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Should I start my toddler off with a Qwerty or Dvorak keyboard?

I use Qwerty myself. I have tried to learn Dvorak but I failed. The Qwerty key strokes are so hardwired in me that it would take a monumental effort to change. But I am persuaded that Dvorak is a better layout, at least for typical users. So if I was starting from scratch I would learn Dvorak - and I'm wondering whether I should encourage my toddler to do this.

I can see she'd have some problems, particularly on school computers that inevitably use Qwerty. But these problems can be dealt with; all modern OS support Dvorak. Does anyone have practical experience of this?

Would it be worth talking to the school, to see if they'll teach the whole year group Dvorak?

  • Something to consider is her finger size, smaller keyboards with keys closer together are generally better for little fingers. I don't know if you can get lapbooks etc in Dvorak. – balanced mama Dec 12 '13 at 20:12
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    I'm all for learning to be smart about computers, and an interest in Dvorak certainly fits that. But I'm not sure this is completely on-topic as a parenting issue. Just my thoughts. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Dec 12 '13 at 22:45
  • @balancedmama - The letter keys tend to be the same shape so you can usually pop them off and move them and then tell the software about it. – James Snell Dec 14 '13 at 10:51
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    @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun FWIW, our oldest son writes most of his reports with OSX's built in voice recognition. – DA01 Apr 7 '14 at 14:18
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    Not a parenting comment; I got here searching for other Dvorak related stuff: I switched on my handheld devices first for 5 months, because there's no touch-typing on software keyboards. When I switched on desktop computers, the adaptation was still difficult, but it was quick too. – Ekevoo Apr 18 '15 at 19:34
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Short answer: use Qwerty.

Long answer: it depends:

Why do you want to introduce Dvorak? Hear me out -- I think Dvorak is great but the mere fact that it's not the universal default makes for a difficult reality.

First: The difference lies in typing comfort, not speed. There is no noticeable speed difference between Qwerty and Dvorak, provided that the test subjects are well trained in their chosen layout.

I have no hope at all that Dvorak will slowly become the dominant layout - ever. It's been around nearly as long as the Qwerty layout, and even in this millennium its usage is limited to those experts/geeks who care about this - but they are less than 0.001% of the workforce.

Still, using Dvorak would be recommended if you're J.K. Rowling or Stephen King (or an average office worker) just because you'll be typing a lot. But if you won't be using a keyboard most of your career, then Qwerty is probably the wiser choice simply because it is the universal default.

Using Dvorak is neat. It's comfortable. Learning it is a horrible pain for those who were already proficient in Qwerty before they started with Dvorak. If you're a hunt-and-peck typist then you won't even notice the different layout :-) and if you're just starting with typing then both would be learned equally well. This is of course what you're thinking of.

But realize that for someone who is proficient only in Dvorak will have a hard time when he/she is not at his own keyboard. (I use a Danish layout but live in Austria, that little bit of layout difference is enough of a challenge!) There will be plenty of situations where you'll be facing a Qwerty layout, and you won't have the luxury to simply install Dvorak before you start typing. Many businesses restrict the software permissions, and many times in life you'll be borrowing someone else's workplace for a limited time. Also: shared home computer?

There are countless situations where this is going to be bothersome, and you'll feel like an outsider, and you'll be dealing with questions about why you're weird. This is reality, unless you practically never use anything but your own computer.

Do the benefits in comfort outweigh the trouble it brings? That's an individual assessment, and you can't know what your child will do in the future. Your idea is commendable, but I think there are bigger battles to fight, more important issues in life to spend your energy on.

Source: I've been proficient on Qwerty for 25+ years and started using Dvorak a few years ago - but still haven't made the switch full-time, in part because of workplace difficulties.

  • <Please reserve comments for requests for clarification, or supplemental information meant to expand upon the question/answer. Statements of personal opinion are better suited for Parenting Chat> – user420 Apr 7 '14 at 12:11
  • Wondering if you ever got to make a more permanent switch? – user11394 Jun 12 '15 at 2:43
  • @creationedge No I never really switched. Relevant blog post: wp.me/pf6dX-gh – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 12 '15 at 6:21
  • Dvorak decreases distance between most words, thereby decreasing errors, thereby increasing speed. – Andrew Apr 17 '18 at 16:45
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I know Dvorak is faster, but I would say Qwerty.

My logic is that 99% of the keyboards she'll run across in her life will be Qwerty. It's not worth the trouble to type amazingly fast on 1% of the keyboards, but have to sit and painfully peck on remaining 99% keyboards. Even if she could always carry a keyboard with her, it still will limit her (think laptops.)

But what would help is to train her to type correctly (typing tutors, etc.) Most never take the time to learn, and wind up hunting-and-pecking which limits the upper speed limit regardless of the keyboard layout

I doubt the school would go with Dvorak, for the same reasons. Installed base is a very, very powerful force to counter.

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    I don't know about you, but I do 99% of my typing on my own laptop. And when on someone else's laptop you can always change the key layout in software - if you know the keys, it doesn't actually matter that the physical labels don't match. But yes, the global inertia of the installed base is massive! – paj28 Dec 12 '13 at 17:38
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    In 20+ years in IT (and in some bug sites) I have never ever seen, let alone touched a Dvorak keyboard. – James Snell Dec 12 '13 at 20:16
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    @JamesSnell: That's probably the best practical argument for Qwerty I've ever heard. Plain and simple. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Dec 13 '13 at 16:06
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    It is entirely possible to be proficient at both. I spent about a year back in high school with my personal keyboard set to Dvorak (still labeled Qwerty). But I too have never seen a Dvorak keyboard used anywhere, so I just stopped caring at some point. – Shawn C Apr 9 '14 at 1:54
  • @ShawnC, that would be so awesome to work with both layouts, but since I find my fingers getting confused when going between ten-key and telephone (ten-key the seven is upper-left and on the phone it's the one), I can only imagine what my fingers would do going between two keyboard layouts. – Andrew Neely Apr 9 '14 at 14:13
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I daresay that the keyboard layout is not an issue for typing speed for 99% of population. Correct typing on a qwerty is fast enough, trust me - I know, since I work in IT and don't type properly, and it is fast enough (>400 characters per minute).

Use the standard qwerty layout, but make sure your child learns to type properly. There are lots of applications which aid in such learning. Some of them are online, some of them are even fun:)

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I always sucked at typing, but about 10 years ago used an online tutorial to learn Dvorak. I would never go back to QWERTY.

Compatibility with other computers is a moot issue to-day. Every modern Windows and Macintosh computer has the option of numerous layouts, and it's easy to toggle to the other keyboard with the click of a couple of keys. On mine, it's merely a matter of simultaneously pressing the Shift and Ctrl keys. My wife uses only QWERTY and we have no problem sharing the same computer. Before I retired, we used Mac computers at work, and I never had a problem shifting layouts.

I would get amused sometimes when co-workers wanted to borrow my computer for a few moments. They couldn't get it to work. I would come over and type something and say it works fine for me. I would lead them on for a moment before toggling the keyboard, then they could type on it with no problem.

I would teach my kid to use Dvorak.

  • Hi, and welcome. Fun story. ;) – anongoodnurse Jun 11 '15 at 18:01
  • I would clarify: Modern Mac, Windows, and Linux OS's often let you choose Dvorak when creating a new profile. It's super easy. Additionally, you can even get Dvorak on mobile devices (I use a paid app, SwiftKey, on my Android for Dvorak layout). However, language settings on work devices may be locked down, preventing the user from choosing anything but US English QWERTY. – user11394 Jun 12 '15 at 2:46
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My two cents: I would teach QWERTY. That's what they'll be expected to use in school. Making her learn a different layout at home is just going to confuse the issue, more than likely, and make school more difficult.

Unlike languages, keyboard layouts are incredibly easy to learn at an older age, if the student is interested. I learned Dvorak in a few weeks, as in was up to near my normal QWERTY speed after a few weeks. If your child is interested, she can learn on her own later on without much difficulty.

  • I second this. I learned Dvorak in just a couple weeks, when I was a teenager, using a tutorial site that was nothing but plain HTML multi-line textboxes with simple plaintext above them. It took a couple weeks more before I could switch between the two without error. I can use QWERTY on any machine I can't change to Dvorak on. Also, it's much easier to use some common keyboard shortcuts on QWERTY, so it's nice to start there. (Undo, copy, cut, paste are all over the place on Dvorak. It's my biggest peeve.) – user11394 Jun 12 '15 at 2:52
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Answer: QWERTY. For better or worse, it's the standard that she'll have to deal with everywhere outside your home.

I'm also a bit surprised by various answers that seem to accept Dvorak's claims of being faster as undisputed fact. This claim is actually quite controversial: the oft-cited early studies are problematic, and modern studies are generally inconclusive at best. And as Wikipedia points out, even though keyboards can be remapped, keyboard shortcuts like Ctrl-C/V are designed with QWERTY in mind (they're conveniently next to each other), which handicaps Dvorak in real life.

  • I grant that the evidence is scant. But even if one discounts raw speed, the fact that the most common English letters are placed on the home-row for Dvorak makes it compelling. I can also see how constant speed, say over a given eight-hour day, is improved by minimizing finger movement, and the associated fatigue. – Andrew Neely Apr 9 '14 at 14:19
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Premature optimization is the root of all evil and perfect is the enemy of good. You are optimizing a toddler for typing speed.

Why go halfway?

Drop dvorak, get a chorded keyboard and teach gregg shorthand.

Unless you are a stenographer, thinking about what you type is far more important than how fast you type it.

If your goal is to build a better child then drop dvorak and typing until the child is old enough to at least read and write. Instead, teach things like algorithms as part of play. You can find all sorts of ways to teach things like prim's algorithm, dykstra's algorithm, hill climbing and sorting.

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Dvorak, definitely, and I say that as someone who doesn't know how to type on a dvorak keyboard.

Dvorak is marginally faster. The verified typing speed world record holder used dvorak, and she sustained 150 wpm for 50 minutes. When my first girlfriend learned to type, I'd been typing qwerty for a decade and could type at a respectable speed of 80 wpm; she got to 100 wpm in a two week software course. A friend of mine switched from qwerty to dvorak, which granted was a pretty difficult process, and was typing faster on dvorak than he had on qwerty within a few months.

However, speed is less important than health. Because finger movements on the dvorak keyboard are smaller and more natural, the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome is substantially lower. Given how much people use keyboards in offices these day, this is probably the biggest consideration.

Keyboard availability is a nonissue. It only takes a couple of keystrokes to switch a PC between qwerty and dvorak. Even if that weren't available, how often do you type on someone else's keyboard? I can't remember the last time I did it.

If I ever get a couple of weeks where I don't have to type, I'll use it to switch to dvorak. Unfortunately, given I've been typing for 40 years now without such an opportunity, that might be never.

Start your daughter out right and teach her dvorak. Especially if you're going to start her as a toddler, use dvorak because it will minimize the number of big stretches which for her small hands will require moving her hands and arms around.

  • Thanks, nice answer. A number of other answers have expressed concern that she'd struggle at school, where the keyboards will be Qwerty. Any ideas how to cope with that? – paj28 Sep 14 '16 at 8:30
  • I'm betting the keyboards at school will be on Windows machines, or Macs if you're lucky, both of which are trivial to switch to Dvorak and back. That's if the school provides computers rather than making the parents buy them, which seems more usual. (And if you're training a toddler to touch type, I'm betting you'll buy her her own computer anyway.) – Warren Dew Sep 14 '16 at 19:25
  • The school does provide computers. But I see some problems. It's no good giving a 5 year old a Qwerty keyboard configured with a Dvorak layout - that only works for people who are already accomplished typists. So she'd need to have an actual Dvorak keyboard. Plus switching is only quick once the locale is enabled, and there are several reasons the school wouldn't want to do that. For one, having only one locale enabled avoids people accidentally switching. Sure we can have Dvorak at home, but switching at school is not nearly as easy as you say. – paj28 Sep 15 '16 at 9:36
  • If they are learning to touch type, they should not be looking at the keyboard. If they are using hunt and peck, it probably doesn't matter that much what kind of keyboard they have; just start using dvorak when they learn to touch type. – Warren Dew Sep 16 '16 at 3:11
  • Is switching layouts when she starts touch typing a good idea? She will learn where the keys are while doing H&P, which is a good start. I wasn't thinking of teaching her touch typing early on. Thanks for the info anyway. – paj28 Sep 16 '16 at 8:23

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