Somehow, French education authorities still seem to believe in the old model of bosses and secretaries. If they don’t, why is it that generation after generation of French graduates don’t know how to use a keyboard properly, why typing courses are not mandatory for students of all horizons, preferably in high school, else in first year of college?

This is particularly ridiculous when you study computer science or translation, and that you can safely assume that you’re going to spend 8 hours a day, every day, in front of a computer. Wouldn’t it be better to look at the screen and let your 10 fingers do the writing job while you concentrate on your thoughts instead of having to look at the keyboard and occasionally check on the screen whether you’ve done any mistake?

This might seem logical, but to this day, I don’t believe that more than 10% of French graduates are able to touch type, even the ones who’re going to spend 90% of their professional life on a keyboard. Go figure.

I used to be the same. Although I got a diplôme d’ingénieur en informatique, the equivalent of a Master’s degree in Computer Science, nobody bothered to teach me how to use a keyboard. As every other student, I was happy to use one or two fingers of each hand as I didn’t know better.

However, I happened a few years later to work in Thailand with an American software developer, who had graduated from the MIT. I thought we were of similar levels as far as the science was concerned, but he always seemed to need 2 days to complete a project when I needed 3. This bothered me a lot, until I finally understood that he was faster because he was typing faster and not because he was thinking faster.

So I bought a small typing training-type software, forced myself to study about an hour a day and practice another hour while doing my job, and after one month I started touch typing. Another few months and I reached a decent speed. 10 years later, and I just checked on, where it says I type about 65 words a minute. A true secretary!

Think about it… 65 words a minute is over 3,800 words per hour. Of course, this is raw speed on a one minute test, and I don’t translate at this speed otherwise the Guinness Book people would’ve called me by now, but even 15% of this speed is about 570 words an hour, which is a pretty decent translation speed that I can reach with a very high level of “finger comfort”, not to mention that there is less fatigue, a lower risk of injury, etc.

Before I started touch typing, what was my speed? I have no idea, but it probably was around 20 wpm, which means that to translate 500 words an hour, I would have needed to be at >40% of my full speed, which is quite a lot and probably unsustainable as a cruising speed.

As a software developer, and now as a translator, my hands are my tools, and would any factory manager refuse to invest a few hours a day of inactivity during 3 months in order to get a tool working 3 times better than the old one?

So, French translators, apprenez à taper ! and instead of travailler plus pour gagner plus, travaillez mieux pour gagner plus !