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From a few other questions here, it seems like the suggested route to learn Dvorak is just to do it, and while I have a couple weeks of vacation I'm using, it might be a good time to give it a whirl, so I'm not totally useless at 4 WPM when I go back to work.

That said, in a few weeks would I severely damage my QWERTY knowledge or would it still be hanging around? Should I switch back to QWERTY occasionally while learning Dvorak?

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I am one that decided several years ago to learn vim so that I would have an awesome editor no matter what platform (or terminal) I was running on. While the ideological reasons to adopt DVORAK are clear, the pragmatic reasons are not. Perhaps this vacation time would be better used, like learning a new language, platform, contributing to an OS project, or actually taking a vacation :) (this is just a comment) –  gahooa Dec 23 '10 at 19:03
@gahooa: The point isn't that learning a new keyboard layout takes all vacation (it takes only a tiny amount of time per day), but that it's best to do so when one doesn't need to type much and can (say) spend time reading books instead. Of course, for some people vacation is when they type more… –  ShreevatsaR Dec 23 '10 at 19:06
short answer. no –  acidzombie24 Dec 24 '10 at 0:35
@Izkata: that's not the same part of the brain that's used for typing. Typing is a mostly mechanical process, and it does get disturbed perfecting a different but similar skill. –  whatsisname Feb 1 '12 at 23:46
@Izkata The brain is a very complicated piece of circuitry. Simple comparisons are meaningless. –  Glenn Nelson Feb 2 '12 at 1:14

10 Answers 10

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I've never switched to Dvorak but I do use a combination of US and UK keyboard on Windows, OSX and Ubuntu. When switching between them I generally make a few mistakes and then I'm fine. The longer I've been in a different environment, the more mistakes I'll make during that process.

You should have used QWERTY for long enough by now for it to be like riding a bike, you might be a bit wobbly if you haven't done it for a while but you'll soon be speeding along like before.

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Just like riding a bike, well said! –  Chris Dec 23 '10 at 19:01
Ditto. I've switched between US Mac and UK Sun in a previous life and I'll echo the remark of making a few mistakes initially and then getting back into the groovy. I have a friend who routinely switches between a French keyboard and a British one without too much difficulty either. –  chrisaycock Dec 23 '10 at 19:02
US vs. UK is really trivial compared to Qwerty vs. Dvorak –  kizzx2 Oct 13 '12 at 13:56

From personal experience: no. Once you've learned both proficiently, you can freely switch back and forth (in fact strangely enough my QWERTY speed increased after I learned Dvorak), though it may take a while (say 10-20 minutes) before you're typing without mistakes.

And as for "Should I switch back to QWERTY occasionally while learning Dvorak", it's really least painful if you don't. That's why vacation is a good time to learn Dvorak, when you don't need to type so much that QWERTY becomes essential.

(Random remarks: The biggest pain with switching to Dvorak is not the typing but all the keyboard shortcuts that are in your muscle memory: either relearn shortcuts, or do something so that it's very easy to switch to QWERTY when you need a keyboard shortcut. Also, I don't see a significant speed gain with Dvorak, but my fingers do hurt less.)

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Agreed on the keyboard shortcuts, I'm wondering if I can find a tool that'd switch to QWERTY when I press keys like Ctrl or Alt, but being a heavy user of vim, that wouldn't completely solve the problem for me. –  Jeff Bridgman Dec 19 '14 at 23:30

I think that if you immerse yourself in one single layout (Dvorak in your case), you will forget the others; but if you use several regulary, then it won't be a problem.

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I've been using colemak for a couple of years now and I find it difficult to use qwerty outside of a mobile device. However when I was using both, I was still reasonably proficient in qwerty, so I definitely think that this has some good logic behind it. –  Alan Pearce Dec 23 '10 at 19:17
This is not true. Even if you immerse yourself in one thing (Dvorak), you won't forget a skill you've had for years (QWERTY). That was precisely the point of the question; I think this is a misleading answer. –  ShreevatsaR Dec 24 '10 at 4:19

I have been using a Kinesis Ergo Pro keyboard for Dvorak typing, and "regular" keyboards for UK, US, northern European as well as Asian layouts. The fact that I used a radically different keyboard to write Dvorak has resulted in no confusion between Dvorak and Qwerty; perhaps something like this might work also for you?

Downside is that I cannot type Dvorak on a flat keyboard, nor can I use the Kinesis in Qwerty mode. But this really does not matter. For me learning Dvorak also increased typing speed in Qwerty.

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+1, also for "learning Dvorak also increased typing speed in Qwerty". The same here! –  ShreevatsaR Dec 24 '10 at 4:21

If you change occasionally, say typing on QWERTY every few weeks or months, you can expect a 2-10 minute "warm up" period where you are slow. Perhaps you will need to look down, but you can type with 10 fingers, and look away after a few minutes.

If you change frequently, every few days or every few hours, then you should have no problem and should be able to switch instantly, full speed.

I do find that there is a visual element, so if you can only type QWERTY or Dvorak in certain specific graphical or environmental conditions, it will help with the switch. What I mean by this is if you want to type QWERTY and Dvorak in this same text box, your brain and muscles need to remember two full keyboard layouts with zero external support. If you type QWERTY at work on Mac with desktop background A while listening to music B, and then type Dvorak at home on a Windows box in a different environment, you'll have an easier time.

Another example: I can only recall certain passwords when I am looking at the page where I need to enter them. I cannot recall them typing in a blank text document without the small peripheral graphical cues.

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Try not to use QWERTY at all until you've hit your minimum acceptable (to you) speed in Dvorak. I only use QWERTY 1-2 times a month, and I have no trouble switching back and forth. @mankoff makes a good point re: context. I generally use Dvorak at the computer and QWERTY on my typewriter -- I have no ramp-up time when switching between the computer and typewriter, but going Dvorak->QWERTY on the computer causes about 15 minutes of flailing around slowly until muscle memory kicks in. –  HedgeMage Dec 23 '10 at 19:58
What do you do 1-2 times per month on your typewriter??! –  Mocky Feb 15 '11 at 19:39


Long answer:

When you start, expect your typing speed to be halved for a few weeks. Fortunately, the majority of time spent programming (or writing in general) is thinking and research, not typing, so this shouldn't be too big a problem. In fact, when I was learning Dvorak, one thing I noticed is that it curbed my tendency to babble in online discussions :-)

Yes, you will get the layouts mixed up. However, the damage isn't permanent. If you type solely in Dvorak for a month, then go back to QWERTY, there will be a period of recovery (perhaps a few days at most), but it won't take long to gain all your speed back.

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I am in process of becoming proficient with DVORAK - my QWERTY typing speed is around 100/2 or /3 - I've got DVORAK up to about 50/2 so it's coming alone. I've been typing for over 40 years and have always been a fast typist. It's funny - if I don't 'think' at the qwerty - I'll start typing by just reading the 'word' (I don't realy type letters - like any proficient typist). I am still 'thinking' about letters with DVORAK - so don't know what direction this will take. I try to practice DVORAK at home and keep qwerty at work (although I cheat once in a while). I'd like to see DVORAK at about 150 to be worth switching - although my hands are 'happier' on the DVORAK. If I 'think' about 'what I'm typing' on the QWERTY - I start making mistakes......

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I learned touch typing in high school on a manual typewriter. Today all of my keyboards are the same (5) because I have a terrible time with different configurations. I have used Dvorak on a few occasions and found that it was great for screwing me up. Yes once the groundwork is done, Dvorak is faster, but I would need to change all of my systems to conform and, since I also do installations, I would need to change all of the systems that I access and that would mess with everyone else.

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While I was learning Svorak (Swedish version of Dvorak), there was a period when I could switch between the two quite easily. However, as I became more proficient in Svorak, I used Qwerty less and less and eventually I could not make the switch anymore. However it did take me considerably less time to relearn Qwerty than it took me to learn Svorak.

So if you want to maintain the two and be able to switch between them, I would recommend that you type a bit of Qwerty every now and then while learning Dvorak. This will keep the Qwerty layout in your fingertips and prevent it from being completely replaced by Dvorak. If you only type Dvorak, like I did when learning it, I believe you will forget it, too.

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My wife learned Dvorak several years ago. She can still type on a Qwerty layout, albeit not as fast as she could type Qwerty before switching to Dvorak (and much slower than she can now type in Dvorak).

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