Editorial: Moving from QWERTY to QWERTZ on short notice

For the most part, QWERTY is the most common keyboard layout you're ever likely to encounter. It's the most common keyboard in the English language, and it's unlikely that will change any time soon, if it ever does. Other languages have their own layouts, and they can be very different.

That's part of the reason I wrote this using a QWERTZ keyboard. It's common in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Hungary. The German and Austrian version differs from the Swiss, which differs from the others as well. Yet at the same time, they're all QWERTZ keyboards.

My review of the Matias Tactile Pro 3.0 was conducted using the German/Austrian variant. It seemed like an interesting experiment, learning to write on another layout apart from my own. Not only that, but using the keyboard without actually understanding it would have been a great way for me to miss the point of a review.

Glance at the image of a German QWERTZ keyboard above, and the letters are all in the same place. The only obvious differences are the accented characters, and the location of Z and Y. Look more closely at it, and you'll notice something else that differs. The punctuation is radically different.

Remember, I'm using a QWERTZ layout to type English rather than German, so I'm probably not making it any easier on myself. If I was using the German layout to type in German the location of keys probably would feel more natural and flowing, since this particular variant of QWERTZ keyboard is designed to work with the language.

My first experience with the keyboard was rather embarrassing. For the first half an hour or so, I was using a lot of run-on sentences to avoid apostrophes. I couldn't find the apostrophe key. The key denoted in red beside the Backspace button is not the apostrophe, apparently.

I stumbled upon the key by accident when I had the Windows script disabled. Once that hurdle was cleared it was mostly smooth sailing, for I could now write normally again. It was a surprisingly fast adaptation from a layout I'd spent the past five years using to QWERTZ. I would still make the occasional stupid mistake when writing quickly, such as mentioning my "kezboard", but that's easily corrected.

In order to get a realistic idea of how I was handling the new layout, I tried typing tests in both English and German. The service I used was called 10FastFingers, since I couldn't find any others providing both German and English tests. Even if I had, I understood how 10FastFingers worked by trying it once or twice with the Das Keyboard, which is a QWERTY layout.

Two examples of both languages from 10FastFingers.

When it comes to typing tests, 10FastFingers isn't normally my first choice. It uses words rather than sentences. While that's all well and good, it doesn't bother with grammar and punctuation. I've preferred services like Typrx since they use quotes and extracts from books instead. Its limitation is that you can only use English. It makes no sense, but for some reason I found that I would record faster results through Typrx, using punctuation and correct grammar, than I would through 10FastFingers. Here are my results, all of which were recorded using the Matias Tactile Pro.

10FF German

57

60

61

Avg: 59.3

10FF English

84

97

91

Avg: 90.67

Typrx English

111

The quote I received on Typrx was the following.

"Your children give you the opportunity to grow and challenge you to examine issues left over from your own childhood. If you approach such challenges as a burden, parenting can become an unpleasant chore. If, on the other hand, you try to see these moments as learning opportunities, then you can continue to grow and develop."

Parenting from the Inside Out; Daniel. J. Siegel, M.D, & Mary Hartzell, M.Ed.

Since Typrx uses a random quote each time, repeating it wouldn't have helped much. 10FastFingers uses some of the most common words in each language in a random order, so trying it several times allowed more of an average. It's odd how my third attempt at English with the keyboard was slower than my second, but there you have it.

My results are quite odd actually, for 111 is above average no matter how you look at it. It's also one of my better results across any keyboard. The best I ever set was 124 words per minute via my laptop keyboard. The best I've clocked with the Das Keyboard was 119 words per minute.

It's funny for someone fond of mechanical keyboards to discover they were slightly faster using a rubber dome keyboard. I do type more consistently using mechanical keyboards, so I suppose a slightly lower speed and more consistency is better. Besides, the feeling of mechanical keyswitches is enough to keep me running a little bit more slowly.

Learning another keyboard layout, ideally a widely-used layout, has its advantages. I doubt you could stick it onto a CV but it could turn out to be a useful skill for employment or other purposes.

I also know that learning QWERTZ after using QWERTY is not a major achievement. After all, they are quite similar. I would hazard a guess that learning DVORAK or COLEMAK in English would be more difficult. That could be a fun experiment, come to think of it. Perhaps if others are interested in the idea I could see about doing it.

DVORAK, while used for English, looks harder to learn than QWERTZ.

QWERTZ and QWERTY are probably going to be more useful, since they're the standards for their areas of the world. I haven't seen DVORAK and COLEMAK elsewhere in the world, but I know there are users out there. For QWERTZ I found I was familiar within 24 hours, and confident within two or three days. I doubt I could say the same about the other two layouts.

As I mentioned in my review, I took two days away from the Matias Tactile Pro in order to try moving back to the MX Cherry Blue switches. I did this to make sure I hadn't any disposition towards either keyswitch. During this period, I also got to try out QWERTY again. Switching back to QWERTY was unusual. While I had used QWERTY for so much longer I found myself moving back towards the switched Z and Y keys of my "kezboard".

If you find yourself with a day or two free, you could take the time to learn another country's keyboard. Obviously it will depend on the layout and your own familiarity with your current layout, but if you travel to that country regularly it can be good sense to know their main layout.

I've discovered an interest in keyboards since I entered the world of mechanical keyboards, so I wasn't going to pass up on a chance to try something a little different with them. I'm not someone who goes to Germany regularly for business; I've never been to the country despite having an interest in it.

Real DVORAK keyboards do exist, but they're not the most common.

From using both layouts for some time I discovered there were things I liked about both. I like the switched Y and Z keys of a QWERTZ layout. Even with QWERTY I sometimes find myself reaching for 'Z' when I wanted 'Y'. It might also be worth explaining I never had any real introduction to typing, so my method of doing it is purely my own. That might explain why I prefer the flipped characters.

I prefer the QWERTY punctuation locations. They seem more quick and easy, but that may simply be due to the fact that they're more in tune with English than they are on the QWERTZ layout. The punctuation will reflect how the language uses it.

Since German is the foreign language I've chosen to learn in school the accented characters would be convenient to have. Maybe they could be added as AltGr functions to the characters needed. I could have something resembling the best of both worlds that way. It might even be possible to do using a tool like AutoHotkey, but since I don't know how to write scripts for it I doubt I could do much with the idea.

Replacing the layout that has been the staple of my computing experience has been fun! When I say the staple, I mean the only layout I've ever used. Until the Matias Tactile Pro I had never, ever used anything other than QWERTY. In five years' computing, this was the first time I attempted to use something else. And all was well. Apart from the initial adjustment period, I was able to carry on with business as usual.

If you get the chance, definitely try another layout and see if you can learn it. You might find something more to love, and if you have an interest in a country then it is worth the effort. I enjoyed learning how to use QWERTZ as a replacement for QWERTY. If I was closer to fluency in German, I would genuinely give a complete switchover to QWERTZ some thought.

QWERTZ Layout: Wikimedia
DVORAK Layout: Wikimedia
Physical DVORAK: PC Guide

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30 Comments

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Learning a different keyboard layout, just for the sake of learning it seems rather non-productive.

I have worked a lot in Europe, and spent time with various keyboard layouts, and adapting isn't bad.

However, even in my line of work, unless you are doing tech support on a person's log in, there is no reason to do this.

When you can hit language and in a couple of seconds flip the computer to English, QWERTY, then it doesn't matter how the keyboard is laid out physically, as it works just like a QWERTY keyboard, except the letters no longer match.

Back in the 1980/1990s keyboard layouts were an issue that people had to work around because of 'localized' OS versions, which is no longer the case.


Of the various keyboards I took time to use and learn in Europe, AZERTY was one I liked and still adapt to easily. However, if I am doing a lot of work, I still just flip the settings to QWERTY.

Notice that the different punctuation positions are not dependent on QUERTY/QUERTZ different paradigms, but on the different languages used in a country. Here in Italy we use a QUERTY keyboard whose punctuation positions are really close to the German QUERTZ keyboard.
There are really weird keyboards (have a look here: http://gadgets.fosfor.se/the-top-10-weirdest-keyboards-ever/) and some of them (for instance, number 8 in the link above) are supposed to be simpler to learn how to use them than QWERTY keyboards.

n_K said,
Dvorak FTW! I started to learn it on and off, can still probably use it slightly albeit slowly.

I am guessing this is the sort of mental exercise not unlike "I am learning Esperanto in the hope of meeting someone...". What IS the point?

occam said,

I am guessing this is the sort of mental exercise not unlike "I am learning Esperanto in the hope of meeting someone...". What IS the point?

Exactly. You'd be better off learning Klingon.

theyarecomingforyou said,

Exactly. You'd be better off learning Klingon.

Wuh, keyboard layouts aren't used to converse with others; they're there to provide different scales of efficiency depending on the language being typed.

Ibrahim Haseel said,
i will be finding difficult to play specially games

No? Settings -> Keyboard -> Configure Keys...

I moved to Luxembourg 10 years ago, and I have been using QWERTZ as it is the closest to QWERTY. Shops mainly stock AZERTY (FR) or QWERTZ (DE, CH, and variants). My main gripe about QWERTZ is where it has the all important '@' secreted (Alt Gr + 2 ). Writing a paragraph without an apostrophe is nothing compared to sending an email without '@'. At the first internet cafe I used on arrival, I had the humiliating experience of having to ask the guy at the desk where the '@' key was on the keyboard.

occam said,
I moved to Luxembourg 10 years ago, and I have been using QWERTZ as it is the closest to QWERTY. Shops mainly stock AZERTY (FR) or QWERTZ (DE, CH, and variants). My main gripe about QWERTZ is where it has the all important '@' secreted (Alt Gr + 2 ). Writing a paragraph without an apostrophe is nothing compared to sending an email without '@'. At the first internet cafe I used on arrival, I had the humiliating experience of having to ask the guy at the desk where the '@' key was on the keyboard.

man alt+64 = @, BTW, my german keyboard has the @ in the Q...

Arceles said,

man alt+64 = @, BTW, my german keyboard has the @ in the Q...

Maybe I have a Swiss QWERTZ or worse, Bavarian keyboard :-)

Arceles said,

man alt+64 = @, BTW, my german keyboard has the @ in the Q...

It is nice to know the Alt codes for various punctuation.

However, more importantly, people should know that they can run: charmap on Windows and get a list of every character with its Alt code/Unicode and ability to copy and paste it.

Going back not long ago, knowing characters like • and © were mandatory for any typists being hired or graphic designers. Today, people can just use the various OS cheat sheet Apps like CharMap.

Commands like Control+Z still working even with the program, by pressing Control+Y and the same applies for Control+Y that works by pressing Control+Z.

German Keyboard is really a nice international keyboard, except for the missing ñ used in spanish languages, I added it by pressing altgr+ö, you can even add signatures for later use like in emails and also, it's worth of nothing, you can also switch the order of # and ' (this is really a fail for the Deutsche Tastatur, should be first ' and then #). Nowadays I use them both indifferently but autohotkey was a nice help to it.

Please note, with this you can always set the keyboard to German, and don't have ever the need of switching it. Best part of it if you are into Deutsch, you have the äöü and ß right at hand.

I have a German friend and it really threw me off when I first used their laptop, as at first glance the keyboard looked normal. To be honest because I touch-type I rarely ever look at the keyboard anyway.

My ex-girlfriend was Italian and they have a slightly different layout as well but thankfully it's really quick and easy to switch languages on modern operating systems.

If you have that much problems, you can download autohotkey and swap the z with the y, I have a german keyboard and works wonders, this is my script if you are interested:

; ^ = control
; ! = alt
; + = shift
; THE FILE MUST BE SAVED IN UTF-8 FOR ñ TO WORK!!!
; Also, simbols needed : ¬¬ ¿ ¡
; when the same key is used, USE THE $ otherwise it fails!

; SAMPLE HOTKEYS: Below are two sample hotkeys. The first is Win+Z and it
; launches a web site in the default browser. The second is Control+Alt+N
; and it launches a new Notepad window (or activates an existing one). To
; try out these hotkeys, run AutoHotkey again, which will load this file.

z::y

y::z

Arceles said,
If you have that much problems, you can download autohotkey and swap the z with the y, I have a german keyboard and works wonders, this is my script if you are interested:

; ^ = control
; ! = alt
; + = shift
; THE FILE MUST BE SAVED IN UTF-8 FOR ñ TO WORK!!!
; Also, simbols needed : ¬¬ ¿ ¡
; when the same key is used, USE THE $ otherwise it fails!

; SAMPLE HOTKEYS: Below are two sample hotkeys. The first is Win+Z and it
; launches a web site in the default browser. The second is Control+Alt+N
; and it launches a new Notepad window (or activates an existing one). To
; try out these hotkeys, run AutoHotkey again, which will load this file.

z::y

y::z

Or just hit Control Panel - Region Language - and flip the keyboard to QWERTY or whatever you like...

Weird that people turn to 3rd party programs and spend time when this functionality is built into the OS of the computer.

thenetavenger said,

Or just hit Control Panel - Region Language - and flip the keyboard to QWERTY or whatever you like...

Weird that people turn to 3rd party programs and spend time when this functionality is built into the OS of the computer.


and lose the umlauts? or the ß? no thanks, I type extremely fast in my way.

Don't you feel aggrevated that Ctrl+Z isn't under your fingertips anymore?

I wanted to learn Dvorak, I really did. But I simply couldn't see myself re-learning the shortcuts.

Marcin Kurek said,
Don't you feel aggrevated that Ctrl+Z isn't under your fingertips anymore?

I wanted to learn Dvorak, I really did. But I simply couldn't see myself re-learning the shortcuts.

Try colemak! It was built with modern PC users in mind in that half of the bottom row remains intact. Finger travelling is actually less than Dvorak, too. ~70% of the typing is on the home row!

I picked it up in 2 weeks, and was typing my normal speed in 2 months. If you have some spare time, I really recommend you try it.

Reacon said,

Try colemak! It was built with modern PC users in mind in that half of the bottom row remains intact. Finger travelling is actually less than Dvorak, too. ~70% of the typing is on the home row!

I picked it up in 2 weeks, and was typing my normal speed in 2 months. If you have some spare time, I really recommend you try it.

Woah.

I might consider it.

Marcin Kurek said,
Don't you feel aggrevated that Ctrl+Z isn't under your fingertips anymore?

I wanted to learn Dvorak, I really did. But I simply couldn't see myself re-learning the shortcuts.

I use Dvorak, give yourself a week and it's not too difficult. If you can't be bothered learning the shortcuts you can just use a layout that keeps them in the same place. There's one built in to OS X and my friend found one online for Windows but I wouldn't be able to point you in the right direction as I don't use it.

If you're on Windows, I highly recommend trying the switcher provided by "Jonathan" on dvzine.org. That version lets you not only toggle the switching off and on, but keeps QWERTY shortcuts the same, meaning cut/copy/paste are still very easy. The Mac page says that it has some way to use QWERTY shortcuts, but I haven't tried it.

http://www.dvzine.org/type/index.html