My Strategy for Learning Colemak

Last year I attempted learning how to touch type in Dvorak and I think I only made it about 2 weeks. One of the problems was that I decided to go cold turkey, doing everything at the computer using Dvorak almost right from the start. It was incredibly frustrating to say the least. Now that I’m trying to learn Colemak I thought I’d adopt a different strategy but one that’s just as simple.

  1. Practice touch typing 1–2 hours a day with the drills in Master Key
  2. and copying a piece of text using Colemak for about 5 minutes every day
  3. Switch full-time to Colemak in 1–4 weeks when I feel up to it.

And that’s it. Practicing in Master Key is kinda fun and copying out text for about 5 minutes gives me a real world idea of how I’m doing without being too frustrating. And to make it even more interesting I’m using a speech I found in the Art of Manliness’ 35 Greatest Speeches in History as the text. (I like to err on the side of edification.) Once I feel the time is right to make the switch, I’ll go Colemak full-time, possibly even switching the keys around on my keyboard at that time too. (I’m still undecided on that last one — there are a bunch of pros and cons.)

If you’re interested in learning to touch type in Colemak or Dvorak or something even weirder (Workman?) you can also check out Lance’s tips on switching to Dvorak. Lance successfully switched to Dvorak last year and is getting faster all the time.

9 thoughts on “My Strategy for Learning Colemak

  1. I switched to Dvorak last year, using a similar technique. After about 4 weeks of training, I started turning on Dvorak in the morning and using it until my brain hurt. At first this took about an hour, but after a while I was easily making it through half the day. Once I got to this point, I was starting to lose facility with QWERTY, so I made the switch full-time. That moment was almost the hardest of all, because at that time I was at about 50% my pre-switch QWERTY speeds in *both* QWERTY and Dvorak. I felt very much like someone who had lots to say, but couldn’t fluently speak any language. That feeling made the next 3-4 weeks of work pretty tough.

    The only argument I see for moving the physical keys is that it’ll make one-handed typing easier. (I bobble a six-month-old in one arm a fair portion of the day.) Learning the layout as a touch-typist means that when you leave the touch-typing position, you are pretty much totally lost. Aside from that, it seems kinda l4m3r to move the keys – but this is coming from a guy who thinks is bad ass.

  2. I’m doing Dvorak currently, about two weeks through. I measured my speed this morning — around 50 words per minute and I think it’s quite a good result for two weeks. My Qwerty typing can double that, but not now that I’m getting used to Dvorak, otherwise I can mess things up. I can also touch type the Russian layout at around 90 wpm.

    The most frustrating part I see in the whole process is learning how to reach out for the equals sign, braces. I’m also having a hard time with the less than and greater than signs, oh and the shortcut keys too, especially when switching between Russian and English! Cmd+X becomes Cmd+Q and quits my applications 🙂

  3. I’d strongly suggest against the “blend in” technique where you mix two keyboard layouts daily. Of the failed switches I’ve seen, most have been because it becomes too hard to juggle with trying to get real work done.

    My experience—and what I recommend—is to switch during an extended time off work so you can practice all day and get up to basic fluency without having to worry about getting work done.

    1. I try my best to avoid the desktop and laptop (the “work” area) when I’m off work (even on weekends) so unless there’s an iOS update that enables Colemak for the virtual keyboard I won’t be practicing then. I will be avoiding blending in though. I’ve read a few Colemak-switching stories that mirror my strategy above. Practicing every day a few weeks and then doing a cold turkey switch seems to leave you with a 1–2 week period of reduced but not ineffective typing speed.

      Hopefully it’ll work out.

  4. Cool to hear your plan. I hadn’t thought about typing out any full texts like that – interesting approach. I’m currently just drilling a few times a day, also using Master Key. The gaming aspect of achievement levels keeps me coming back for more thus far.

    I guess figuring out a more concerted plan will be good.

  5. I’m closely watching your success at the switch and can’t wait to hear the end result. After going Dvorak a couple of years ago I still can’t stand the shortcut keys having been moved to the right hand, which makes it impossible to keep using the mouse at the same time as when the common shortcuts were on the left hand. If Colemak works out for you I may make the switch as well.

  6. There are relatively new intermediate layouts called Tarmak, which help you learn Colemak in incremental steps. They’re worth checking out.

    I used the same principle in designing a simpler layout that still has most of the benefits of Colemak. My alternative keyboard layout is called Minimak, and is designed strictly for being the easiest to learn as possible while still being highly improved over QWERTY.

    If you already know one of the other layouts, Minimak won’t help you, but if you’re just learning, you should check it out.

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