The speed and efficiency at which we can type is an important factor in our success in other areas. I say type here but of course I should more correctly refer to it as text entry because other methods such as speech recognition or efficient use of word prediction are equally valid. Regardless of your method, if you can communicate your ideas quickly and easily it will free up more time to concentrate on substance of those ideas. This is true whether you are chatting to friends on social media, doing your homework or writing a novel.
How do I improve the speed I can enter text? There is no silver bullet I’m afraid. Practice is the key and the first step is familiarity with your chosen keyboard layout. An experienced touch typist knows the exact location of every key without having to look at their hands or the keyboard. You don’t have to be a touch typist but to type in any way efficiently you need to know the keyboard layout, so practice, practice, practice . Don’t stop reading yet, I know you know this. I also know how hard it can be to motivate yourself to put that work in, especially when we are sitting in front of a device that has so many more enjoyable activities vying for your attention.
Enter Zty.pe (link opens in new tab), a free web browser typing game. It’s based on the old school arcade game Space Invaders but with a wordy twist. Each alien space ship is represented by a word that slowly travels down the screen towards your ship at the bottom. The player needs to type the word to destroy the ship. It’s a simple idea well executed. There are a few more elements to the game play but you’ll figure it out (hint: you get three bombs that come in very handy).
As this game is browser based you can play on a computer or mobile device. You cannot use your default keyboard on mobile devices though, you have to use the keyboard provided. This means no swiping or word prediction. On a computer however, if you do use some literacy support software that provides word prediction it works fine (technically) and provides a great way of practicing that method of text entry. I say “technically” because good word prediction does more than predict words based on the first few characters entered. It looks at the context and offers predictions based on what has been typed previously. As, by default, Ztype just throws out random words, the predication isn’t great. This is illustrated by my absolutely dismal performance in the first part of the video at the end of this post. Thankfully Ztype also allows you to upload your own text, so you can play based on articles or stories. Using chunks of actual text will allow the prediction engines in software like Read and Write or Claro to really shine. You can also download or create prediction word banks based on the subject matter (or based on the actual text) to increase accuracy even further. I have found however that when you load your own text into Ztype it tends to send the words out more quickly.
Ztype works with Speech Recognition also (Dragon Naturally Speaking but not inbuilt Windows Speech Recognition). YouTube user Voiced Gaming has a great demo of playing Zty.pe with Dragon in the video below. As he points out in this video, it is great practice for pronunciation.
Finally as I wrote this post I thought about how important text entry is to users of Augmented and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. People who use AAC devices often rely on text entry as a means of real time communication. So I tried building a Grid for ztype (on the Grid 3 by SmartBoxAT). I couldn’t get the word prediction working on my first attempt (screenshot below) so I had to call on our resident Grid expert Juliann Bergin.
Juliann helped me create a computer control Grid that will allow users of alternative input devices like eyegaze, headmouse or joystick to play Ztype in the Microsoft Edge browser. As you will see from the video below it works quite well. One thing to note when using all word prediction software is that if you complete a word manually you need to add a space after the word for the prediction to know you have moved onto a new word. If you want to try this grid you can download it from SmartBoxAT Online Grids here (opens in new tab).
In summary, Ztype is not supposed to be a replacement for proper typing tutor software. It is a fun way to familiarise yourself with the keyboard or other text entry system. For speech recognition it will help with word pronunciation and things like microphone positioning. It will probably also will have some additional benefits for spelling and word recognition.