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Home » Tip of the Week » Consider the Advantages and disadvantages of switching your computer’s keyboard layout

Consider the Advantages and disadvantages of switching your computer’s keyboard layout

25th June, 2014 I by Charlotte Klein

Hello, and welcome to another tip-of-the-week! This week, we’re going to discuss advantages and disadvantages of switching your computer’s keyboard layout for typing in a foreign language.

Have you ever wondered about the different keyboard layouts in non-English-speaking countries? Have you considered changing the layout of your keyboard to match the language into which you are translating? Every computer comes with a predetermined visual keyboard layout; in the United States, for example, it is most common to see the standard English QWERTY. The computer is typically programmed in such a way that the functional keyboard layout matches the visual; that is, when the key stamped with the letter “W” is struck, the letter “W” appears on the screen. However, most computers are equipped with the capability of switching the functional keyboard layout to a different language or region. Thus, when the letter “W” is struck on a computer whose visual layout is QWERTY but whose functional layout is the French AZERTY, the letter “Z” appears.

When translating documents into a language that differs from that in which your computer was originally formatted, it may be beneficial or necessary to adjust your functional keyboard layout to one used in the region where your language is spoken. Sometimes, you will find that the keyboard layout does not vary significantly, even when typing in a different language. This is largely because the QWERTY format is in widespread use, particularly for those computers whose primary language employs the Latin script (although keyboards with other characters often include Latin symbols as well). But what about those keyboards whose layouts are quite distinct?

The primary disadvantage of switching is evident: the physical letters stamped onto each key may not match the letter you type. Therefore, when typing with a functional keyboard that differs from the visual, it is almost easier not to look at the keys, as even a temporary confusion could throw off your typing rhythm. Furthermore, if this is not the keyboard you are accustomed to using (even if you are familiar with it), you run the risk of making avoidable mistakes, which, though most likely easy to catch, could be time-consuming to fix.

On the other hand, it may be advantageous to use a different keyboard layout, because it would most likely be better suited to the language in which you are writing. The Spanish keyboard, for example, includes the letter”ñ”; while this is not a common letter in the English language and thus unnecessary to include in the English QWERTY format, it occurs with frequency in Spanish. Therefore, it makes sense that the Spanish keyboard requires just one tap to produce this letter in place of two or more. Furthermore, since languages such as French and Spanish require many more diacritical marks than English, it is logical that the corresponding keyboards facilitate their use.

Time is of the essence when translating documents, of course, and any change that speeds up the process is highly beneficial. You want to avoid any adjustment that slows down your progress. Therefore, choosing to switch your computer’s functional keyboard layout ultimately depends on your familiarity with the target keyboard, with your ability to disconnect the visual from the functional, and the number of additional symbols that your current keyboard does not support or include. For information on how to switch your computer’s functional keyboard layout, click here (Windows) or here (Mac).

Do you use a different keyboard layout when typing in a different language? Why or why not? We would love to read your thoughts in the comments!

3 responses to “Consider the Advantages and disadvantages of switching your computer’s keyboard layout”

  1. Bookworm says:

    It’s really funny that switching keyboard layouts is something new and astonishing for most native English speakers. I speak Russian; we have been switching two layouts since the computer emerged (probably, late 1950s). Prior to PC and Windows Rusesian-made computers had a dedicated Ru/En key for this. To me having several keyboard layouts is so natural and goes without saying. As a rule, the right Ctrl key does the trick (depends on personal preferences; some people keep the Alt+Shift keystroke which is default in Windows; on my Blackberry I press Alt+Enter to switch between En and Ru). Also, there is such a thing as Punto Switcher: it toggles the layout automatically by analyzing what you are typing and identifying whether it is in English or in Russian. Pretty convenient, and free. So to me there is nothing much to talk about )))

    • Charlotte Klein says:

      Thank you for your comment, Bookworm. We typically like to post tips-of-the-week such as these for anybody who may not be aware of all the tools available to them. You raise a good point – I feel that when translating between languages that use varying writing systems (Russian and English, for example), it is much more common and even necessary to switch between functional layouts. On the other hand, a translator working with various languages that all use the Latin script, such as English, Spanish, and French, may be less inclined to switch if the differences among the functional layouts are marginal.

  2. Handy says:

    Punto switch work only with Russian and other Slavic languages. It won’t differ German, French and English.
    Fun to watch Yankees, Australians or Brits trying to find English language in Russian Internet cafés.
    They never think it can be otherwise on the same planet.

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