Learning a new alphabet layout (Workman)

(Shriramana Sharma) #1

Along with buying a M01, I decided to make the jump to Workman which I have had my eyes on since quite some time. I tried keybr.com as recommended by the Getting Started guide which came with the M01 and thankfully it has Workman. But I didn’t have the patience or time to separately allocate for “mastering” the keys (especially since I never took any such training for QWERTY back all those years ago).

So I just spent some time on that tutor for the home keys and decided to jump into the cold water after that and this post is being entirely typed in Workman. The fact that M01’s natural contours almost force me to do proper fingering helps me very much (even on QWERTY in fact). And I do feel that Workman seriously helps reduce hand/finger movement and puts even non home letters at “natural” positions in general. The B and V seem slightly hard to reach though and the “castling” of R and W vis-a-vis QWERTY causes occasional hiccups.

Nevertheless I am pleased to see that I am able to reach the correct keys most of the time though my speed is obviously very low. I have a QWERTY layout accessible with Meta+Q for when I am in a hurry (and I first typed that ‘huwwy’, LOL) but – and this is sort of strange – I feel sort of disoriented, like I’m doing something “wrong”, but I’m getting by.

However this experience is maybe something like giving birth (as if a male like me can ever really know that to compare!) – physically painful, yet spiritually pleasurable and finally productive!

(Shriramana Sharma) #2

While I’m on this topic I’d like to know what people think of training their children in a non QWERTY layout at the very beginning. I bought my kids a couple of second hand computers to practise on, and am thinking whether it would be better to save them the pain of this transition many years down the line (not to mention the pain of using QWERTY in the first place!)

A friend warned me that non-QWERTY training risks the kids having difficulty with computers without those layouts available, but to me this doesn’t seem a big issue as I’m homeschooling them so it’s not like I have to worry about school computers. As for after that age, well the kids will be big enough to make fend for themselves and will probably have their own laptops to work on for the most part…


(Shriramana Sharma) #3

I should add that I have used the printed wipeable layout sheet that came with my M01 for learning Workman (the Programming variant, at that). The non-text layers I created are all in my head so I don’t need the sheet for that.


I use Colemak, which I switched to several months ago and have achieved about the same proficiency that I had with QWERTY. While it is more efficient than qwerty for typing prose, it’s not something I think I would recommend to others unless they are authors or write a lot of prose. Here’s my reasoning:


Many programs have their shortcuts optimized for a qwerty layout and using something different throws that off. This is pretty obvious in e.g. Vim’s hjkl, but there are other examples. At least Colemak has a minimal number of changes compared to other alternate layouts.

Other computers

The rest of the world uses qwerty; you’ll be noticeably slower when you’re using another layout. How exaggerated this is depends on the person, some are practically bilingual, but I think that’s fairly rare.


Most of these alternative layouts are measuring efficiency using large bodies of text, mainly alphabetical characters. How I use a keyboard day to day is quite different; I’m mostly using shortcuts or typing code. I suspect any alleged increase in efficiency of these alternative layouts is much lower than purported.


If you use QWERTY, don’t let the alternate layout snobs (like me) make you feel bad. Honestly at the end of the day I wonder if the switch was even worth it for me, especially when I’m reduced to an embarrassing crawl whenever I try to demonstrate something on somebody else’s machine. If you spend your day writing text, then a switch is probably worth it. Otherwise, stick to QWERTY and make some modifications so that it’s more programming friendly (maybe put numbers / special characters on an easy to reach layer). And if you are deadset on changing your layout, I’d humbly suggest considering Colemak as opposed to Workman; less keys get jumbled around so it has more similarities with QWERTY, which the rest of the world uses.

(Shriramana Sharma) #5

Thanks for your feedback.

Another point I forgot to mention is that somehow this is a lot different from learning another language. Muscle memory seems a lot harder to rewrite.

(Andrew McCauley) #6

I am currently learning a new layout of my own design, and have gotten up to almost 1/3 speed relatively quickly. At the same time, I work as a professional typist and have had to use QWERTY to stay proficient there. There’s been no noticeable drop-off in my QWERTY speed, brains are clever about things like that. They just kinda feel like different languages.

In my opinion, during childhood is a great time to teach them both QWERTY and another layout. Kids obviously have neuroplasticity advantages over adults in learning new things, and it’s a great opportunity to not have QWERTY or whatever else crystallise in their brains. Have them be bi-keybourdous! That way, if they ever decide to change to yet another layout entirely, they will have the confidence to do so! And of course, while in situations where QWERTY is the only reasonable input method (and this happens to all of us at some point), they will be at least moderately proficient.

(Shriramana Sharma) #7

LOL they’re already having to learn one Latin and one Indian, so two Latin would be unnecessarily confusing. Thankfully the Inscript layout is largely (phonetically) common to all Indic scripts thanks to the Gov’t’s foresightedness on that score.

(Gergely Nagy) #8

I plan to teach them both QWERTY and Dvorak (or ADORE, depends on what I’ll be using at the time). They’ll learn both split and traditionally staggered keyboards too, just in case.

(Shriramana Sharma) #9

Don’t you also have a Hungarian layout to contend with?

(Gergely Nagy) #10

While there is a Hungarian layout, it is something I find awful, and will not teach my kids myself. Rather, I’ll teach them how to use a Compose key (on a traditional keyboard) and layers (on a programmable one). Both of these are superior to HU-QWERTZ, in my opinion.


A couple of tangentially related things that may be worth looking into…

  1. Speech coding seems to be starting to take off; it looks like something that’s worth investing time in, especially for younger folks. See this Nature article. Note that it requires special software/hardware, but I believe there are some free/budget options if you just want to play with it.
  2. Chording/stenography seems pretty cool. Check out Plover.

Note that I haven’t actually invested time in either; I just think they’re cool.

(John T. Johnson) #12

On macOS there is a Dvorak layout that switches to QWERTY when the command key is down. This allows one to type efficiently, plus have key clusters in sensible arrangements.

(Andrew McCauley) #13

As a little follow-up to this, at work (typing reports from audio dictation) yesterday I planned to use keyboardio with my own layout, but there was too much to do and I’m not up to speed on the new layout yet, and I decided to only use it when I’d broken the back of the work with my QWERTY keyboard. So when I did do that, I expected difficulty transitioning after using QWERTY for a few hours, but there was none. In fact, my typing speed improved markedly when I tested it later. I know others have more difficulty with this, guess my mind is wired to be ambikeyboardous.

It probably helps a fair bit that I’ve only used my layout on keyboadio and vice versa, and I’ve only used QWERTY on staggered keyboards.

(Shriramana Sharma) #14

Yes I find that using Workman exclusively on KbdIO and QWERTY exclusively on ordinary keyboards helps probably because when the hands and fingers anyhow have to adapt to a different geometry. In fact I feel disoriented when trying to use QWERTY on KeyboardIO now.