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The question regards the phenomenon where a user can switch context on the same tool seamlessly, and as it seems without thinking. The only practical use of the phenomenon that I know of is the switching of input languages on the same keyboard, but there are probably other real world examples.

Often these users don't type the way I do (looking at the keyboard), still they are very skilled in both Swedish, English and Icelandic keyboard setups. Is this a kind of automated process, such as the use of a piano from a professional concert pianist who does not need to think, only play with what is learned from hours and hours of exercise? I believe it is related. but not the same.

I'm asking of what this mechanism of switching context is and why it works seamlessly for users.

An image of the Icelandic keyboard setup:

Icelandic keyboard

Image from

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We have a state machine in our heads. It stores the precise context. – Memming Apr 5 '12 at 15:46
How is this NARQ? There's lots of information out there about context switching and about bilingualism. – Ben Brocka Apr 6 '12 at 0:13
I voted to close as NARQ because I feel like it shows no initial research, is extremely broad, and seems to me to be rather vague. I would love to see a more focused and clearly stated version of this question, but I do not have enough background to make suggested edits (although a good build up question might be: "How do humans internalize keyboard layout to type without looking?" or something along those lines). As the question is, I cannot see it being answered by something other than a book-long treatment or a vague comment like @Memming's. – Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 6 '12 at 4:46
@Benny If the keyboard thing is just an example and there is a more specific and formal underlying question that you are curious about, then I definitely think you should edit to ask the more specific question and then give the keyboard thing as an example. I think a more specific question will have a higher chance of being answered, and will also show us your motivation for the question and the initial thoughts you have had. Here are my personal guidelines on good questions (note that my views do not necessarily reflect the whole community). – Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 6 '12 at 11:35
As a side note, you really should learn how to touch-type. ;p – Steven Jeuris Apr 6 '12 at 12:31
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Focusing on the word "seamlessly", in the more general case (not just typing)--once you look at cognitive/linguistic activity with a fine enough resolution it becomes clear that language-switching is not usually seamless. There is typically a cost (lowered performance, either in speed or accuracy) to switching languages in any modality, which is typically greater from second language to first language than from first language to second language (Language Switching & Competition, Second Language Research April 2012 vol. 28 no. 2 131-149, among many others).

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Speaking from personal experience (touch typing german to english keyboards) you need a trigger to switch. In contrast to this the language I'm typing can change mid sentence. Again usually there is a trigger - a turn of phrase that works better in the other language & triggers the switch. Doesn't happen so much while speaking, though.

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