Typing speed


When I was at school, we were streamed when we were 15, spending the last three years of school in either an academic stream (doing maths and Latin) or a technical stream (doing bookkeeping and typing). Basically we were being prepared for either university studies or secretarial work.

I begged my parents to allow me to learn bookkeeping and typing because I knew they would be useful to me and I could not see the need for either Latin or maths. Unfortunately I was basically forced to do Latin and maths as two of my 8 subjects.

Looking back, I have used some of my latin in my work (though I have never had an urgent need to translate Catullus) but I can honestly say I hardly ever use maths apart from basic calculations and mental arithmetic. That slide rule and those four figure log tables have remained unused since I left school! I have also never needed a theorem. Bookkeeping, on the other hand, would have stood me in good stead my entire life.

My luck with typing changed, however, when I started to study Journalism at university, because we learned shorthand and touch typing during our first year. I was not particularly good at either but I passed the tests during the first semester and they made me more employable than the entire rest of my first degree. I could always use typing and shorthand to support myself in administrative and secretarial jobs when journalism jobs were few and far between.

When I learned typing, it was on those big old heavy metal machines with ribbons, carbon paper, carriage return and that bell, plus all those metal letters getting snarled up and having to be detangled. It was pre-Tippex, so if you made a mistake you had to type it all over again.

Many years later, my job was teaching computer and internet skills to journalists and journalism students. In those days almost no males could type when they entered university (apart from reluctantly using the Hunt And Peck Method) so it was a bit of a job to get everyone up to speed (25 words per minute was the speed they had to reach in order to be released from the hell that was my typing lessons).

In addition to typing, I also taught basic DOS functions, Linux, Windows, desktop publishing (CorelDraw, Quark, CorelVentura), HTML (all manual), email (pine, Pegasus Mail), newsgroups (Lynx, Trumpet), web searching (Netscape in those days), and writing and layout for online readers.

Nowadays everyone can type, and, although I type a lot, my speed has dropped quite a bit. I did this test last night and my speed is now only 72 words per minute (from close to 100 at my peak), but my accuracy is still 100%, which is something I suppose.

I use my typing all the time. When I translate I am quick and accurate, and never need to look at the screen. I can also type speeches in real time, which my students appreciate. They tell me what they want to say, give the speech in a very free, stream of consciousness format, I type it as they go (they do not need to slow down for me because I can type as fast as they speak) and then we go through it, move things around, tighten it up, time it, and then add or remove things. Voila! They walk in with nothing and walk out with a speech written, rehearsed and printed.

What is really good about doing it this way is that the speech sounds like them. No words they cannot say, no overlong sentences, no complicated formulations. When speechwriters do it, it never sounds quite right in English. Speechwriters have often never heard the person speak English, they use complicated words, words the person cannot pronounce, long, wordy sentences, and the punctuation is either non-existent or too choppy. So, many of my clients prefer me to do it for them.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

5 thoughts

  1. lol I love my job as a translator/interpreter but l know it’s not for every body. Traveling to most most of the time can be very tiring. The good thing is that I can balance that quite hectic life with my university lecturing and that is a real bonus. Being a teacher is much calmer and rewarding in other ways.

  2. Being able to type quickly is a bonus. I think that at the era of computers people should all be able to use a keyboard properly. There should be typing lessons in all schools.

    When l starting studying at university, shorthand was optional -though highly recommended- but typing was compulsory. I really hated both subjects and often skipped the lesson to focus on other subjects that l liked better (phonology, literature, linguistics, creative writing). I didn’t fail my exams in shorthand and typing but merely obtained a 78% which is not fantastic.

    Then after about 6 years at Uni l started working and typing became my everyday nightmare. I had no choice but type and speak at the same time and at the same speed. Though we were perfectly trained it was kind of hard at the beginning and totally un-natural. Listening to someone in a language through the means of headphones and translating simultaneously on a microphone his words while typing them in the meantime is a weird exercise for the mind, trust me. Anyway, my typing speed increased to 125 words per minute within a few weeks and has never lowered below to 120 WpM for the last twenty years. Our speed is daily registered -as well as our level of articulation- and any deficiency in those domains can lead us to serious problem.

      1. Thank you, Janet! But it is not an exception in my job. It is impossible to be under 110-115 WpM when you are an interpreter. Even at 120 one can struggle sometimes as some people speak really fast and every single word must be typed. That’s one of the hardest parts of the final exams l suppose.

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