So here’s a question

Touch typing – used to be something people were taught.

Kids these days grow up with keyboards. Do they need to be taught touch typing or do they all just pick it up?

38 comments on “So here’s a question

  1. Kids ten years ago grew up with keyboards; kids today are growing up with touchscreens.

    In general yes, they just picked it up. Especially if they used a keyboard to write their homework, type instant messages to their friends, etc.

    Not all kids will have had a computer at home, of course. ONS statistics (search “Internet Access – Households and Individuals) tell us that 82% of 16-24 year olds use a computer daily or almost every day. You’d need near-daily usage to pick up touch typing.

    I can’t find any figures which breakdown keyboard time vs touchscreen time. I’d wager that the latter dwarfs the former, especially amongst under-16s.

  2. I clearly remember an visiting American professor saying that the only useful thing he learnt at school was touch typing. (Useful as in: use it every day).

    This inspired me to try and learn. Based on which I would say that there is a big difference between ‘just picking it up’, and learning properly. It’s very easy to get ‘good enough’ with lots of bad habits which you have to unlearn if you want to get any better.

  3. It isn’t possible to “pick up” touch typing without a deliberate effort. What you get instead is an ability to type at pretty close to touch-typing speed, but needing to look at the keyboard.

    Since “copy typing” isn’t really a thing any more, that’s actually good enough for most people. The only real advantage of touch typing is that you can see your errors as you type them, since you’re looking at the screen not the keys.

    Once you have that level of casual familiarity with a keyboard, you can learn to touch-type (in my experience) in about a week. I taught myself twenty-odd years ago.

  4. Yeah you typically learn a semi-touch type. So three or four fingers of each hand. I’ve observed most people don’t find little fingers that natural to use.

  5. Going from my own experience I would imagine that they just pick it up through frequent keyboard use- I certainly had before I left school and am now in my late thirties.

  6. In my case, having used a keyboard since I was 13, I can touchtype with multiple fingers but don’t do it properly, i.e. in a classic manner of maximum efficiency.

    A bit like I play the guitar, actually.

  7. It’s very easy to get ‘good enough’ with lots of bad habits which you have to unlearn if you want to get any better.

    Yes, this. It’s the same with a musical instrument.

  8. I used to hunt and peck. Now I’m more like a pair of starving pigeons on amphetamines waddling about a pavement with a popcorn spillage.

  9. Anomaly UK said:
    “It isn’t possible to “pick up” touch typing without a deliberate effort. What you get instead is an ability to type at pretty close to touch-typing speed, but needing to look at the keyboard.”

    Not true. I picked up touch typing just by doing it (indeed I’m doing it now). As Rosscoe & Tim Newman said, it’s probably not the “correct” method and it’s probably not as fast or as accurate, but I’m definitely looking at the screen (or source books), not the keyboard.

    And the loss of speed isn’t really an issue; when I’m writing I can generally type about as fast as I think what to type.

  10. There’s also technical vs non-technical keyboard use. Proper touch-typing is good for long-form writing, and you’re more likely to pick up an approximation automatically.

    But code-monkeys, software power users etc etc will spend a larger proportion on function keys, Vulcan-nerve-pinch keyboard shortcuts, etc. Or just staring at the screen trying to find the missing curly brace.

    Makes it much less likely you’ll pick up the same proficiency. Also mouse-use.

  11. My youngest (13) can touch type at high speed. Taught himself – he’s got aspirations to be a world class PC gamer and you need to be able to chat and play simultaneously, and I didn’t let him have a headset until his voice broke. He’s been a mod on some of the most popular gaming servers on the planet because nobody knows he’s a child – Dad’s Internet safety rule no.1. Oldest son, not so much but he’s more of a console man.

    I’m somewhere between 4 and 6 fingers and I do look at the keyboard sometimes but I’m still in the high double figures for wpm.

  12. “It isn’t possible to “pick up” touch typing without a deliberate effort. What you get instead is an ability to type at pretty close to touch-typing speed, but needing to look at the keyboard.”

    Agree with Richard; I don’t touch-type, but after playing text-based adventure games a lot as a kid I picked up the ability to type quickly and without looking at the screen, just without using all my fingers as a touch-typist would.

  13. And the loss of speed isn’t really an issue; when I’m writing I can generally type about as fast as I think what to type.

    Quite, and a lot of touch-typists from previous eras would have been typing up handwritten stuff which requires no thought and you can go as fast as you like.

  14. I guess I’ve just taken things a bit further than others here, because I certainly never deliberately learned to touch type, I’ve gone through the stages described, and now I have sufficient muscle memory to hit any key with any finger without looking*, to a reasonable degree of accuracy (and in some ratio to how common the action actually is). Switching keyboards screws that up for a few minutes, so I assume all/most keyboards have very similar length:width:position ratios.

    [*Or touching, once my fingers are oriented, so maybe that’s not how actual touch-typing is done? I used to think it referred to knowing by touch when you’ve made an error, without having to see the screen/output, but apparently that’s not right.]

    One place I’m noticeably quicker than a ‘proper’ touch-typist, having developed a system where both hands go where the letters are, is when typing words with consecutive letters for the same touch-typing finger – I’ll probably find the little finger of the other hand coming across to help out.

  15. Have you seen how fast kids can type on a smartphone with just their thumbs? Cut their thumbs off and they would be knackered.

  16. As AnomalyUK says, this isn’t much of a benefit any more. Touch typing was about audio typists or copy typists. Now, you just dump down what you want to write straight to the word processor.

    And what little audio work there still is (a few doctors use it for notes) is outsourced to cheaper places around the world.

  17. I learnt touch typing on the computer.
    Not as fast as my older sister who was a typist for about 20 years but still pretty fast back in the day. For a guy with big hands and fat fingers I could usually outperform 90%+ of those doing typing tests as part of job application or agency registration.
    Don’t think I’ve used a typewriter since about age 5.

  18. My sister learnt proper touch typing, including having the keyboard hidden. I toyed with learning it but found that as you can instantaneously correct errors (or they are highlighted and even automatically corrected) it wasn’t really necessary.

  19. I can type very quickly without looking at the keyboard – is that touch typing?

    Anyway, carnage ensues when I use a foreign keyboard, e.g. French.

  20. Mavis Beacon taught me to type whole words.

    Kids today just use their thumbs and predictive text for sentences of 140chrs or less and cut’n’paste for anything longer.
    It can be a quick method if you just paste in whole chunks of text, chop out the bits you don’t want and thumb type in the glue.

  21. Although I could “touch type” in the rudimentary sense (didn’t have to look at the keyboard while writing), I didn’t learn to do it “properly” until I used the wonderful but sadly non-existent Mavis Beacon. As an adult, sadly, and without being able to unlearn bad habits – would have got more out of it as a child, I suspect. That increased my typing speed substantially and years later, I still type at about the same speed that I maxed out on when using Mavis Beacon – about 90-100 wpm. That’s interesting because it suggests that a proper education in these things will stick just through day-to-day practice, even without doing proper training exercises. Unlike driving, I presume I haven’t picked up lots of bad habits since learning – or at least if I have, they haven’t impacted my typing speed or accuracy, even if they have limited my potential for improvement if I had a serious bash at making further progress.

    Interestingly kids seem to think I type at an amazing pace, even ones who are used to proper keyboards rather than touchscreens alone. I reckon even ones who think they are “fast” are only doing 60-80 words per minute. Have occasionally challenged people to and it doesn’t always seem that the youngest hands are the fastest.

    But from my perspective even just shy of 100 wpm is irritatingly slow – secretaries I’ve known taking dictation were easily on 120+ wpm. But even they have to pause the tape (usually with a foot pedal), or ask someone to pause if they’re doing live dictation. Presumably like most people, I think at talking speed – circa 200 wpm- so the words that come out of my keyboard are lagging well behind my train of thought. This is beyond the capabilities of even the most capable typists to sustain on an alphanumerical keyboard, hence the stenotype machine by court reporters or live TV subtitle writers.

    I’ve sometimes wondered if I’d get better results with speech recognition software, though I reckon it would do my voice in to be talking all day. Also, correcting the resulting typos sounds like it could take enough time to undo any savings. (Does it? Would be interested to know people’s experiences. There are even people specially trained to “revoice” live dictations into a high-quality speech recognition system, using a stenomask so that other people can’t hear their revoicing, who apparently achieve 180 wpm and are presumably cheaper/easier to train than a stenographer.)

  22. The fact I’m so much faster than youngsters after only rudimentary self-training, when many of them have actually had more opportunity for typing practice, suggests (a) that training actually works, (b) that it tends not to be forgotten, (c) that the youngsters aren’t getting it school.

  23. When it became obvious to me in 1989/90 that I was going to be using a keyboard more and more; I went to college and sat with about 30 girls in night school doing a touch typing course for several terms. This on the old IBM electric golf ball typewriters. Of all the courses I have done over the years it is the one that has proved to be most useful and is a skill used every day. My trusty old IBM Model M keyboard (no windows key) and dated 01/04/1998 is as good to type on as ever, if somewhat clicky, clacky.

    The kids all seem to have their own way of touch typing, that they appear to have picked up on their own, even though I got them the Mavis Beacon course. The eldest was very good at games, probably still is in his mid 20’s. He has a Daskeyboard Ultimate. As it has no markings on the keys, you really do need to know what key is where.

    I suppose as they each had a PC of their own from the age of about 10, they know nothing else and just pick it up. All are substantially faster than my 75 wpm these days.

  24. Do they need to be taught touch typing or do they all just pick it up?

    Kids these days do not grow up with keyboards. They grow up will cellphones. They text with their thumbs and type with two fingers while staring intently at the keyboard.

    nd its nt jst txt abbr leaking in2 long format communication (which is annoying enough), even things like punctuation and paragraph breaks seem to be foreign to them. I’ve seen posts that are a full screen long, a single paragraph and written as three incoherent sentences.

  25. I never learnt to touch type. God knows how many million keystrokes I type in a given year, but the speed at which I type is not a rate-limiting factor. Half the time I’m staring off into space thinking about the logic of what I’m designing rather than actually coding it.

  26. Kids playing minecraft can do some crazy touch selecting for that game, but not much use for anything else.

    I taught myself to touch type after uni when I realised 16 years of education hadn’t given me the entry level job skills for office work. And it was a very slow process where nothing you knew beforehand really helped. Every finger had to learn from scratch which letters it was responsible for. Time well invested though as I type nearly everyday.

  27. @BICR

    I am not a great coder, but certainly typing speed has never been a rate-limiting factor for me! And I can’t see how it could be even for an experienced programmer unless they’re doing something utterly trivial. (On a related issue, never understood the obsession of vim/emacs religious warriors about how much “productivity” they save by reducing the number of key presses by a trivial amount; I couldn’t imagine it being a limiting factor there either.)

    I spend a lot of time writing very mundane emails and I wish I could just dictate them at my natural talking speed. It’s often the case I know almost exactly what I’m going to write before I start typing, and the typing speed genuinely holds me back. Having said that, if the email is more technical, has important financial implications, or raises tricky issues of etiquette, then my typing speed is the least of my worries.

  28. I learned to type at high school, most likely in the last classroom to ever have typewriters. Rather useful over the years, but in reality I don’t spend much time typing large volumes.

  29. One of my rants about fondleslabs is “I didn’t learn to type when I was eight just to go back to finger painting!”

    I *cannot* type without tactile feedback. I’m typing this on a nice clacky “Mitsui” cheapo keyboard mostly looking at the TV (!) and glancing back to the monitor every now and then to check for typos, and occasion glances at the keyboard when the stream of characters has shifted my hands too far away from the centre point for proprioception to find the keys correctly.

    I type mainly with index fingers and thumb for spacebar, and occasional second finger when typing characters close together. The “centre” between my hands drifts across the keyboard following the typing so that “drift” just there was typed with both hands. DRift instead of the correct DRiFT.

    There is definitely a different typing technique between using a machine where the typed output is the final output, and a machine where you can edit infinitely as you go along.

  30. s,fhbosmdf llojnp ;a knspd,a s;dkn[pfej;fmas;oxk[ wflkvj
    ldsnf lsmdfk;l,d ;ooks pdfmkasjd’pkmf;fkj/lad ;.,fv/lkakg: k/knblid

    afjc lamkscj ;lam
    m slk;djv;l,,a.clkkknapsdm .,d cladvlm/lkfjw ;vj;sdf’pwf lnlv

    And that’s how easy it is to learn touch-typing

  31. The good old days… Learning to touch type on a prehistoric Imperial; communicating by teleprinter; telephoning long distance using a rotary dial. Practically a Graham Greene novel.

  32. I was ‘taught’ it at school, I didn’t improve in the slightest with my wpm or error rate. Then I learned it gaming and can type fast and error free ever since.

  33. I’m with most of the others – I mostly “peck” with two fingers, though watching myself typing this I see I’m using about 4 fingers.
    When I was at 6th Form, I took a typing class for one term – not enough to get proficient, but I reckon it’s stood me in good stead. Of course, these days of instant correction on-screen means that accuracy really isn’t as important as it was – and as noted, a lot of people (not just youngsters, but they seem to be in the majority) don’t appear to give a damn about accuracy or grammar or punctuation anyway.
    Mum (in her 80s, been using a computer for several decades) still struggles to find the keys – as in “I know the ‘a’ key was here somewhere a minute ago” lack of familiarity with the layout.

  34. I taught myself to touch-type a few years ago (aged 30-something). So you don’t just pick it up, but if you’re motivated you can learn it when you’re older.

    I got motivated because I wanted to type faster and with more economy of movement. I used GNU typist for a while until I could type all the letters and most punctuation. Then I got myself a Happy Hacking keyboard (because it is small so the mouse ends up closer) with blank keys and plugged it in at work. I was slow for a while but was up to speed in a couple of weeks.

    It helps that I use Emacs and the i3 window manager, so a lot less mouse use.

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