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One Week with Colemak

coverimage

Last weekend, I decided to switch from QWERTY to Colemak keyboard layout. Did I suffer a lot since then? Of course no, well, maybe a little bit. After “one-week intensive typing training”, actually I quite enjoy the fresh feeling of typing with Colemak. I’m pretty happy that now I am able to type on Colemak keyboard layout with the average speed 50 WPM. I would say that it’s good enough for daily life. If you happen to be interested in switching to Colemak, here are my short notes for every day of last week and how my “intensive” training looks like.

D1 - Saturday

  • Time Spent: 1 hour
  • Typing Speed: 15 WPM

Jon knows

Plan? Just do it!

There are some different approaches to help people switching to Colemak progressively. One interesting approach is called Tarmak (Transitional Colemak) learning layouts. Tarmak has 4 layouts in total, each of the 4 Tarmak layouts changes 3–4 new keys from the previous step until you’ve made the full transition to Colemak. [1]

In deed, it sounds like a good plan. But I didn’t go that way, I chose a crazy approach: go cold turkey. I get rid of QWERTY and use Colemak immediately. Because I believe that I could handle the change to Colemak completely at once. At the end, it’s all about training muscle memory.

Remember the layout

First things first, remember the layout. To be familiar with Colemak layout, I spent 30 minutes on typing alphabet “abcdefgh…” repeatedly, until I am 100% sure that all 26 letters are in their correct positions.

D2 - Sunday

  • Time spent: 3 hours (3 1-hour sessions)
  • Typing speed: 25 WPM

little finger

Brain takes full control

After I memorized the layout, the real “intensive” training began. The main site I used is Speed Typing Online. One article after another, I keep typing. Meanwhile, I have to let my brain know exactly what I need to do and then my fingers would be forced to do it. This process of erasing muscle memory is slow. My brain needs to be highly focused in order to control each single movement of my fingers, and to prevent these movements initialized by old muscle memory.

Pinky is weaky

One difficulty I did realize is that my right little finger is weaker than my other fingers. Before with QWERTY, it takes control of letter “P”, which appearance frequency is way more lower than the letter “O”. Now with Colemak, it has to take care of letter “O”. This sudden increase of heavy work load on the shoulder of right pinky finger makes it clumsy. I can really feel the “stop” moment when letter “O” is needed. So I have to focus on training pinky finger, even more.

D3 - Monday

  • Time spent: 1 hour training + 8 hours working
  • Typing speed: 28 WPM

shame

Productivity?

As I decided to go cold turkey and I don’t want a detour, I changed the keyboard layout on my working laptop to Colemak as well. I remember my first and second login attempts were failed, after that, nothing was really struggling. To be honest, the typing speed around 25 WPM is enough for daily work, but the efficiency is… meh… Especially, when replying someone’s questions in chat app, I feel sorry to let people on another side waiting a bit longer than usual. Besides that, when I was coding/scripting, I felt that I have more time for thinking, which might be a good thing.

Smartphone out!

As the inventor of Colemak mentioned, Colemak isn’t recommended for smartphones as it increases finger travel and error rate compared to QWERTY. On smartphones I would recommend gesture typing on a QWERTY layout. [2] Furthermore, the muscle memory of typing on smartphone keyboard is not the same. Therefore, I will still keep using QWERTY layout in smartphone until one day another “advanced” keyboard layout invented for smartphone.

D4 - Tuesday

  • Time spent: 1 hour training + N hours working + N hours imagining
  • Typing speed: 30 WPM

imagining

Use imagination

I found a magic way to perform typing training without a physical keyboard: using my imaginations. For instance, when I am in public transport, I’d like to listen to podcasts. From the earphones I heard the words, then I put my hands in the air and move fingers to type these words. Others who were watching at me may think that I could be a pianist, or probably a madman.

D5 - Wednesday

  • Time spent: 1 hour training + N hours working + N hours imagining
  • Typing speed: 40 WPM

aiming

Targeted training

It’s time to have more targeted training of some common suffixes. In theory, if I could type them unconsciously as a reflection, my typing speed would increase a lot. So I made a list of suffixes to focus on:

-ly, -ing, -ion, -er, -or, -ment, -ous, -ful, -able

On the other hand, I found that I made many mistakes on top row letters “f”, “g”, “l” and “y”. I keep in my mind to pay attention to them: be accurate first, then speed up.

Moreover, I started to learn typing systematically by following the lessons on typing.com. I skipped the entire beginner lessons and some lessons designed for QWERTY only.

D6 - Thursday

  • Time spent: 1 hour training + N hours working + N hours imagining
  • Typing speed: 50 WPM

repeat

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition…

Every day, I am better at typing than yesterday. I felt my muscle memory is improved little by little: now I don’t need to think about the layout ahead! It means that I can think other stuff in my mind while typing letters on the keyboard. It’s definitely a good sign, which tastes so sweet. It’s the power of repetition and the outcome of never-give-up.

D7 - Friday

  • Time spent: 1 hour training + N hours working + N hours imagining
  • Typing speed: 52 WPM

fun

Time to have fun

After these days' practices, I know I am on the right track to achieve the success. Although it’s important as my daily routine to keep using Speed Typing Online and following basic lesson on typing.com, learning typing can also be full of fun, without the boredness of repetition. It’s time to discover something new and have some fun:

  • TypingCAT: It’s an ordinary typing site. But its UI is super clean and comfortable. It will make you feel awesome when you are typing.
  • Ratatype typing test: Instead of the usual time-box approach, this site requires you to finish the whole article and then shows your score. Their typing materials are really good. They normally have 50-100 words, with the mix of letters, numbers and punctuations.
  • typeracer: A typing competition is presented as a form of car racing game. It supports Multiplayer “racing” together. Its UI is okish and its material is so-so. But if you want to see how is your performance under stress, it’s a good game to play.

D(n) - In the future…

success kid

1. Use Caps Lock as…?

Colemak maps Caps Lock key to Backspace. It makes sense to have another Backspace on the left hand to balance its usage in two hands. But so far I don’t use it at all. Maybe I will map it to Esc, which is useful in Vim.

2. Get rid of bad habits

I still need to get rid of some bad habits of using QWERTY:

  • Always use left thumb to tap Space bar
  • Always use left pinky to tap Shift

I know how to do it correctly, but… Fine, I will do it correctly in the future.

3. Colemak x Vim

New layout for Vim is a tough challenge. I had several oops-moment which are caused by “gg” vs. “dd”. But I don’t think I will remap keys to make the original Vim style alike. I prefer to relearn it with Colemak from scratch. Here is the Colemak/vim cheat sheet [3]. I know it will take a while to fully operate Vim with Colemak.

4. Get “QWERTY mode” back?

As a side effect, the muscle memory of QWERTY is completely lost. I cannot type with QWERTY layout anymore. Should I train myself to get QWERTY mode back in the future? I guess no ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


[1] Øystein Bech Gadmar: How does Tarmak work?
[2] Shai Coleman: Is Colemak suitable for smartphones?
[3] Aimee Rivers: “Colemak and vim”: But what about h/j/k/l?