Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Speed Reading for Fun and Entertainment, Part 2

Part 1 of Speed Reading for Fun and Entertainment can be found here.

How do people read? Physically? Obviously, your eyes travel back and forth across the page (or screen), and your brain processes the information and turns the symbolic representation of data (words), into information (story).

The “Trick” to Reading Fast

While this description is true, it is a gross simplification of how people read. Letters form words, words form sentences. Sentences sometimes end before a line ends, sometimes they continue onto the next line. The sentences form paragraphs. We all know this structure of language, and, conveniently enough, becoming familiar with the narrative of the physically written word can increase the reading rate without sacrificing comprehension.

Let’s take a two sentences from last week’s post:

Speed reading is not lowering your comprehension rate. Reading so fast that you can’t comprehend the text properly is certainly not speed reading. That’s being a dork.”

That’s twenty-seven words. If we identify those words as a block of text, it looks like this:

And now we jump right into reading faster. Knowledge is power. You, as a reader, do not need to stop and process each word before moving on to the next. Your brain can do that for you automatically. Some of you reading this with absolutely no practice or training already read by processing clumps of words rather than singular words. A fast reader processes that sentence like this:

Last week we talked about good and bad reading habits. The entire bedrock to speed reading, once bad habits are eliminated is this:

Reading words together as segments rather than singular entities will increase your reading rate.

The above example is an simplification. The "chunking" of words has a lot to do with how the words are presented to the reader on the page or screen.

Your Eyes and Your Brain Can Get Closer

Your eyes don’t need to. Stop. At. Ever. Single. Word. They can stop at certain points in the flow of text still “process” all the data the author is giving you. One possible stopping point on the page before your eyes move to the next might go like this:

And that’s it. The fast reader doesn't move from STOP sign to STOP sign, She merely "jumps" her eyes from point to point.

I warn you: training your eyes to not roam across the page like a dot-matrix printer takes practice. It took me nearly nine months to increase my reading rate from an already fast 300 words per minute to a very speedy 500 to 800 words per minute. When I started out, my reading rate actually fell to 200 or so words a minute. Because thinking about how you are reading something while reading slows you down.

My eyesight, by the way, is poor. The muscles in my eyes are not a good as a normal person’s. I’ve had three eye surgeries, yet I easily take in large clumps of words at a time before physically moving my eyes. The eyes, as we recall from last week, are fast. Even mine.

Now we come to the caveat: even if you train yourself not to serially read words by moving your eye to each and every word, you could still cap out at 150 words per minute.

That’s caused by the internal verbalization words, or “sub-vocalization.” Some people do it, some people don’t. We’ll talk about that next week!

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