of the keyboard layout or the keyboard itself for the sake of pressing the right key.
The next stage comes around when the typist comes to know the position of the keys, but still must use some sort of mental process to recall the location of any given key. The time that the typist takes to do this could range from a quarter of a second to 3 or 4 seconds, but the idea remains the same: the typist must think about every individual key. This stage seems to carry the most rapid improvement, and the typist should notice an increase from something like 12 WPM to something more like 25-30 WPM. This change reflects on the decrease in response time for each individual key. Remember, during this stage any improvements are usually on a key-by-key level. However, a transition is made to the next stage when the typist begins to get more used to typing any given sequence of letters at once, and begins thinking more in the context of words than in letters.
When the next phase comes around, which I like to call the “Word Phase,” it is best to practice by thinking of English sentences and typing them out. Once in this phase, all improvement pretty much reflects on the typist’s ability to type a common sequence of letters without thinking about doing so. This muscle memory can only be gained by repetition, and such repetition is easy to obtained by typing sentences, thoughts, words, etc. I found that writing code was not particularly helpful in this stage. Instead, I downloaded a list of common English words and typed them repetitively for several hours, phenomenally increasing my speed for those particular words, and even words with similar patterns to them.
All and all, learning Dvorak was a frustrating yet rewarding experience. I am still nowhere near as good at Dvorak as I am with QWERTY, but I am now to a point where my conversations, programs, and writing is not limited by my keyboard layout. I anticipate that I will continue to use this layout in the future, and that I will someday use Dvorak to surpass my QWERTY record of 106 WPM. I wish any of you out there who attempt to do likewise the best of luck. Such a process is easiest if you think not of the final goal, but instead calmly observe the process through which your skills develop.