Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I need to read, I like to read, I want to read faster

I do a lot of reading. I'm a translator, so every day I read translation materials that need editing or proofreading. I'm a conference interpreter, so whenever I have an interpreting job, I need to read background and reference materials prior to the actual meeting or lecture. I also teach a five-hour English teacher training class on Saturdays, so during the week I read books, online articles and teacher boards to research and enrich the topic I will be presenting on Saturday. Plus, I like to read for my own enjoyment, so I try to find time to read books that I like: mostly thrillers, self-help and chick-lit books (my guilty pleasure). If I had to ballpark it, I would say I read anywhere between 5000 and 15000 words on any given day.

So I wanted to find a way to read more efficiently and therefore I started looking at options. I've heard about speed reading classes, but I don't have a lot of time to attend a class, plus I'm impatient, I want to learn right now. I know, probably not the best approach, but once I get an idea into my head, the sooner I can do it, the better.

I started out by doing a web search, and I found a great article that pointed out the basics, such as using a pointer, such as your finger to guide and pace your reading, stopping subvocalization and reading text several words at a time. The article also talked about average reading speeds (around 250 words per minute) and encouraged the reader to test themselves. Since I read so much, I felt pretty confident my reading was at least twice the average, I thought to myself: "I read at least 500 words per minute, easily".

So to pat myself on the back, I did a search for an online reading speed test, confident that I would be in the 500 wpm range. Took the test and got... 215 words per minute! My mind immediately started looking for excuses: I was overconcentrating because there was going to be a reading comprehension test at the end, English is not my first language. Lame excuses, comprehension has to be part of the equation, otherwise a faster reading speed is useless, and I read in English probably 90% of the time.

After recovering from the initial shock, I decided it was time to do something about it. So I started looking for a book to read, preferrably something short and instantly available. My bruised ego didn't want to have to wait for a book to be delivered, or even a trip to the bookstore. I found what I thought would be a good candidate in Amazon's Kindle store and downloaded the book to my iPad. I read the book(let) and learned/reinforced the following:

- Use a pointer such as your finger (printed text) or mouse pointer (computer text) to pace your reading. Your pointer should set the pace, rather than follow the pace set by your eyes.

- Stop vocalizing, don't say the words you're reading, either aloud or in your head, this is supposed to slow you down considerably. This is my biggest challenge, I found. I don't read aloud, but I subvocalize, hear my inner voice saying the words I'm reading.

- Be flexible and vary your speed based on the goal you're planning to achieve. Speed reading is not for complex technical stuff.

- Be an active reader to enhance comprehension, keep asking yourself "what does this mean? what is the author saying here?" as you read.

- Don't read one word at a time, instead read several words at once. Easier said than done for me at this stage, I need to improve this. I don't read at individual word level, but I could take in bigger chunks of text at a time.

Armed with this knowledge, I headed to YouTube to look for some videos. I watched several, but my absolute favorite was an excellent 5-part series by http://www.irisreading.com/ that is very well taught by Paul Nowak. In the first part you test your speed and I'm sad to report I didn't fare much better than in my initial test: 240 words per minute. But I'm happy to report that after doing the exercises in these videos my speed (with good comprehension) went up to 400 words per minute in about 1 hour. That's not too bad, I think. It means you should be able to read a two-column one-page article in about 2-3 minutes.

I'm doing this for personal reasons, but as a teacher trainer, I keep thinking of the difference sharing these techniques with our students could make in their reading skills. I hope to learn enough to be able to help others improve their reading speed and comprehension.

Do you have any other tips to share? I'd love to hear about them.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post, Nora. I had never given this much thought but being a translator/proofreader myself, speeding/improving my reading would be most useful. Thanks for sharing!