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Let your PC teach you how to type

Image: Typing Instructor Platinum screenshot
Some schools now teach typing, but it's not prevalent enough — and really, if you have kids, you should simply teach them to type.Tecca
/ Source: Tecca

Do you know how to type? Not hunting and pecking your way around a keyboard, but actual touch typing — you know, 10 fingers on the keyboard moving in perfect, clackity-clack synchrony? Considering the amount of time that we spend behind a computer and keyboard, you'd think that we would learn to type, but for the most part, we simply don't. Of course, most of us would like to learn how to type properly, but it's the kind of thing that's usually put off for a rainy day.

Well, that rainy day has finally come. It's time to learn to type. You have written your last 30-minute email. Never again will you spend a whole day writing a multi-page report. And finally — yes, finally — you will no longer be the slow half of an IM chat.

Apps, apps, and websites
You won't be surprised to learn that the best way to learn to touch type on a computer... is with a computer — or to be precise, with apps and websites. Historically, learning to touch type was a terribly dull affair; you typed word after word, sentence after sentence, and phrase after phrase, usually under the ireful eye of a masochistic teacher who would shout every time you looked down at your fingers. Learning touch typing has evolved quite a bit from there, fortunately. It's now very easy to teach yourself, a friend or loved one, and you can even have a bit of fun while you do it.

You pay for the best
If you want the best touch typing training, either for Windows or Mac, you'll have to be willing to pony up some cash. If you're happy to opt for an experience that's a little less smooth and not quite so tailored, however, the free options are quite effective. We'll start with the paid options.

Mac & Windows
No matter what kind of laptop or desktop you use, Typing Instructor Platinum is probably the best touch typing tutor available. Whether you're an absolute beginner or just in need of a little retraining, Typing Instructor's lessons, games, and tests will get your fingers moving. The best (and possibly most important) aspect, however, is that Typing Instructor constantly shows you your progress as your accuracy and words per minute (WPM) improve — and rest assured that there will be progress!

Typing Instructor Platinum costs about $14. There's a free trial that you can take for a spin, although it's a pretty short trial indeed.

Freebie tutorials
There are free touch typing tutors, but they're generally not as refined or fun. Typeonline makes a good place to start, and then you can move on to Sense-Lang's large array of practice lessons. When your concentration starts to flag, Sense-Lang also offers some typing games that you can play — and if none of those games catch your eye, check out TypingWeb's selection. TypingWeb also has quite a healthy selection of lessons and practice sessions, too.

Finally, for one of the coolest typing games out there, check Z-Type. Make sure you have a modern Web browser installed, though, or it might not work.

Typing on a smartphone?
Are you one of those people who spend more time typing with their thumbs than their fingers? Well unfortunately, no definitive "SMS tutor" exists, so the only real way to learn faster thumb typing is by practicing. You've probably seen kids who can type scary-fast on their cell phones; rest assured that they didn't take any classes to get that fast.

The other option, of course, is not typing with two thumbs. If you're an Android user, both Swype and SlideIT are interesting one-thumb solutions. iOS unfortunately doesn't offer any alternative input methods — but with an iPad, if you lay it flat, you can touch type on the screen! BlackBerry phones do have alternative keyboards like Lightning Keyboard, but sadly, nothing that can be used with just one thumb.

For kids
In today's world of ubiquitous computing where almost every level of education and employment requires interaction with computers, learning to touch type at a young age can be incredibly useful. At my school, every kid had to learn to touch type before moving on to Word and Excel — and unless you could type very fast indeed, you could say goodbye to playing games for the last 10 minutes of the class.

Some schools now teach typing, but it's not prevalent enough — and really, if you have kids, you should simply teach them to type. Half an hour a day is more than enough to get them typing at hyperspeed in a matter of weeks! Typing Instructor Platinum (detailed above) is fairly child-friendly, but if you're willing to spend another $11, get Typing Instructor for Kids Platinum. The lessons are much the same, but the overall tone of the software is more appropriate for children.

Tips & tricks
Finally, a few tricks that I've used over the years to improve my own touch typing:

  • Grab a sheet of paper and put it over the back of your hands. It can be very tempting to look down while you type — but that completely defeats the point of touch typing. The other option is to get a friend or loved one to jab you in the kidneys every time you look down — but I prefer the sheet of paper technique.
  • Make sure your arms are horizontal with your keyboard. To avoid strain and to make touch typing easier, your wrists and elbows should be on the same horizontal plane, and your back should be straight (which means your elbows should be bent 90 degrees — don't slouch!). If your desk is too high, you can put your keyboard on your lap.
  • Be gentle. Don't hammer the keys — just push gently. You will know if you're pushing the keys too hard, as your other fingers will come off the keys. All 10 of your fingers should never leave the surface of the keyboard!

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