With handwriting fading away as the world goes electronic, typing skills are becoming essential. At work, school, and even at home, the keyboard is part of our daily lives. So what do you do if, like me, you never actually learned how to type?
I completed plenty of papers in college — all typed with me staring intently at the keyboard since a nasty case of tendinitis in my left wrist had kept me from learning to touch type properly in high school. It worked fairly well when I was putting together my own thoughts, but the moment I had to type anything for anyone else, I was slower than your average tortoise.
With my wrist finally behaving itself, I decided it was past time I learned to type — especially since there are so many opportunities online. Because practice is key to learning to touch type, I needed a site that showed me the proper way to use my fingers to type and gave me a comfortable place to practice. I wanted a site that was free (although some of these sites also offer paid lessons) and worked in my browser so that I didn’t have to deal with downloads. Here’s what I found:
This is my go-to site. LearnTyping.org is incredibly basic. An opening article introduces the idea of which fingers strike which keys and then you choose which lesson to start with. The beginner course moves slowly, allowing you to practice a few keys at a time. You move on as you become more comfortable. Then, an advance course helps you practice putting it all together, offering lessons with frequent letter combinations, real words and sentences.
Each lesson page offers rows of text to practice typing and a space below it where you type. Since you can see what you actually type, you can see what mistakes you’re making. After all, it’s hard to fix it if you don’t know what’s broken! This site is a useful starting point and good for practicing. But, there’s no measurement of speed or accuracy. You’re completely on the honor system here.
Learn2Type.com has a nice opening that walks you through the idea of home keys and the concept of using certain fingers to hit certain keys. But then it dumps you in the deep end, mixing all the letters and even special characters in from the very first lesson. Even after becoming fairly confident about the keyboard layout, I find this site frustrating.
This site does evaluate your progress on each try, allowing you to repeat the extremely short lessons as many times as you want before you move on. The lesson is different each time you repeat it, but it seems more random than thoughtful.
With its big, bold graphics, I wanted to like BigBrownBear.co.uk. Instead of starting with the home keys, this site organizes lessons in groups of letters by the finger used to strike the key. You advance to the next lesson after completing your current one with 90 percent accuracy. The text you are supposed to type scrolls across the top of the screen and everything starts flashing if you hit a wrong key. In fact, you cannot continue the lesson until you hit the correct key.
I found the scrolling awkward and the flashing distracting. It really bothered me after I’d started to pick up a little speed; by the time it flashed, I was three words beyond where I’d made the mistake. It may be a good site to use if you want to practice improving your speed and accuracy, since it does give stats at the end of the lesson.
You do have to set up an account to use TypingWeb.com, but it’s free and doesn’t even require an email address. There’s a lot going on at this site. Before you start, a pop up window explains the basics of the keyboarding lesson you’re practicing. The text to be typed is shown above a small keyboard and a graphic of hands that show which finger should be striking where.
Your mistakes are highlighted in pink, and you have the choice of leaving them or backtracking to fix them. But, it’s hard to know where you went wrong since the site doesn’t display what you actually typed. At the end of each lesson, the site show stats for accuracy and speed, as well as a list of any keys you had trouble with.
Powertyping.com doesn’t waste much time explaining the basics, so it’s not a great place to try and figure out finger placements. Each lesson concentrates on a certain group of characters, progressing from the home keys all the way to the trickier special character keys. There are no real word lessons, and the graphics can be hard to follow. You’re presented with a big block of text to type. A small window beneath the text block shows what you’re actually typing, and there’s a flash at the top of the text block if you make a mistake. I kept trying, and failing, to look at both places at once. On a more positive note, the site does give speed and accuracy stats at the end of each lesson.
While I spend most of my practice time at LearnTyping.org, I’ve learned at least a little something from each of the sites I explored. So far I’ve more than doubled my touch typing speed. I wouldn’t say I’m fast — yet — but I’m still learning and improving.
Everyone learns differently, so a site that I found frustrating may be the perfect choice for you. After all, the real key to learning to touch type is plain old practice, practice, practice. Find a site or sites that work for you and put in the time to train your fingers and establish the muscle memory that will help you type quickly and confidently. You might even want to explore the many free typing games available online. Personally, I kill a lot of time over at TypeRacer.com!