Sunday, August 31, 2008

Steps to improve your reading speed

Time to read faster

Steps to improve your reading speed


If there is a way to use your brain better, reading faster with more comprehension is one of the ways. A lot of people wish that they could read faster so they could learn more things or cover more materials in less time. This way not only will they be "smarter" but they will also have more free time to do what they want.

There are actually steps that you can take to improve your reading speed. Some people might think learning to speed-read is hard but it is not so. This is more about acquiring useful habits and work at them every time you read. This will help not only with your speed but also with your comprehension. We don't want speed without comprehension.

First of all there are three negative reading habits that we picked up along the way since we were learning to read in first grade.

- The first one is sub-vocalisation. This is a tendency to "mouth" or pronounce the words you are reading. Sub-vocalising happens because it's the way we were taught to read but it will slow us down as an adult reader. When we read with our eyes, we read at the speed of light, but when we pronounce the words in our minds, it will reduce our speed to the speed of sound.

- The next one is the habit of finger-pointing. Using guides such as pens, knitting needles or chopsticks to point on the page is a good technique to help keep your eyes on track. But if you use your finger to point, the rest of your palm will block the sight of other letters.

- The last negative reading habit is back-skipping and regression. Our eyes sometimes have a tic and we back-skip without realising ourselves. Regression happens when we tend to read "too fast" thus lose comprehension and must go back to reread. Both can be reduced by using guides and making sure you get the point before moving on.

Once we already took care of the three habits, we have to look at our own internal interferences. One thing that people are not often aware of is their time of reading. Because of the habits formed in school many people have not tried to find the times of the day when they do their best learning or reading. It is important to experiment with reading at different times. We all have peaks and slumps during different times of the day. Some find they study best during mid-morning while others find late-night more suitable.

One of the most famous reasons for reading too slow is our habit of concentrating too much on the details. Please be aware that our brains like to process information from "the big picture" to the small details. Therefore, when we approach a book, we must see the book for "the big picture", looking at the summary of each chapter and reading the bullets of the whole book before diving into the details.

Another technique that I find useful is called "opening peripheral vision". Usually we tend to focus our vision too much on the letters that we are reading. This habit fatigues our eyes. So opening the field of vision can be done when you learn to read two lines at a time or learn to see "around" the letters you are reading.

Let me show you concrete examples of famous people who used speed-reading techniques to improve their work and their lives.

Former president Franklin D. Roosevelt was one of the fastest readers and leaders of the US. It is reported that he could read a whole paragraph at a glance and a whole book in one sitting. When he started out he was an average reader. But when he decided to pick up speed reading he decided to increase his original span to four words per stop and then six and eight. He subsequently practiced reading two lines at a time then zigzag his way down the page and reading small paragraphs with single eye movement. What he did was identical to today's world renowned speed readers.

The other is former president John F. Kennedy. He made it publicly known that he had studied speed reading and improved from 284 words per minute to about 1000. This ability allowed him the exceptional flexibility to vary his speed on the different variety of materials he is obliged to read every day.

Once you have practiced some speed reading techniques, do not worry that you can't read for pleasure anymore. Once you have achieved the speed you desire, you can adjust it any way you want.

This is like a professional driver who can adjusts her speed to suit the kinds of roads she is dealing with. If you learn to read professional materials faster, you will have more times for the things you need.

Perhaps you can spend more time gardening, chilling out with your loved ones, or just sipping coffee on the porch. And, you can even afford to slow down on your pleasure reading if you wish. Enjoy reading.

Vanessa Race or 'Nu Dee' is the founder of Genius Creator and inventor of the genius development programme at Vanessa School. She has a master's degree in education from Harvard University.

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