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France Says AZERTY Keyboards Fail French Typists (arstechnica.com) 315

Ars Technica reports that the AZERTY keyboard layout used in France has a problem: it's not very good for writing French words, many of which require accents that can be accessed only awkwardly. An excerpt from the Ars story: In a statement released this week, the ministry lamented the fact that French keyboards, which use the AZERTY layout rather than the QWERTY layout familiar to English speakers, make it unnecessarily difficult to type common symbols and letters. While the 26 letters of the alphabet as well as common accented letters like é, à, è, and ù are generally represented similarly on an AZERTY keyboard, the ministry said that the @ symbol and the € symbol are inconveniently or inconsistently placed, as are commands to capitalize symbols like "ç". The trouble of finding how to properly capitalize accented letters is a big issue in written French, especially for legal texts and government documents where every letter of the names of people and businesses are capitalized. Often, an accent is the only distinguishing factor between two similarly spelled words.
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France Says AZERTY Keyboards Fail French Typists

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  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Sunday January 24, 2016 @04:26PM (#51362187) Homepage

    I 'av ner problem typing zee french on zis keyberd layoot!

    • by WarJolt ( 990309 ) on Sunday January 24, 2016 @04:51PM (#51362315)

      Wrong. Clearly you have your keyboard misconfigured in dvorak mode.

      • Hey tabernac! Watt ees dis sh*t you be saying. Der eez no problem witt making de Français on these there key bohrds. No vrai frenchie need to be making dee excuse for to be able to give you dee french accen on any of dem dere key bore, hokay you maudit tete-carré bloke?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by JoeMerchant ( 803320 )

        The whole point of "erty" keyboards is to slow down the typists and reduce key-jams. It's an intentionally bad standard which has lived beyond its meaningfulness for more than 30 years now (when was the last manual typewriter made?)

        • by Gabe Ghearing ( 3618909 ) on Sunday January 24, 2016 @10:24PM (#51363439) Homepage

          The whole point of "erty" keyboards is to slow down the typists and reduce key-jams. It's an intentionally bad standard which has lived beyond its meaningfulness for more than 30 years now (when was the last manual typewriter made?)

          That's a myth: http://www.straightdope.com/co... [straightdope.com]

          • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Monday January 25, 2016 @10:17AM (#51365223)

            The whole point of "erty" keyboards is to slow down the typists and reduce key-jams. It's an intentionally bad standard which has lived beyond its meaningfulness for more than 30 years now (when was the last manual typewriter made?)

            That's a myth: http://www.straightdope.com/co [straightdope.com]...

            Well, it's partly a myth. Yes, it is a myth that QWERTY was intended to slow down typists. It *WAS* intended to reduce key-jams on manual typewriters, and it did this by introducing frequent alternation between hands and by placing frequently used letters far apart. The frequent alternation between hands actually speeds up typing, so that's a positive for QWERTY, but the placement of frequently used letters far apart is no longer necessary -- and it was never optimized for modern computers and speed/ergonomics.

            Basically, the Dvorak proponents often overstate their case, and your link is correct that some of the studies promoted by Dvorak himself had questionable methodology. The supposed benefits of 20-40% increase in speed and getting up to previous QWERTY speed with only 20-25 hours of training is bogus and was known to be bogus for the past 50 years or more.

            On the other hand, various studies do show Dvorak has some advantage over QWERTY, both theoretically (in terms of motion needed to travel by the hands, etc.) and practically, but that advantage is likely more in the 5-10% speed increase range and it likely requires about 100 hours of retraining to get back to QWERTY speed for an existing touch-typist. That's just a lot of work for a small benefit, especially when one can use that 100 hours instead to train in specific ways and increase QWERTY speed instead -- which likely will result in a small speed increase as well.

            So, GP is correct that QWERTY was designed to reduce manual jams that can no longer happen, and it IS a bad standard for modern computers, etc. But the improvements for moving to a better layout are quite small and would require extensive retraining... so we all tend to stick with a (slightly) inferior standard.

            (How "inferior" is really difficult to know precisely, because to my knowledge the "gold standard" study has never been done. There are quite a few studies which have taken QWERTY typists and retrained them in Dvorak. And there are studies that waited until those retrained typists got up to their previous QWERTY speeds and then pitted them (now Dvorak typists) against existing QWERTY typists. But I've never seen reference to a study that took existing Dvorak typists who have been using that layout for years and retrained them in QWERTY -- probably because such people are incredibly rare, and likely next-to-impossible to find in the modern era of ubiquitous keyboards. 25 years ago we could have done a study like this, since many people wouldn't learn to type until high school or later, but now it may be next-to-impossible to even start training someone who has never spent significant time with a QWERTY keyboard first. And that previous QWERTY exposure will significantly affect "muscle memory" and cognitive load when confronted with a new standard, even after many hours of retraining.)

    • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Sunday January 24, 2016 @08:31PM (#51363127)

      I 'av ner problem typing zee french on zis keyberd layoot!

      Speak for yourself, I have always found the "snooty" key too far to reach, considering the amount I need that accent when typing French.

  • by CajunArson ( 465943 ) on Sunday January 24, 2016 @04:27PM (#51362195) Journal

    Look, just take a standard keyboard from Germany, walk down the Champs-Ãlysées with it, and I'm sure the French will surrender to it in a very organized fashion.

    • They still wouldn't be able to type in French on it though.
    • I think it might work better if you send the German keyboard by way of Belgium and Luxembourg.

  • by astro ( 20275 ) on Sunday January 24, 2016 @04:32PM (#51362219) Homepage

    The same problem with inconsistently placed and difficult to reach symbols exists with the German QWERTZ keyboards also. I switched to one when I moved here from USA because the everyday need for ö, ä, ü and ß outweighed the difficulties, but it has taken me ages to get used to coding on it.

    • by fazig ( 2909523 )
      I don't think that you could call it the same problem.
      Sure, the layout is really bad for coding, because of the impractical placement of the bracket symbols. But for writing in the common German or the English language, the layout is rather efficient.
      • Every single European keyboard seems like it's been designed by a committee to make it impossible to code in. French, German, Norwegian (the ones I've used), it's no wonder most of the world's major software comes from the US, every time you want to type a square bracket or tilde or hash you have to spend five minutes figuring out how to generate it. Even this UK keyboard for some stoopid reason moves punctuation (= coding) keys into odd corners, so the # is way down there but at least there's a handy
        • by fazig ( 2909523 )
          I managed to get used to the layout over time. At least when it comes to the plain and simple Cherry keyboards, that I've been using.
          But, yes, a huge problem is that accessing those special keys totally interrupts the flow when typing. For example if I want to use curled brackets, which are extremely common when it comes to the syntax of various languages, then I have to either press Ctrl+Alt+7/0 or Right Alt+7/0. This means that I either have to take me left or right hand completely away from the default
    • Re:QWERTZ auch (Score:4, Insightful)

      by markus ( 2264 ) on Sunday January 24, 2016 @05:05PM (#51362369) Homepage

      I technically know how to type both on German and US keyboards. In practice, I find German layouts to be incredibly tedious -- even when typing German.

      I much rather prefer a US keyboard layout and a working "Compose" key. Typing accented character is very straight forward and logical when composing the character from its underlying parts. Yes, it requires multiple keystrokes to type a single character; but I have gotten pretty fast at typing those.

      Alternatively, some of my friends/relatives have switched to a US layout and refuse to enter native accented characters altogether. German officially sanctions the use of substitutes "ä" becomes "ae", "Ö" becomes "Oe" and "ß" becomes "ss". Maybe, the French should come up with a similar system.

      • I occasionally have to type in French, but I can't stand using AZERTY.

        Setting an English keyboard to Welsh/UK extended allows you to enter them with combinations of Alt-Gr and dead keys. Before I accidentally discovered this, I had to faff around with charmap.

        • I occasionally have to type in French, but I can't stand using AZERTY.

          Setting an English keyboard to Welsh/UK extended allows you to enter them with combinations of Alt-Gr and dead keys. Before I accidentally discovered this, I had to faff around with charmap.

          There is also a keymap called US international that does something similar and turns the accents into dead-keys and the right-alt into AltGr. It makes writing real text with a US keyboard halfway plausible

      • I technically know how to type both on German and US keyboards. In practice, I find German layouts to be incredibly tedious -- even when typing German.

        I much rather prefer a US keyboard layout and a working "Compose" key. Typing accented character is very straight forward and logical when composing the character from its underlying parts. Yes, it requires multiple keystrokes to type a single character; but I have gotten pretty fast at typing those.

        Alternatively, some of my friends/relatives have switched to a US layout and refuse to enter native accented characters altogether. German officially sanctions the use of substitutes "ä" becomes "ae", "Ö" becomes "Oe" and "ß" becomes "ss". Maybe, the French should come up with a similar system.

        It's the same issue in Finland, coding on our native layout is excruciating. Fortunately, there are simple ways to change the layout on the fly, for typing longer native texts, such as

        setxkbmap "us,fi" -variant "altgr-intl," -option "grp:alt_shift_toggle"

        The US intl variant is nice for having combos like AltGr+q for ä rather than separate accent/compose keys.

  • It's ok.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cfalcon ( 779563 ) on Sunday January 24, 2016 @04:36PM (#51362241)

    ...QWERTY has been failing English typists for over a century!

    • But at least QWERTY is 95% consistent in what keys perform what functions and where they are in the layout. French AZERTY isn't anywhere near that. France just needs to pick up the Canadian French layout, problem solved.
    • by markus ( 2264 )

      I think that is mostly a myth. It intuitively seems plausible that a more optimized keyboard layout would allow typists to be more efficient than when typing on QWERTY.

      And there certainly have been several studies that place layouts such as Dvorak ahead of QWERTY. But a closer look at these studies shows that they are all heavily biased and flawed. More scientifically thorough studies surprisingly give Dvorak only a tiny lead over QWERTY if even that. With adequate practice, a good typist is pretty damn fas

    • by alexhs ( 877055 )

      I think that the English spelling has failed the English language from even before keyboards were invented, with the substitution of letters like thorn (not printed by Slashdot, though it is part of ISO-8859-1) with th that already had other pronunciations associated to it.

      Look at orthographic depth [wikipedia.org]. French is just as hard as English when you want to spell a word for which you have the pronunciation, however, when reading a word in French, apart from a few exceptions, you can reconstruct the pronunciation f

    • ...QWERTY has been failing English typists for over a century!

      Yes, but by design.

  • by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Sunday January 24, 2016 @04:43PM (#51362273) Homepage
    Just buy the Canadian-French multilingual keyboard and map you keys accordingly and stop whining. The AZERTY keyboard is a real piece of shit, I don't know why it took so long to realize that to French people.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The keyboard is fine, it's the language that is shit. No one can hear the difference between these 60+ symbols, so why isn't 26 enough for writing?
      French is also discriminating to dyslectic people by inverting a spoken language that is totally different from the written language. I'm glad it's slowly being dropped as an official European language. English and German is plenty.

    • by c ( 8461 )

      Just buy the Canadian-French multilingual keyboard

      ... unless you're a programmer. Then you have to choose between French and useful punctuation.

    • One possible solution is to improve the software itself.

      I am French (living in the US) and I've actually stop using my PC when I need to compose a message in French, because I am actually much faster typing in French when I use my Android phone with SwiftKey.

      And no, I don't really use its Swipe feature. SwiftKey has access to years of my Gmail messages, my texts, my Facebook account, and my Twitter account. And yes, it's not for users who value privacy from corporations (or the NSA I suppose). But I just ne

    • The Canadian so-called multilingual keyboard it shit and no one uses it except Apple. It has many flaws. The Canada French keyboard is much better. It can type all French characters while still being a QWERTY keyboard. France should use it too.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Often, an accent is the only distinguishing factor between two similarly spelled words."

    Sounds like a problem with the language, not the keyboard. WONTFIX

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by markus ( 2264 )

      You could ignorantly say the same thing about several Asian languages. The fact of the matter is that there are more things than just vowels and consonants in human speech. Tone is very much an important part of language. Western languages usually don't put a lot of weight on tone to carry information, but French is notable exception. And even English sounds "funny" if implicit tone isn't pronounced properly.

      Languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese are entirely unintelligible if tones aren't pr

  • The AZERTY layout was hammered out for some reason or other involving the typewriter market before the turn of the 20th century. If it's so awful, how did its suckitude escape official comment for this long? Especially weird when several other regions that speak substantial amounts of french have keyboard layouts that they seem happier with.
    • The choice probably had more to do with not having an English key layout rather than it actually being useful to French typists.

    • For "some reason", the word 'typewriter' can be typed using keys from the top row only on a QWERTY keyboard. Thing is, changing keyboard layout standards is probably even more difficult than agreeing on spelling reforms. Old dogs, new tricks and all that ...
    • On a typewriter, you can type a or e, and then backspace and then type an accent mark over the character you already typed. On a PC, it will REPLACE the character rather than just add it.
  • I have to say, learning about other alphabets really makes me appreciate the English alphabet because it has fewer characters than many alphabets. The number of characters didn't matter much until machines that could reproduce written words became commonplace (typewriters, computers, etc.), but it's interesting how keyboards can drive the simplification of some alphabets. E.g. if it's simpler to type "oe" than find the "" character, you can guess what people choose to do (even though France’s culture

    • by dlenmn ( 145080 )

      Right, /. doesn't like Unicode. The missing character in quotes looks like an 'o' and 'e' smashed together.

    • I hope you also appreciate the huge effort that English speakers have to make to be able to become literate with those few characters. The 26 letters were designed for Latin. Almost all modern European languages have a more complex sound system, and English more so than most, coupled with a whole collection of contradictory spelling rules inherited from French, Latin, Greek, et.c.. The result is an effort put into literacy that is only comparable with Chinese and its ideograms. In fact, many English words a
      • contradictory spelling rules inherited from French, Latin, Greek, et.c..

        French is derived from Latin (and is French) and has a moderately sensible spelling system, so it's not that.

        The reason for English having so many spelling irregularities is down to William Caxton, who introduced the printing press at precisely the wrong time - the language was a) different across regions and b) in a state of flux. Plus, many of his staff were Belgians, which doesn't help.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by meerling ( 1487879 )
      You realize of course that the English language has 40 phonems, but only 26 letters, and of those letters, you can make up for some of the missing sounds by using 2 letter combinations (for example 'th' and 'sh' ), but then there are the letters that have multiple sounds, as well as multiple letters having the same sound. The alphabet used for English is a F-ing mess! You'd think it was designed by bored monks in the middle ages that were either stoned, drunk, or both.
    • What's to appreciate -English also needs lots of simplification - 'c', 'k', 's' pick two of them, make them always sound different, 'q' can go ('kw' does the job in "Bridge over the river Kwai"), 'g' or 'j' pick one, toss the silent 'h' and the silent 'k' - 'gh'->'f', etc etc

      We can probably get down to 20 letters if we try hard

      English is an insane polygot mess it's long past time we tossed all that useless history from it

      • Well, if you really want to try hard enough to reduce the keyboard, you can get everything down to two characters. That's usually 1 and 0, but you would have a lot of choice.
  • The punctuation is a real bastard. I find it really hard to do < > since they're on the same key.

  • This is seems more like a UX issue where they should be getting some focus groups together to try some new software short cuts.

  • by peppepz ( 1311345 ) on Sunday January 24, 2016 @05:27PM (#51362479)
    The set of characters present on many European keyboards was defined by the ancient localized ASCII encodings, ISO 646 [wikipedia.org]. Yes, there were non-US versions of ASCII, that contained funny characters in the lower 7 bit range. This allowed for a very limited amount of regional characters (around 10), and as a result many useful characters were omitted, such as uppercase variants and precise diacritics. This is not only a problem for the French, and it isn't due to the AZERTY/QWERTY difference.
  • "The keyboard won't type French Letters"

    Bot the French are Catholics so that shouldn't be a problem.

  • At the very first sight it must have been obvious that this layout was useless. Like all modern Latin layouts. Among other reasons, these layouts have only one third level shift key, the AltGr, on the right side. There is no AltGr on the left side. Conversely, there is no Alt key on the right side. So you cannot touch type text on this if you are a user, and you cannot touch type commands if you are a developer.

    The progress of keyboard layouts stalled after the Space-cadet keyboard [wikipedia.org] from the 1970s. After t

  • Accidents of history (Score:4, Informative)

    by jgotts ( 2785 ) <jgotts@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Sunday January 24, 2016 @06:05PM (#51362627)

    The reason why typewriters and computer keyboards are so US centric is that the English-speaking world happened to be at the top of its game when these products were created. First it was Great Britain and its territories and then the United States. The language of computer science is English. Computer scientists use less Latin than any other scientist that I'm aware of. All common programming languages are based upon the language of mathematics, which is Latin with symbols. English is close enough: All common programming languages read left-to-right, top to bottom. All common programming languages are alphabetic and use mainly SVO, subject-verb-object, just like English. The keywords in all common programming languages are English words. The punctuation marks are the same or more similar to English than any other language. You could say that all common programming languages are Latin with symbols, written in English.

    This is why it is easier to be a programmer for a native English speaker than for any other person. Everything fits like a glove, because we invented a large portion of this technology, not because we're any better than any other person. (*)

    As China rises, we're beginning to see things like electronics data sheets written in Chinese with an English translation as an afterthought. Quite clearly the standard computer keyboard is only natural for English users. It's utterly horrible for the Chinese. Imagine if the keyboard was created in the Far East. Our 26 letter alphabet with no accent marks would be the afterthought. Programming languages might have been mostly symbol-oriented with Chinese symbolic keywords. We might have needed to be fairly good Chinese speakers to be any good at programming. Future technologies could be like this.

    Any contact with an alien race would be more of the same. We could have roughly the same technology but vastly different ways of interacting with it, depending upon whatever culture was dominant when it was created.

    (*) I'm aware that QWERTY was designed to slow down typists but it's actually extremely well suited to type English. All 26 letters and the common punctuation marks require a single keypress, and they're all right at our fingertips.

  • It took them quite a long time to realize what everybody else has always known. Yes AZERTY sucks. And as someone who lives in a neighboring country, I sometimes come across these crazy keyboards. The problem is not just that the keyboard is impractical. It is mainly that it is so wildly different from all other keyboards.

    The problem is aggravated by OS installers like Windows, which insist that if you are installing a French version of Windows, you must need a French AZERTY keyboard which makes typing on no

  • Only terrorists use accented letters.

    Use the regular, gawd-fearin' ENGLISH letters, the way gawd intended 'em to be used, ya gawdless savages!

  • When the first typewriters came in 19th century they were prone to jamming a lot. The actual levers will lock. I have done it myself with a Smith Corona. So one solution was to make it difficult to type fast. So they deliberately made the layout strange and difficult to type fast. But looks like the Europeans made it even more difficult than ill designed QWERTY. Serves them right for using such funny symbols on letters to change the pronunciation. But after all that accent marks to guide them they still pro
  • Have a 'decoration key' that adds accents (etc) to undecorated symbols.
    I've done this for Windows and Javascript with a really sweet UI

    See http://vulpeculox.net/ax [vulpeculox.net]

    This is a practically no-learn UI because the same key is used for everything. Want to turn '2' into 'squared' or 'P' into 'pawn' (for chess addicts) or do your French homework using a single key? Then have a look.

    And the problem is I don't know how to make it more universal. Mac? Linux? Smartphones? I've no idea, but the feedback on t

  • Just use the Canadian French (Bilingual) keyboard in France as well. Simple comme bonjour.

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