Touch Typing or How I Learnt to Stop Looking and Trust my Fingers

Touch typing is a skill I managed to learn years ago.  I use it on a daily basis and I can’t imagine my life without it.  I believe anyone who regularly types on a physical keyboard can learn to touch type but it does take some practice, dedication and a leap of faith.

When I was fairly young, maybe just out of primary school, my mother bought me a notepad-style book designed to teach someone to touch type; I guess she thought it was a valuable skill which would make me more marketable when I was older and looking for a job and I agree with her.  I never had any intention of becoming a secretary but, knowing my Mum, that wasn’t why she bought it anyway.  I wasn’t typing enough at that age to stand any chance of picking it up but the basics stayed with me, specifically the pattern of colours.

At the back of the pad was a sheet filled with little sticky-backed squares in eight different colours, the idea being you stick a set of the stickers onto your fingernails (the adhesive was very difficult to remove!) then decorate your keyboard with more of the stickers to represent which finger is responsible for which keys.  The layout was something like this, although the colours were almost certainly different.Keyboard

The book then took me through a series of lessons, typing different words then moving on to sentences.  The early lessons were colour coded to help locate the letters but by the later ones I was expected to start remembering what was where.

I didn’t do much with the book at the time but in later years, when I entered the workplace, I remembered the layout of which key belonged to which finger and started to make an effort to use the correct finger rather than just stabbing at the keyboard with my index fingers, first just focusing on what I was supposed to be stabbing with my index fingers then working my way out, a finger at a time.

Soon, all this became automatic and I would stare fixedly at my fingers as they typed, effortlessly finding the correct keys, but the problem with that is if I did make a mistake (don’t we all?) I wouldn’t know about it until I surfaced periodically to scan what I had typed.  At the grand old age of 23 (or so) I realised it was a waste of time, all this looking up and down. A swimmer would be able to swim faster and more smoothly if she didn’t have to keep turning her head to breathe every few strokes, likewise, my typing would be faster and smoother if I didn’t have to keep raising and lowering my head, having to stop and proof read what I had written, which seldom had errors anyway.

A work colleague of mine at this time was in a similar situation but, whereas I spent weeks staring at my screen, teeth gritted, eyes bulging with the effort of not glancing down, she had the advantage of her husband levering off many of the keys of her home computer and replacing them to read I LOVE YOU one Valentine’s day (he sacrificed a second keyboard for the additional O) so there was no longer any point in looking at the letters on the keyboard.  She left them like that.  They’re probably still there.

So now, when I sit down to write, I always take a second to locate my fingers on the keys (most keyboards, certainly English ones, have a raised dot or dash on the F and J keys for just this purpose, along with one on the 5 of the numeric keypad).  To me, it’s like taking a deep, cleansing breath.  My thoughts flow directly from my mind to the screen, the process is so automatic now.  It was worth every second of the effort I put in to learning this skill, not only for the increase in efficiency but also because it freaks people out a little when they approach my desk and I look up at them while still finishing my sentence, and that’s fun.

I read somewhere once that a proficient touch typists fingers will slow down after a typing error, their muscle memory picking up on the mistype before the eye even registers the mistake on the screen and it does feel to me as if my fingers know better than my brain does when I make an error.  The only time this doesn’t work is when my fingers (usually the right hand) slip left or right by a column.  I have hit send on more than one email signed Heb.

Do you still type with 2 fingers, or maybe 4?  Do you type with all your fingers but still watch them as they flutter over the keys?  Go on, give it a go.  What do you have to lose?



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