Computer Keyboards around the World

November 12th, 2012

Westerners often make the mistake of assuming that everything in the world is pretty much the same as what they find at home.

computer keyboards around the world


At the time I was self-employed and working both for fixed-prices or hourly rates depending on the job. At the time of this trip I had lined up a lot of hourly work translating materials – perfect for earning some money while traveling. All I needed was my laptop, and Internet connection, and a few hours a day and I would be able to make my trip pay for itself! Even when my laptop broke a few days in, I was still sanguine about my prospects. All I needed was an Internet cafe and I was set.

Except... I was soon embroiled in a crash course in keyboard layout.

In the West, we’re used to the QWERTY keyboard. If you look at the first row of letters, under the numbers, you’ll see the letters QWERTY in a row. It’s actually an awful layout and one of the reasons learning to type at any sort of speed is difficult – the letters aren’t in what you might consider a sane order.

Still, it’s traditional, it’s how just about everyone has learned, so it’s the standard. You find the QWERTY keyboard often enough around the world – the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Italy The Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the U.K. and Ireland, most Latin American countries, Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, most Arab countries, Israel, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran (among others) all use the QWERTY keyboard.

The two main variations are the QWERTZ layout, which is not just two letters transposed, but an entirely different layout in some respects, and AZERTY. These layouts are different enough to slow down even the most nimble mind; if you just forget yourself and start typing you’ll end up with a lot of gibberish and the occasional lucky whole word!


Even if the letter layout is QWERTY, you’re not out of the woods, because most of these keyboard layouts also hide the punctuation marks and symbols in different places. So even if you manage to get the hang of where the ‘Z’ is on this keyboard, you’ll get stopped cold by a search for the ‘@’ symbol!

Keyboard layout is a minor thing, but it demonstrates how varied approaches are around the world, and reminds us in the West that even though we sometimes seem to enjoy a dominant cultural position, we’re not the only culture in the world!

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