Learning to Type

I’ve been able to type since I was pretty young. I remember teachers laughing when I’d use the classroom computer: you don’t expect kids to be able to type quickly. My ‘style’ was totally self-taught, however, and was based on typing as fast as possible. A couple of weeks ago I decided that I really needed to learn the ‘proper’ way, and stole my sister’s copy of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.

Firstly, the software. It installed ok on XP, but the first time I tried to run it I was immediately kicked back to the desktop. I should point out in the interests of fairness that my computer is slowly going crazy. I’ve had three spontaneous restarts in the last two weeks, Max Payne 2 still won’t run without major graphical corruption, EAC won’t detect my CDRW whatever I go and various other, smaller things are happening (that’s code for “I can’t remember what else”). So this may not be Mavis’ fault. In fact it probably isn’t, as my sister used it on her computer, which also runs Windows XP, and as far as I know it worked fine. But I’m going to complain anyway – everybody’s gotta have a hobby. It’s not a happy program on my computer. There’s a “progress review” area, where you can see ego-boosting charts of how your typing speed has increased day-by-day. It doesn’t work. I get ‘the program attempted an unsupported operation’. So I just have to imagine the godlike skill increases that it would undoubtedly show. The actual teaching-tutor section works fine, thankfully.

When it starts up you first select the user (a nice addition for families, imho), then a computer generated Mavis describes the various sections I can enter. This can be skipped easily, and clicking on the ‘lesson area’ takes you straight into the main program. There is a voiceover by Mavis that doubtless would annoy some. I imagine the strong american accent coupled with the repititious “you’re doing really well” type phrases would get on some people’s nerves after a while. Thankfully, I’m immune 🙂 Once you get into the lessons, another potential problem arises. The font used has an ‘I’ that looks exactly like a ‘1’. Admittedly, when you’re advanced enough to learn the ‘1’ it does look different, but when you start it takes a while to get used to. It’s weird, but it could just be another idiosyncracy of my computer.

You learn a few letters at a time, then spend x number of exercises typing the characters displayed on the screen. The exercises are nicely structured: after each one you’re given your actual typing speed, then a calculated typing speed taking into account mistakes you made. Simply pressing the space bar takes you to the next lesson, which is much appreciated. Once you get to a reasonable typing speed with a set of 3 or 4 letters you learn some more. Obviously, there’s no guarantee you’re using the correct fingers, but there’s no point cheating. Every so often you get to play a game. There’s a car racing game where the faster you type the faster your car goes. There’s a hot-air balloonist who can only be kept skybound by typing with a steady rhythm (by far the most difficult). There’s a voyage to the bottom of the sea where every innacuracy attracts little fishies, which eventually attract sharks, who eat you. These games are reasonably entertaining, if a little monotonous after a while. After I’d been using the program for about two hours I discovered something which won’t surprise you in the least:

It’s bloody annoying.

Which brings us nicely into how to type properly. You start with the ‘home keys’. These are A, S, D and F for the left hand; J, K, L and ; for the right. Open Notepad and try it now (I’ll know if you don’t). Your little fingers go on the A and ;, respectively, with your thumbs on the space bar. Got that? Ok, now E and I are typed with the middle fingers. Try that. Remember to return your fingers to the home keys after each key press. Not too bad, is it? R and U are typed with the index fingers. W and O with the ring fingers – that’s slightly more tricky. Q and P with the little fingers. How’re you doing? It’s a little awkward, isn’t it? Now try without looking. AARRRGGGHHHH! Goddamn stupid useless won’t-go-where-they-should-fingers! I wanted to press R! Why in the hell did I press U?!!? At this point you’re normally no longer in the mood, so it’s best to have a rest for a bit. And amazingly, it actually does come more easily after a night’s sleep.

Ok, so now you move onto G and H with the index fingers. Then T and Y, also with the index fingers. These are a pain. After that it’s N and M, both with the right index finger. Now we come to what are undoubtedly the MOST EVIL KEYS KNOWN TO MAN. Firstly we have V, with the left index finger. Then there’s C, with the middle finger. Then X, with the ring finger. As you’ve probably guessed, we then have Z, with the little finger. Finally, and it’s a big finally, we have B, with the left index finger. I still don’t get that one right. You get used to these five keys after a while, but I don’t think I have ever before moved my ring finger at that angle.

Feeling smug? Me too, at this point. I was at about 25 words per minute, which I was pleased with. I then started the capital letters, and a whole new concept was introduced to me, and it is this: the right-hand shift. This key does something?! Other than for gaming, I can honestly say that I have never used this key for any useful purpose. If the letter you wish to capitalise is typed by your left hand, you press the right hand shift with your little finger. And vice versa. Go on, try (starting from the home keys) capital B. Without looking. Nasty.

After this it’s a bit of punctuation. , with the middle finger, . with the ring finger. ? with the little finger (and left-shift, obviously). And now we come to my current crop of problems. The numbers. 1 = little finger. 2 = ring finger. 3 = middle ringer. 4 & 5 = left index finger. 6 & 7 = right index finger. 8 = middle finger. 9 = ring finger. 0 = little finger. These last two I’m having real trouble with. I’ve just gone through the punctuation for the number row, and brackets, quite frankly, can go screw themselves.

After a couple of weeks I am at least at the stage where I can type at a reasonable pace. Thank Deity-Of-Your-Choice. You have no idea how annoying it is to go from very fast to hitting-the-backspace-after-every-goddamn-letter, in a day. I do think, however, that it”ll be worth it. Occasionally I get into a rhythm and I can see how with a little practice it would be possible to go blisteringly fast, while maintaining accuracy and not even looking at the keyboard. I think the largest shift for me has been moving from whatever-finger-happens-to-be-nearest to each-key-has-a-set-finger. It’ll certainly be a while yet before I’m used to that.