When in Rome, Type as the Romans Do

mapa-de-italia_2890287Have you ever imagined how speakers of other languages use keyboards to type on a computer? Studying different keyboards layouts is not only an interesting pursuit in itself, but doing so also offers insights into the language for which the keyboard is used. I can’t say I’m especially familiar with many keyboard layouts but, considering I’m making an effort to learn Korean, I thought it might be worthwhile to examine a bit of Korea’s techno-culture.


Before we analyze the Korean keyboard, first let’s take a look at a keyboard layout we’re all a little more familiar with: QWERTY. The QWERTY style keyboard is the most widespread layout in use, and the only one that is not confined to a particular geographical area. This particular layout reflects more about the evolution in technology than the English language itself. For those who are young enough not to be familiar with the mechanics of type writers, the characters were mounted on metal arms, or typebars, which would clash and jam if neighboring arms were pressed at the same time or in rapid succession. Thus the QWERTY keyboard was born; commonly used letter-pairs (e.g., “th” or “st”) were placed in such a way that their typebars weren’t located as closely, avoiding jams.

 Korean Keyboards

There exist two major forms of Korean keyboard layouts: Dubeolsik (두벌식), and Sebeolsik (세벌식). Dubeolsik is much more commonly used so I’ll be concentrating on that one for this discussion. Dubeolsik shares its layout with the QWERTY keyboard; by pressing the “Han/Eng” (/) key the user is able to switch between Hangul—the Korean written language—and QWERTY. korean keyboard

The way the Hangul is set up on the keyboard offers an insight into the relationships between the different Korean characters. For example, take a look at the “T” key, it’s occupied by the Korean characters and (which are Romanized as an “S” and a harder sounding “Double S” respectively). While in English we use the “shift” key to change a lower case letter to a more pronounced looking capital letter, in Korean typing the same key is used to shift between variants of the same sound when applicable. So, for example, if you’re typing “this is bitter”, and you know the word for bitter has a more than normal emphasis on the “S” sound, it might be a bit easier to figure out the correct Hangul as 쓰다.

Keyboards in Other Countries

Whether you’re going out of the country for pleasure, work, or to study abroad, it would be wise to become familiar with the keyboard layout you’re going to be using at your destination; even if the characters are familiar, the modifier keys (shift, control, alt, etc.) may not serve the same functions. I know a few people currently living in Argentina, and one of them recently mentioned how bothersome it was trying to work out how to get the “@” character. Don’t let this happen to you.  Especially in countries that make use of many diacritics (accent marks); you may want to learn to type in your target language astyping you learn to write in it to avoid feeling awkward and inept later when presented with a computing task.

Even if you are taking your own computer from one English speaking country to another, it would be prudent to switch your computer’s settings to fit in line with the foreign standards of spelling, grammar, and word-usage. Configuring your operating system and other software to recognize and autocorrect according to your host-nation’s English dialect is a simple way to avoid a spelling faux pas.

To me, it just makes sense to embrace all methods of communicating in the language you are learning. Not only will you be immersing yourself in the technological culture of another country, you also may find a more practical work-related use for your typing skills later in life.

Have you ever spent an absurd amount of time trying to figure out how to type a common character on a foreign keyboard layout? Had a hard time remembering the regionally correct way to spell “colour” without your autocorrect’s help? Tell me all about it in the comments, assuming you are familiar with the keyboard you’re using.

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