Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Touch Typing and Language

I learned to type the summer after I finished college so that I could get a job. Because it's a skill that goes into muscle memory, I hadn't thought much about it since, except to be very glad I'd learned. Writing a book is hard enough without having to use the hunt-and-peck method of getting your words into a computer.

Recently, however, I started playing with a site called Duolingo, which lets you learn a foreign language and translate selections from the Internet. I'm working on German, which I've never really properly learned (like Marion Zimmer Bradley, I learned what I do know from operas, so that I can scream for help because a dragon is chasing me much more easily than I can discuss current news).

I started noticing that I was having trouble typing, and it wasn't just special characters like umlauts. Even words that had the same letters I typed every day were giving me trouble. After about a week, I finally figured out why. When I was being taught to type, one of the things they had us work on was speed. Part of this involved learning to type common words, and common combinations of letters, quickly--to learn to see them as a single element, rather than as individual letters. This way they go in though your eyes and out through your fingers without your even thinking about it. The method does work; I can type about 55 words per minute--in English.

But when I change to another language, even German, from which English is derived, the phonemes change. For example, in English I often type "sch"--but I never type "schl" (it took me three tries just now to get that one right). I expect it will get easier as I keep studying. I only hope that it won't impair my ability to type in English.

And there's probably a story in there somewhere...