What’s the most useful thing you learned at school?
For me, touch typing would be fairly high on the list.
As a youngster, I’d always had a fascination for typing. We had a portable typewriter at home and I loved to play around with it. So when I had the opportunity to learn to type properly, I jumped at the chance.
While studying for A levels (aged 17/18), our school timetable had a number of free periods each week that were intended to be used for studying. We were allowed to sign up for ‘extra’ subjects in these periods – and I chose typing.
We learned to type on heavy metal typewriters. Starting with our hands on the middle row of letters, our index fingers on the ‘F’ and ‘J’ keys, we practised copying groups of letters from a book until we could type any combination from that middle row. Extending our index fingers to the ‘G’ (left hand) and ‘H’ (right hand) was the next step.
For the other rows, we did similar exercises, moving our fingers up to the top row and then down to the bottom, but always returning to that middle row.
In all of this, it was important not to look at the keyboard, but instead to focus on the paper where our letters and words appeared. Mistakes – and there were many – were corrected using an ink rubber, which could make a real mess of the paper, especially the flimsy stuff that was used for carbon copies.
Typing was a much more physical activity than it is nowadays. Pressing down those metal keys required significant finger strength, and the carriage return lever had to be swiped across from left to right to move the paper up and start each new line of typing.
The lessons paid off
After two years of lessons, I managed to gain some proper typing qualifications: a CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) Grade 1, plus RSA (Royal Society of Arts) Grades 1 and 2 and a typing speed of 40 words per minute.
Apart from a brief spell using an electric typewriter when I helped to type up a thesis, these skills lay dormant for several years. Most of my university work was written long-hand, and in my first admin job the secretaries did all the typing. By the time I left full-time employment, word processing – mainly using WordPerfect 5.1 – was widespread, so at least I was able to put my skills to some use, which I did whenever I had the chance.
When I started freelance editing and proofreading, my workplace experience of WordPerfect 5.1 turned out to be invaluable for gaining on-screen work from an international publisher. This was in the late 1990s, when many freelancers were still working primarily on paper.
My work has changed and developed in the intervening years, but those typing skills remain invaluable. Nowadays, computers of various kinds are a standard feature of office life – and, indeed, of many non-office workplaces too. I know most people who use computers for work won’t have learned to touch type, although many develop excellent levels of speed and accuracy through constant practice.
I now use my typing skills all the time:
I also use TextExpander, a tool that inserts standard pieces of text – for example, in comments on a Microsoft Word document – when I type in a keyboard shortcut. It’s faster than my typing and saves me repeatedly writing out the same thing. Having said that, my skills still come in handy for typing the keyboard shortcuts, even if I’m not writing out the whole snippet of text.
A key skill
I’m so glad I learned to type at a time in my life when my brain found it easy to pick up new things, and before I’d developed any bad keyboard habits! It was several years before I truly realised what a useful skill it is, but I wouldn’t be without it now.
For anyone wondering about the title of this article, I should explain that ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ is a sentence that’s often used for typing practice because it contains all the letters of the English alphabet.
If you’d like to practise your typing skills – or set yourself a typing challenge – why not have a go at this typing game? Warning: It’s addictive!
Did you learn to touch type at school or college? Perhaps it’s something you’ve taken up more recently? And if you haven’t had any formal training in typing, how quickly and accurately can you type?