Switching layout and key disposition experience

Leaving QWERTY behind

- 7 mins read

Series: Typing

This post has no intention to discuss what layout might be better in terms of efficiency, or effort. There are a considerable amount of great articles related to all the analisys across different layouts, and even tools for ingesting text and estimate the effort of typing the text for several layouts.

You’ll find this article useful if you already decided to switch to Colemak, and make in the primary layout. Personally, I have found very comfortable to write with Dvorak, although there are some perks in Colemak regarding shortcut compatibility among other benefits that made me do the choice. You can read a very interesting comparision at this Xahlee post.

Ortholinear keyboards: the trigger

Even tho I had in mind to train with other layouts since some time ago, the real trigger for the decision, was the acquisition of the Ergodox No-labeled-keys Split Keyboard.

When I started practicing, I niticed that I was doing some sensible extra effort to reach some keys. They key arragement and aligment, makes the key area is larger. That made me start to investigate about the Typing Effort, and I found that there is no much difference between Dvorak and Colemak. Moreover, there are AI generated layouts, which are very interesting, but they don’t have a wide support (see Carplax Optimizer).

Also, it was obvious that I was not using my fingers correctly. I was doing Touch Taping in my non-labeled-keys Daskeyboard (standard key dispossisio) wrong, I wasn’t properly using all my fingers.

So, it wasn’t only an excuse, I found myself on the decision to switch to Colemak on both keyboards. So, I started training the new layout in this aspects:

  • Proper 10-finger touch taping in Colemak.
  • Reshape my muscle memory with the qwerty layout, to fix the bad habits.

Touch Tapping and the 10-fingers method

Generally, both techniques are mentioned as one, but they are not the same thing. Although, using just one wouldn’t make sense. The new ortholinear keyboard required to reharse and pulish some skills.

As the keyboard has unlabeled keys, Touch Tapping is needed. Touch Tapping is the techique of no doing visual contact with the keyboard – it it more complex than that, but you will need to investigate and practice this anyway.

The ortholinear disposition is more optimal for the pinky finger access, and corrects the hand position considerably. So training the pinky finger would be crucial to speed up typing.

In my case, it wasn’t a huge thing. I was already doing Touch Tapping. But in your case, if you never heard about, I recommend to:

  • First, practice Touch Tapping: that is, you don’t need to look at the keyboard when tapping. You train your muscle memory to know where the keys are.
  • Practice using the 10-fingers method. This is the huge win. I though I was doing that, until I look myself typing. When starting practicing a new layout this is straightforward, so I recommend you to keep this in your priority.

The best sites to start with proper Touch Typing are:

Accuracy and Speed: to different methods to practice

For accuracy training, the best way is to train consistency. That is, keep as much as possible the writting speed through a period of time. Larger texts or above the minute duration are the best to do this.

The best way to train speed is to do online competitions. Here is a list of my favourite for practicing speed:

For practicing speed, you’ll need to use tools that allow you to rewrite the word if an error. That is, avoid the usage of the backspace key.

In my case, I rather prefer to work on accuracy. The whole point of switching layouts was to reduce the typing effort. The fastest the speed, the lower the accuracy in most of the times. Although, I train speed oftenly, and I like the online competitions as they use to be customized for ignoring or reducing the usage of the backspace.


One thing that seems easy but it might be harder than you expect, is to train with sets of 2 and 3 grams. Any tool that allows you to set your text may serve the purpose.

Most frequent 3-gram combinations in the English language:

the ing and ion tio ent for ati ter ate ers res her 
est com pro ere all int men you ons our con are tha 
ver ess thi rea sta tin hat ist ect ort ear ine age 
his ted ont nce sto ith nte sin tor ore lin ive ite 
wit not nth tra ome ica per art ste cti oft oth ice 
out ill ide eth ies one ser eco era str eve din rat 
ona ces edi iti eri ran san ity oun nal use ure rin 
ame act igh ese ave sti nts hes sit der fth les man 
ant ind new pri ree ble ast nta tur por ght ain anc 
cha eas par ove nde rom rec ert lan cal sof can orm 
tes ost cat son tic end hea ina red wor ber lic han 
mat tat hin nes pre sho ren ein eme ric ust fro rth 
inc eat ase nti ard rch ndi lea tan ssi nin min ail 
omp ins cou ell erv tal enc ass tth lle ele mor ean 
sth tem sea rma als und pla ple eal rie ema ali nda 
ack hen ial ord ana arc ori che tho eof lis dis een 
car ngt ire ead eto ene att nto omm pos abl lat nds 
dat lit gra mes hec kin esa vie ote dth ern sio ono 
esi inf mer nfo hav mar chi ten uni ime nat des hou 
rit tim den sco ans hel

Most frequent 2-gram combinations:

in th er re he an on es or te at ti st en nt ar to nd 
al it se ed is ea ng ou le co me ne ri ro de ra io ic 
li of as et ve ta si ha ma ec om ce el ll ca ur la ch 
hi di ho fo ns ot ac na rs so pr rt sa ss us no il ts 
em ct ge lo ee be tr ni pe ie pa nc po ol da ad vi un 
am ut wi mo sh yo ai ew ow os fi ep tt mi op ia we ag 
su id do oo

So, the only thing to do here is copy paste these in your typing tool of preference.

For more information about n-grams, see Natural Language Corpus Data: Beautiful Data and [N-grams].

All letters in the English alphabet

Another nice exercise is to type variants of the following sentence:

The quick brown fox; jumps, over the lazy – dog.

The weird punctuation is on purpose: you may want to add symbols in your exercises oftenly. But at this point I guess you get the point. This is a little harder than you think, but not harder than typing the alphabet. But I think that this is a very good exercise, as you don’t miss any letter.

In Spanish you can have things like:

El veloz murciélago hindú comía feliz cardillo y kiwi.

La cigüeña tocaba el saxofón detrás del palenque de paja.

Training with code

Writing code is way more hard at the beginning, so I’ll sugest to practice until you get a decent speed before turning into your productive layout. Symbols, and punctuation aren’t easy due that they make your hand to change your hands position. You’ll prefer to train code speed later.


Switchwhing layouts isn’t a thing of weeks, but for months until you get a decent speed to match your current. At the begining, it will feel extremely exhausting to think and type in a constant manner.

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