By Lee Chang-sup
In a recent lecture at a university, a student asked me about how to increase his reading speed for English texts. He said that he was frustrated that he could not finish all of the readings in the TOEIC within the time limit. I told him that people can easily improve their reading speed through practice.
Indeed, many college-bound students and job-seeking college graduates have said that readings in the reading comprehension portion of English proficiency tests have progressively become lengthy, making it difficult to finish reading all of them within the time limit.
For instance, in this year's college-bound English proficiency tests, students must be able to read 150 words in less than two minutes. This is a tall order for high-school students who are non-native English speakers. Compared to these students, the average educated American adult can reportedly read 200 – 250 words per minute.
In the book "Speed Reading, How to Double (or Triple) Your Reading Speed in Just 1 Hour!" author Justin Hammond lists misconceptions about, benefits of, and bad habits in speed reading. He also provides tips for improving your reading speed.
According to Hammond, understanding the misconceptions about speed reading is the first step toward improving your reading speed. He identifies the four main misconceptions about speed reading. First is the myth that everyone is born with the ability to speed read. Indeed, some people are born with the ability to read more quickly than others, just as there are some people who are born with the ability to run faster than others. Speed reading is a skill that can be learned with training, practice and dedication.
Second is the myth that the slower the reading pace, the more in-depth and pleasurable the reading experience. While this may be true for some readers, Hammond says that there is no relationship between how fast you read and how much fun it can be.
Third is the myth that reading fast means understanding less. Through his research, Hammond has shown that people can successfully train to read at a higher speed and achieve greater levels of comprehension.
Fourth is the myth that increasing one's reading speed is a process that takes a long time and much practice. However, Hammond states that just as you can train and develop your muscles at the gym in a short period of time, you can train and develop your brain muscles for speed reading and increased comprehension in a short period of time.
Furthermore, Hammond mentions that readers will be motivated to practice speed reading when they know its benefits. One of the benefits of speed reading, he says, is that it saves your time and energy. Increasing your reading speed actually helps you generate mental energy as you read, making your mind and body more alert. Many readers are afraid of increasing their reading speed because they fear their comprehension of the text will suffer. However, Hammond states that you will actually comprehend and remember more of what you read.
Hammond also lists some powerful speed reading techniques. First, he suggests refraining from using your lips and ears when reading. This so-called "subvocalization" slows your reading speed.
Second, monitor and control your bad reading habits. Without first examining what hinders your reading speed, you cannot improve it.
Third, before starting to read, he advises to check if you are tired, if you just ate a lot, if you have a lot of things on your mind or if you are in an uncomfortable position, as these can hinder your reading speed and comprehension. Readers should also stay away from noisy and distracting physical environments, visual distractions and electronic gadgets.
Fourth, he advises against reading out loud, as doing so will divert your focus on reading Furthermore, when reading, he says, your eyes should move from left-to-right and top-to-bottom. Thus, returning to previous sentences and paragraphs will negatively affect your reading speed because your eye movements will be disrupted. The more you control your eye movements and keep your mind focused, the less you return to previous texts, the smoother your eye movements and the faster your reading speed.
Fifth, Hammond advises readers to use an index card or anything you can place over the text you've already read. Covering previously read texts will prevent you from going back to them and also help you realize how much and how often you revert to such texts.
Sixth, he suggests avoiding making erratic eye movements. When your eyes stop, pause or wander, you are probably trying to derive more meaning out of an individual word rather than out of the entire sentence. Hammond believes you don't need to think about the sounds of words you read and to read every word, as doing so takes time but does not necessarily improve your reading comprehension.
Finally, he suggests locating the most important sections of text. You should focus your eyes and attentions on titles, headings, the first and last sentences in a paragraph, the first and last paragraphs in a passage, and picture captions.
However, despite the useful speed reading tips Hammond provides, he fails to mention the importance of mastering vocabulary in improving reading speed. English proficiency test-takers must be able to master at least 10,000 words, the same vocabulary as The Korea Times and the TOEIC and TOEFL use.
An advantage of the Internet age is that there are plentiful resources with which we can solve almost anything, as long as we correctly identify the problem in the first place. As Hammond's book tries to show, this is also true in learning how to increase your reading speed.
Lee Chang-sup is the executive director of The Korea Times. Contact him at email@example.com.