How switching between a Mac and PC is like becoming trilingual

Modified on by Andrew Cohen

How switching between a Mac and PC is like becoming trilingual

“MS Excel on a Mac is the bane of my existence.”

This is what I tweeted a few years ago while I was painfully getting used to my first Mac.

And it wasn’t just Excel. Indeed, as a long-time Windows veteran exploring my new Mac, I had found myself constantly looking for all kinds of directories that didn’t exist, or punching in keyboard shortcuts that had totally unintended consequences.

It was as if the Mac and I just fundamentally did not understand each other, no matter how “user-friendly” everyone told me that the Mac should be. I seemed to have an unshakable PC “accent” when trying to speak Mac.

Your OS, Your Language

These frustrations indeed reminded me very closely of the pains I once felt while trying to learn French when I’d already been learning and practicing Spanish for about 10 years. Sure, many of the grammatical rules and words were almost exactly the same between the two languages (cognates) just as many of the keys on a Mac & PC keyboard are identical. But the subtle and drastic differences took me a very long time to get straight.

Here are some specific analogies between switching between a Mac and PC and being bilingual:

  • Creative type users (Mac) : Business/finance types (PC) → Different “regions” in which the languages are spoken have different industries and cultures.
  • Finder (Mac) : Explorer (PC) → Similar grammatical architectures for navigating the two languages, but with many nuances.
  • Cmd or Ctrl (Mac) : Ctrl only (PC) → Verb roots that may feel the same but are paired with a different helping verb or conjugation.
  • Some completely different keyboard shortctuts → Huge differences between languages that just require memorization. (See my most frustrating ones below.)
  • Keyboard shortcut hacks not necessarily documented anywhere → Slang
  • Different keyboard layouts depending on your machine’s model and year → Regional dialects and accents

I’m sure there are plenty more ways that switching between a Mac & PC are like attempting to learn a new language, but that was my initial attempt at illustrating the parallels.  Feel free to share your own in the comments below.

Also, in case you were interested in which keyboard shortcuts differences were most annoying to me, here they are:
Mac Shortcuts

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Jeff 8 years ago

Wait... So was the pain worth it? Most ppl don't use both pc and Mac regularly - very impressive... But is it worth doing or just switching to one completely?

Andrew Cohen 8 years ago

It was totally worth it for me.  In my work/life, I'm frequently working or demoing something on many different computers as I travel around town to meetings.  Being able to seamlessly switch between Mac & PC has been a huge plus.

In fact, I'd even suggest learning *both* systems even if you are only ever working on *one* of the platforms in your whole life.  Learning the other platform's shortcuts helps you learn/appreciate your home platform's shortcuts better, in the  same way that learning Spanish can help you better appreciate your native English tongue . . . .

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