sorting the wheat from the chaff

Tracking Colemak learning progress

Here I am tracking my progress while learning the Colemak keyboard layout.

§ Motivation

Learning touch typing because coding while having to look at the keyboard is distracting.


  • will be finally entitled to a blind keyboard (very cool nerd gizmo)
  • relaxing exercise for the brain, empties your head


  • VIM bindings break - unsure if I should remap h,j,k,l to h,n,e,i
  • Emacs bindings break - esp. those to move around, ex.:
    • C-n one line down
    • C-p one line up
    • C-b one char back
    • C-f one char forward
    • a lot of others that I can't say off the top of my head: I don't really know what I am typing on Emacs, I cannot spell which keycombo I'm typing, it's completely automated. So it's really hard to remap muscle memory.
  • No physical layout under my eyes therefore obliged to learn touch typing (which I was never motivated enough to do)
  • Initial muscle strain because the higher concentration on typing leads to keep my arms stiff
  • I have to start from scratch with typing training. This has many ramifications I will detail down in a bit.

§ Learning milestones

2020-05-12: incomplete layout (very few punctuation): 16~18 wpm, very high accuracy rate

2020-05-15: around 15-18 wpm with almost full punctuation: high accuracy rate. Most common errors: f,g,l,m. Encountering problems also because I can't touch type over a QWERTY layout, therefore errors also on punctuation.

2020-05-17: around 20 wpm with very few punctuation. Error map says I'm getting confused by e,g,k.n and a lot by comma and dot.

Fast forward to 2020-05-30: I can keep a sustained 25-35 wpm when copying text, with very few errors.

I can see the trend. There is a steady and proportional improvemend if I exercise regularly.

§ Caveats

Or: what they don't tell you when you try a new keyboard layout.

You start doing exercises like any good schoolboy would do, after a relative short time you also reach good results. You can also compete with encouraging results in those typing games you find around.

Then off you go to your favourite chat and start typing to your frieds how cool i s. typing. using. the. new. layout. You suddenly realize you are not able anymore of thinking and typing. Your speed is at least halved on any hello world text you try to write without reading from a script.

Not to mention when you dare to write a line of code. Half of what you write is garbage and you must rewrite it because you still don't have come to terms with mixing (old) punctuation and (new) keyboard layout. It's disappointing because it prevents you into going into "the zone", to concentrate and be productive.

Luckily I notice that passing from one layout to another is effortless, I had expected my brain to refuse switching from one to another in just a couple of seconds (for example, switching spoken language takes me longer): this means that I can proficiently work during the day and in the evening exercise for half an hour or more (depending on how tired I am).

So my evaluation so far (after admittedly very short time) is:

  • learning a new keyboard layout and at the same time touch typing is a noticeable effort that requires time, so this evaluation is only partial
  • learning a new keyboard layout is a waste of time unless there is a physical condition requiring you to do so (example some people reported less wrist strain) or in your daily work you type so fast (example texts, not code) that the Colemak layout gives you a concrete advantage.
  • touch typing is great (once mastered) but not always applicable (I can imagine many situations in which I don't have physical room to lay my hands in the correct position)

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