In today’s world, reading is a critical success factor as more and more material is heft upon us each day, be it e-mails, RSS Feeds, eBooks and so on down the list. With this additional load also comes with it demands for higher retention rates and quicker up takes of ideas as time is clearly money and the world is now moving at internet speeds.
As mentioned in a prior post, to personally address this maybe a decade or so ago, took an Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course. Since that time, there have been a number of new methods which I’ve dabbled in such as “PhotoReading” with various levels of success. However from the later post did get several questions on the topic of “speed reading” so figured the best way to answer was provide a crash course.
Keep in mind that “speed reading” is primarily a physiological task of training your eyes and brain to work together in a certain way. There isn’t any magic in this or psycho-realization babble and what will be covered here is the 101 introduction version however it is the most important building block. Therefore mastery of these techniques will mean an easy doubling if not tripling of reading speed and comprehension, so let’s get started.
First off, reading is defined as an individual’s total inter-relationship with printed “symbolic” information; therefore it is a communication process requiring a series of skills. As such reading is a physiological as well as a thinking process that requires exercise in eye movements as well as a logical sequence of thinking or thought patterns, and patterns require practice to set them into place.
There are two main approaches in western cultures to teach rote reading skills, the first is the “Look-Say” while the second is the “Phonic” method. Both methods are only semi-effective, as in the Phonic method a child is first taught the alphabet (symbols), then trained that there are different sounds for each of the symbols, then to blend these sounds together in a way which forms words. This first method works best with children who tend to be left-brain dominant. In contrast, the “Look-Say” method works best with children who are right-brain dominant as it teaches a child to read by presenting them with cards on which there are pictures of objects, the names of which are printed underneath the image. By using this method a basic vocabulary is built up, much in same the manner one learns to read Chinese ideograms. When a child has built up enough basic vocabulary, they progress through a series of stepped reading [skill] books similar to those for the child taught by the Phonic method.
In both cases above the child is taught to focus on a rote aspect of the symbol (letter in the case of most western languages). So let’s start here as on an average page there are typically 500 words and 2,500 characters (excluding spaces). So think about this for a second, at minimum your eyes will have to stop and focus on 500 different objects if you’ve been trained in “Look-Say” or an amazing 2,500 for the “Phonic method”! Talk about time consuming also the rounded pages of the printed book add to this complexity as each word will have a different focal point due to their varying depth of field* as the pages rise and fall.
So let’s jump in with a couple basic rules and tricks to help train ourselves:
1. Do not read aloud to yourself or sound out words. As even if your lips aren’t moving (yes a lot of people will do this without even knowing) your tongue and larynx are, which will consume a lot of time. So how to “train” yourself to stop this, for starters I push my tongue against the back of my front teeth while reading. This stopped most of the physical vocalizing, and to further this. Try silently vocalizing the sound “Eeee…” repeatedly, again to force yourself to visualize instead of vocalize. At the onset this may feel uncomfortable and your reading speed might slow, however hold the faith as do this for 15 or 20 minutes nonstop and it will start to feel more natural. Also, do not allow yourself to slip backwards! Once you stop in the initial phase, it will be just that much harder to restart, so again hold the faith here its critical.
2. Do NOT re-Read! Reading right to left (re-reading), or looking back over what has been read, will be processed by the right hemisphere of your brain, resulting in confusion as it will want to logically break down all the pieces of the word and sentences. So as you read the sentence from “left to right”, when you reach the end of the sentence, retrace your eyes diagonally to the start of the next sentence in a sharp saw tooth pattern (see graphic). Again, DO NOT re-read**
as you will be compelled to, however you don’t need to and doing so as noted above will just confuse the left & right hemispheres of your brain making you want to reread the same even more!
3. Focus your eyes on the sentence and not the words or characters. As mentioned above forcing your eyes to focus 500 or more times per page slows you way down and also introduces eye strain. My personal tip to solve this is to focus on the “white space” just beneath the word**. This might take a little doing as when starting this you might try “visualizing” a vector starting from the back of your head ending just below the word on the page as a training tool.
Well there you go in just over a thousand words, you can now double your reading speed. Remember there isn’t any magic here, just practice, practice, practice as we know it makes perfect…
*Note: This is where an eReader has additional value with the “flat” screen as personally I can gain about a ~5% improvement because of this.
**Note: Here is where you may wish to use your fingers as a training guide for #1 & #2 as they will provide a physical mark for your eyes to follow and second it will help to optically block re-read. As your comfort level grows, you will notice this will slow you down so it should only be used for training.