Welcome to Every Translator’s Nightmare: Dual Keyboard Layouts

Imagine that you have to use two different keyboard layouts while typing, that you have two letters per key on your keyboard and you have to switch the layout manually every 5-10 seconds. Now stop imagining and welcome to the professional translator’s nightmare, also known as the reality of the Cyrillic keyboard layout – or actually, layouts (plural) because there are two of them.

The first layout system, called BDS, is the older one. It was created for the layout of typewriters and nowadays the older generation uses it.

The other layout is called the Phonetic system. It follows the popular Western QWERTY and replaces the Latin letters with their Cyrillic equivalents. It is more comfortable for people who use both Bulgarian and a foreign language that uses the Latin alphabet. Learning Romance languages became popular in Eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism in 1989, so the younger generation uses the Phonetic System. Most translators also prefer it.

Differences between BDS and Phonetic Systems

  • The layout of the BDS system is based on the four letters that are most commonly used when typing in Bulgarian: N, T, A and O. They are situated in the middle row, which makes the keyboard more comfortable.
  • The layout for the Phonetic typing system is the same as in QWERTY but the letters used sometimes represent completely different sounds. For example, V stands for the Bulgarian letter Ж (zh as in treasure), C stands for Ц (ts as in fits), and Y stands for Ъ (ə as in turn).
  • The Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet has more letters (30) than the English alphabet (26). This means that the QWERTY layout does not have enough letter keys to fit the Phonetic typing system, so additional characters have to be used. For example, [ stands for the Bulgarian letter Ш (sh as in shot) while ` stands for the letter Ч (ch as in chip).
  • Since half of Bulgarians use the BDS and the other half use the Phonetic layout, Bulgarian keyboards actually have two letters per key: the upper ones are the same as in the QWERTY layout while the lower ones (sometimes colored in red) follow the BDS system.

How Do Dual Keyboards Affect the Work of Professional Translators?

  • Having two outlays is very confusing, even for the most experienced typists. Often you have to go back and correct something, which takes time. Switching between the different systems manually is also time-consuming and annoying. And believe me, you never get used to it, no matter how many years you have under your belt as a professional translator.
  • The dual system can easily lead to unconscious mistakes. In order to write the Bulgarian equivalent of the English letter V, you actually have to hit the W key.
  • Typing speed is one of the most common difficulties when you have to deal with two keyboard layouts. As a translator, it is important for me to type almost as quickly as I think. This is the best way for you to keep a good sense of the translated text and not to forget your initial thought. But when you have to adjust to different key layout, this slows you down significantly.

All in all, if you have to use the dual keyboard layout, you need to have quick fingers and a lot of patience. Every time you switch between the two layouts, it’s like learning to type for the first time all over again. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. I have no choice but to stay focused all the time. But for those of you who only have to use the QWERTY keyboard – just be grateful!

About Marieta Plamenova

I’m a native speaker of Bulgarian, living in Sofia. I have a graduate degree in law, and an undergraduate degree in economics. I primarily translate economic and legal content, but I also enjoy translating for tourism, sports, health, cooking, literature, and new technologies.