I don't want to watch my fingers anymore
December 27, 2012 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Based on this thread, touch typing has changed people's lives. I have been watching my fingers type for more than forty years, so I may not be able to make the change, but I'm willing to put forth a good effort. What software-based training program is likely to be effective to help an adult fast finger-typist become a fast(er?) touch typist?
posted by cameradv to Education (25 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Regardless of the software suggestions you get, here's one tip that forced me to learn to be a non-finger watcher: In grade 9, our typing teacher, Mrs. Chase, would black out all the keys on the typewriter keys. You could look all you want at the keys, it wouldn't help any. Even to this day, (+35 years), I can't look at the keyboard when I type, even if I want to.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 7:35 AM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Whatever program you decide to go with, something to keep in mind is that touch typing is muscle memory, you really start to "get it" when you stop thinking about it and just do it. To me, that was the hardest part - the letting go and not thinking about every single word.
Good luck - you will be so glad you did it!
posted by NoraCharles at 7:41 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used mavis beacon growing up and it got me to be #1 in my keyboard typing class in 8th grade, beating out the star basketball player by 2 WPM. He later went to jail for armed robbery.. not sure how relevant that is..
posted by sandmanwv at 7:41 AM on December 27, 2012 [11 favorites]

I learned as a child on typing software for kids. I had Mavis Beacon, which I found boring, but I also had this program where your "guide" was Spooky the ghost. You went to his haunted house or something and there were lots of classic books and stories that you would type along with. And when you made a mistake or typed too slowly he'd start talking. And his voice was so annoying that it literally was an incentive for me to type faster and with fewer mistakes.
posted by thebazilist at 7:51 AM on December 27, 2012

I learned to really type by spending hours online IMing as a teen.
posted by Brian Puccio at 7:53 AM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Typing of the Dead.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:57 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are already able to type correctly when looking at your fingers, than it's pretty easy to make the transition. I did it by putting little pieces of blue painters tape over the letters on the keyboard. You can start with just a few keys, or do the whole thing at one time. I found that even with the letters covered, I could still type well while looking down at my fingers. What surprised me is that it got very difficult to type when looking at the screen. It took me about a week of forcing myself to look up at the screen while typing before it started to feel normal, and another week or two before I could type as fast as I was before. After that my typing speed doubled in about 3 months.

So, if you are already comfortable typing, the issue may not be that you need to see the letters. Try covering them up and typing while looking down at your hands. If you can do this, than the issue is just the psychological jump of not looking at what your hands are doing, and that doesn't take long to get over.
posted by markblasco at 8:06 AM on December 27, 2012

Thirding blacking out your keys. That's how we do it in the typing lab at the school where I teach. Keyboards are so cheap that I would buy one exactly like your current keyboard, black out the keys with nail polish (not marker, as that will wear off onto your fingers), and then swap the keyboards in and out when you're sitting down to practice.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:17 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have been a professional programmer for almost 15 years and I still don't know how to type properly (surprisingly, this isn't uncommon). I've typed so much over the years that I can largely do letters correctly just by muscle memory (god help me if I use a different keyboard, though), but even now, I look down for numbers and punctuation and all the things that normal people rarely type but programmers use all the time: <>[]{}&|, etc.

Any good practice programs that use these keys as well? Preferably for Mac or iOS?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:20 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Instead of blacking out keys (why ruin a keyboard) our teacher placed a cardboard plank over our hands, much like this. Then it's just a matter of practice.
posted by phaedon at 8:20 AM on December 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

When I took a keyboarding class, not only were the keys blank, but at the start of class (for the first month or so) there were charts above all the computers that showed where all the keys were. So you were trained to look up (rather than at your fingers) while still being able to look up where the letters were at the start.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:43 AM on December 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Agree with blacking out the keys - but with this addition: Hang a keyboard diagram at above your eye level (say, above your screen). This forces your eyesight upwards, away from the keys, but it's not so convenient you'll always cheat. Eventually, you will stop looking at the diagram. (This is how I learned to type 45 years ago on an Underwood.)

On preview, what Maralo Epps said.
posted by sixpack at 8:45 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I learned to type using Mavis Beacon, when I was between 10-12 years old. My usual speed was at about 35WPM, until IRC and AOL chat cemented my average speed to 55-60WPM.

Chatting online did the trick for me - I had to be able to keep up with the other chatters!
posted by erasorhed at 8:45 AM on December 27, 2012

You can probably put stickers on the keys (cut up mailing labels or whatever you have on hand) instead of using markers or a wooden plank.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 9:03 AM on December 27, 2012

Nthing blank key caps/key covers and a chart hung up at an appropriate time. (Typing was the single most useful class I took in junior high.)
posted by Lexica at 9:12 AM on December 27, 2012

Instead of blacking out keys (why ruin a keyboard)

Doesn't really ruin the keyboard, and anyway, keyboards are cheap. Blacking out the keys is definitely the answer.
posted by empath at 9:29 AM on December 27, 2012

When I learned we just had a sheet of paper taped to the top of the keyboard so that we could peek if we absolutely had to. I developed a technique of popping the paper into the air so I could see the letters for a few seconds as the paper fluttered down but in the end I still learned how to type.
Another exercise that I found helpful: we were given a printout of a keyboard with no letters or numbers on it and we would have to fill it out from memory.
Typing class probably only took me to 65-70wpm but it was growing up with AOL IM and playing those text based MUDs that polished my typing speed to an average of 95wpm.
posted by simplethings at 9:30 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another vote for blank keys. I bought this keyboard two year ago to learn touch typing, and it's worked well for me. Two caveats: it's pricey for a keyboard, and there are two versions - "clicky keys" (like the original IBM PC) and "soft keys". Also, it sometimes freaks out my coworkers who have to use my machine.
posted by bruceo at 9:31 AM on December 27, 2012

You might try GNU typist.
The same page also references a bunch of other open source typing tutors, toward the bottom.

I haven't used any of these.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:04 AM on December 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. It likely is more confidence than knowledge deficit. So, I intend to put painter's tape on my keys, i think, and mount a small diagram on the screen at eye level.

Is there a flash-based game like the Typing of the Dead? Something freely accessible?

I do have some chat/IM situations, but I'm not sure I want to go there as my hobbled, learning self. OTOH, maybe that's the motivation needed to get better fast.
posted by cameradv at 10:36 AM on December 27, 2012

Mavis Beacon got me to around 45wpm, ICQ/AIM/etc. got me to 100wpm. All-night essay marathons and NaNoWriMo word sprints have kept up my speed since then. Pretty much any Mavis Beacon still available to buy should work fine, BTW - no need to spend $30 on the fanciest downloadable version. I've seen it for less than $5.

Mavis was nice because there was a real incentive to LOOKING UP. Covering the keys, OTOH, I found very frustrating - but a lot of people really find it very handy (hah,) especially when learning where the secondary characters (!@#$%) are. Make sure, if you cover up the keys, that you leave a way to feel the home row (generally there's a little bump on F and J.) It's much harder to practice touch typing without the bumps to orient yourself (remembering that part of touch typing involves always returning to the home row.)

Tip: practice hitting SHIFT and CTRL/ALT on both sides. It improves your speed and strengthens your smallest/weakest fingers (making QAX and ]'/ easier to type.) I think Mavis Beacon actually required that of me - that is, it taught me to hit the left SHIFT when hitting a key on the right hand side of the keyboard, by not taking it if I hit the right SHIFT. I'm sure I was at some point required to learn this, as well as to practice hitting the space bar with alternating thumbs. For whatever reason, the thumb thing didn't stick - I almost always end up hitting it with my left hand, even when I type a sentence that's almost entirely on the left hand.

Also, since you're doing this project anyway, add on learning 10-key. That's a skill far fewer people have, and you'll always be able to get work in tax season with it. Plus, in my opinion, switching back and forth between learning the two skills helps you learn both faster/more permanently than it'd take to learn each of them in turn.
posted by SMPA at 10:37 AM on December 27, 2012

Ooh, nthing 10-key. Very useful skill. IME, because the 10-key number pad is exactly opposite the telephone keypad, 10-key is something that really rewards getting it into muscle memory. (My first real job was a between-high-school-and-college summer of inputting wayyyyyy more digits than I care to remember. It's served me well in the long run, though.)
posted by Lexica at 11:00 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Echoing that Mavis started me off, and AOL/AIM made me a speed demon!
posted by radioamy at 11:59 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

RE Blacking out the keys - you can purchase (for a not inconsiderable sum) the DAS keyboard.

They are actually pretty amazing quality (having the non blanked on myself)
posted by the noob at 6:07 PM on December 27, 2012

I haven't tried it, but there is the free Tux Typing.
posted by oceano at 7:45 PM on December 27, 2012

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