I am a good typist with qwerty keyboard, I came across other keyboard layouts (eg: Dvorak keyboard). I believe I will never be able to master these two typing layouts simultaneously.

Am I right? or is it possible to learn both and become a good typist (i.e type with decent speed without looking the keyboard).

The example in itself is trivial to me (I am happy with qwerty keyboards) but I wanted to understand what will happen when there is a serious overlap and contradiction with two methods and can human mind handle it or is it once set it's really set in situations like this?

If my mind can learn only one method when two contradicting and interfering methods are present, then I believe it's implications are very interesting.

There are real life examples which are similar to the keyboard example. They all have the following attributes. a) Two are more conflicting solutions for same problem b) Decisions must be automatic or made under tight time constraint (no time to think).

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Cognitive Sciences and thank you for your question. Sorry for being critical, but why would this be different than learning a second language, learning to drive in a car in a country that drives on the opposite lane and so forth? I vote to close this question because I find it too trivial and poorly researched. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Jun 20, 2015 at 11:00
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a trivial question. If a scientific basis is added, or if the question is made relevant to this community at large I am happy to retract this vote. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Jun 20, 2015 at 11:02
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    $\begingroup$ Learning a second language is completely different situation, there is no 'interference' there. When there is no interference with previous method it becomes another co-operative guest. Let me give you another personal experience, learning math formulas for differential calculus is easy then try memorizing formulas for integral calculus formulas, it will trip your mind atleast for some initial time, where as learning algebra formulas with trigonometry formulas won't! Typing with two keyboard layouts is similar to math situation but with tight time constraints, no one thinks before typing! $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2015 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD interference and context is definitely a thing, so I am not sure where your assessment is coming from. For example, imagine a person that is bilingual in a pair of languages that have different scrips. I would expect them to have an easier time learning the two different keyboard layouts corresponding to the two languages because of context than a monolingual person learning two different keyboard layouts for the same script. $\endgroup$ Jun 20, 2015 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ Check out this video, might answer your question: youtube.com/watch?v=MFzDaBzBlL0 $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Jun 20, 2015 at 19:28

3 Answers 3


Observational points: It would be straightforward to point to a person who has mastered more than one keyboard layout (e.g., some of the people here). So, yes, it is possible. From my own personal experience, I can point to my use of both Vim keyboard shortcuts for editing and regular OSX/Windows keyboard shortcuts. This is certainly possible.

But I'd prefer to focus on the scientific principles that underly such a capacity.

Scientific principles:

There are a number of scientific principles operating in this context.

  • Negative and positive transfer
  • Principles of task consistency and complexity

In general transfer of skill from one domain to another depends on the degree of consistency between the two skills. This is a broad concept. Certainly the mapping between inputs and outputs is a big part of this (i.e., key press and letter). But it could also include a range of broader conceptual and psychomotor routines. Thus, positive transfer occurs when you can take the skill on one task to improve your performance in another. Negative transfer occurs when your performance on one task suffers as a result of learning a different task. In general positive transfer is much more powerful than negative transfer.

Applying these principles to converting from QWERTY to DVORAK

Let's say that you have a person who has learnt the QWERTY keyboard layout and can type 80 words per minute. They decide that they want to learn DVORAK. What would we expect from a skill acquisition perspective?

The new keyboard layout (DVORAK) shares many consistent cognitive and psychomotor elements with the original layout (QWERTY). The basic motor actions of pressing individual keys are identical. Many other cognitive skills around the concept of typing are also the same. However, the actual specific key-to-letter mappings will be new. Furthermore, learning to type involves building up specific motor patterns around common sequences of letters and some of these will also be new.

The net result will be that learning to efficiently use DVORAK should take a fair bit of time. However, the learning curve should be massively faster than learning how to touch type the first time. Thus, in a basic sense, the main limitation to learning to type using two keyboard layouts is that it just takes more time than to learn one layout. And generally, you will be better at one layout than the other, so why bother learning two layouts unless perhaps you are transitioning to a new layout for the long term.

Based on general principles of cognitive transfer, generally knowing QWERTY will make DVORAK easier to learn. So most of the transfer will be positive. It is likely that there will be some accidental applications of QWERTY when you are in DVORAK and vice versa. Such errors can be minimised if you can create stimuli in your task environment that clearly communicates the appropriate mapping (e.g., use it on particular computers). The general concept in skill acquisition is that a single stimulus-response pairing is easier to manage, but over time you will learn to apply contextual cues to choose the correct stimulus-response options.

Another general principle for psychomotor skills is that forgetting is slower and relearning is quicker than for a lot of cognitive skills (Rosenbaum et al, 2001). Thus, people are likely to be able to retain and get back up to speed on a previously learnt keyboard layout after a period of using a newer layout.


If you're interested in reading more, you might want to check out some of Philip Ackerman's early work on skill acquisition where he talks about consistency and complexity.

There's also a large literature that has studied the cognitive psychology of learning to touch type.

  • Ackerman, P. L. (1989). Within-task intercorrelations of skilled performance: Implications for predicting individual differences? A comment on Henry & Hulin, 1987.
  • Ackerman, P. L. (1988). Determinants of individual differences during skill acquisition: cognitive abilities and information processing. Journal of experimental psychology: General, 117(3), 288.
  • Rosenbaum, D. A., Carlson, R. A., & Gilmore, R. O. (2001). Acquisition of intellectual and perceptual-motor skills. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 453-470.
  • Yechiam, E., Erev, I., Yehene, V., and Gopher, D. (2004). Melioration and the transition from touch-typing training to everyday use. Human Factors, 45, 671-684.
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @JeromyAnglim , your answer is exactly what I was looking for! Now I can use these insights in my day trading profession to understand myself better! $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2015 at 8:26
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    $\begingroup$ Based on me being a good touch typist (~100 WPM), learning colemak, forgetting and relearning qwerty, this write up matches my experience exactly. Because I use both layouts frequently, I'm not really better at one however. $\endgroup$
    – Zorg
    Jun 11, 2016 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ With Qwerty I average ~130wpm on typeracer, and can burst at 160wpm. I've tried learning Colemak on two separate occasions because I've heard it's much more efficient. When I was starting out, I confused a lot of Colemak keys for Qwerty keys. But to my horror, as I got better with Colemak, I was also losing muscle-memory I had developed with Qwerty. I found myself having to stop and 'think' more with Qwerty, because I would inject Colemak keystrokes into my Qwerty typing, and my typing speed decreased. I had to abandon learning Colemak because of the negative effect it was having on my Qwerty. $\endgroup$
    – Paradox
    Feb 9, 2018 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ There is a lot of great thought and experience here. I believe that having a clear distinction in motivation (e.g. problem space) and associated expected response makes context switching much easier. This concept is outlined in this post as well: ux.stackexchange.com/a/73151/125403. I believe learning another layout can be non-intrusive if one takes an effort to divide the problem space: "I use QWERTY for programming, I used Dvorak for writing and chat." You can further help your brain by utilizing keyboards with distinct physical responses (switches). $\endgroup$
    – afeique
    Apr 20, 2019 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ My personal example: I drive manual regularly, but occasionally drive automatic. In the past, I used to drive an economy sedan 5-speed which accelerated and handled approximately like any other economy automatic. In most automatic vehicles, I would often find myself reaching for the shifter or trying to hit the clutch. Now I drive a sports car 6-speed. The expected handling, response, and approach to driving is so distinct, I never have a mixup when driving an automatic. If I drove an automatic transmission sports car, I'm certain it would cause more brain confusion. $\endgroup$
    – afeique
    Apr 20, 2019 at 14:39

The answer is yes, you can only use one at a time though since there is a transition time for your brain to recognize and switch between layouts internally.

I know this because I use two different keyboard layouts regularly, they're not as different as QWERTY and DVORAK, the biggest differences are on which buttons symbols are placed (e.g. where the ? and * and + and - and so on) are placed.

Everytime I use a keyboard, my brain defaults to what I have been using the most over the past days, but I can switch over to a different layout rather easily once I decide to do so.

However it's worth noting that this is actually as hard to learn as it sounds since there is as you said an overlap between keyboard layouts. But in my experience there is always a dominant layout, since a keyboard is a keyboard regardless of it's layout, you will sometimes instinctively press the wrong button in the less dominant layout(s).

But it is entirely possible, and you can definitely do it without any noticable changes in your typing speed, although you may type a little bit slower in a less known layout at first, as the muscle memory for it builds up your typing speed will probably end up relatively similar to the speed you can type in the layout that you already know.

In other words, if you see the need to do this, just do it. We are capable of it, and with training we can do it just as effectively as we can be fluent in two languages at the same time. The element our mind uses for this is pattern recognition, you're just changing the patterns, nothing more, the easiest comparison I can think of is inverted mouse/stick controls in video games, or if you flip your monitor upside down so that you have to invert your vertical mouse movements. It's gonna be really uncomfortable and hard at first, but you will eventually get it right.

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    $\begingroup$ Right now I'm switching actively between physical keyboard layouts (US and EU) there is one button missing on the US keyboard, and another is out of place, enter button is smaller, etc. It takes a little time for my brain to register every time I change keyboards (maybe a few minutes) but once it has registered that I am now using "this" kind of keyboard, it's just as easy as writing on the other kind. $\endgroup$
    – Cestarian
    Jun 25, 2015 at 14:11

In different guitar tunings the different strings have different tonal values, so to play the same tone, a guitarist has to press different strings at different frets. This is equivalent to pressing different keys on a computer keyboard to create the same letter. Playing a song well means that you don't have time to think and search for the appropriate string and fret to press, but have to play automatically. Yet guitarists can master and switch between different tunings.

If a guitarist can do this, a typist can do this as well.

There are other activities where different "codes" are "uttered" by the same anatomy, e.g. dancing different dances with the same legs, or speaking different languages with the same larynx, lips and tongue. Once you have internalized one system (one dance, one tuning, one language, one keyboard layout) and performing it has become automatic, you no longer "stumble" or "speak pidgin".

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks what! I believe all we need is to create one more level of hierarchy inside our head to these type of activities. Without this hierarchy, default flat structure inside head will mess up the mind! Adding context cues performs this 'adding hierarchy inside the head'. $\endgroup$ Jun 23, 2015 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ @TrewestaAnamoly Indeed. I believe that we don't just learn the layout of the keyboard and where to press when we want this or that letter, but rather we learn sequences of movements as constituent parts of the "language" of a specific keyboard layout – just like we don't usually spell words letter by letter, when we read them, but recognize the sequence of letters that makes up a word, and that word is stored in relation to the language it belongs to, so I can immediately know wether the word I see is in English or German or French, without any effort or actual switching at all. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Jun 23, 2015 at 12:59

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