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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