I don’t claim to be a huge speed reader, but I have to admit that from my informal blog survey, I do read a lot faster than most people. I’ve been reading lots of books since I was very young, so I’ve had a lot of practice at reading quickly. It’s something that seemingly came naturally to me, but looking back I can now actually point to some things that helped me become the reader I am today. So I’ll share them with you now with the caveat that while they work for me, they may not necessarily work for you.
1. Read aloud frequently.
Reading aloud is a whole different animal than silent reading, believe me. When you read aloud frequently you have to be confident, change your tone of voice to engage your audience, add certain vocal inflections to convey different meanings and sometimes even sneak a peak ahead so you don’t stumble upon larger words you don’t necessarily know. I know it may sound weird, but reading aloud even once a week can actually help your reading because it forces you to put more thought into the text itself. What message is the author trying to convey? What does their word choice say about their writing style, the characters and the tone of the story?
So what does this have to do with reading quickly? Well, when you’re speed reading you have to be able to pick up on things like the author’s tone more quickly than you’re used to. You actually have to think a lot faster and reading aloud prepares you for that because you’re practicing analyzing the text as you read. Once you can analyze the tone of any text you’re reading aloud without thinking about it, analyzing the text you’re trying to speed read will come more easily.
2. If you don’t know how to already, learn to touch type.
Some of you are probably thinking “There are people that don’t know how to touch type?” Well, there are and I was once one of them. I had to put years into learning how to touch type and now I can type 80wpm on average. Blogging daily definitely forces you to learn how to touch type because when you’re writing an 1100 word post you really don’t have the time to finger peck your way through it.
So that brings me to your next probable question: What does this have to do with speed reading? It’s quite simple actually. Touch typing forces you to think more quickly than you normally would. When you’re finger pecking you don’t have to think very quickly, but if you’re touch typing even 30 or 40 wpm you have to think a lot faster. The ability to conjure sentences on the fly is important because like reading aloud it forces you to think quickly about what you’re reading/writing (assuming you read over your sentences later). By being able to analyze your own writing more quickly, being able to pick out plot points, characters and important information in fiction will come more easily.
3. Stop sub-vocalizing.
So now we’re getting into some of the tired-and-true speed reading techniques. This point is worth re-iterating, though. Sub-vocalizing can seriously slow you down and there’s really no need for it. It’s a habit we develop when we first learn to read so it’s hard to break, but you can get rid of it.
Sub-vocalizing is basically saying the word in your head and hearing it. In reality you don’t need to do that. Just try it with the previous sentence: read it to yourself without ‘saying’ the words. It’s okay if you don’t get it the first time; it takes a lot of practice. I’ve only just started to break my sub-vocalization habit but already I can tell it’s helping me speed up. I personally can read and digest material without sub-vocalizing, but for some people it’s necessary to ‘hear’ the character’s voices in their heads. It makes them more realistic, which I completely understand.
One thing I found really useful for getting rid of sub-vocalizing is repeating a simple phrase over and over in your head: 1, 2, 3,4 or A, B, C. You’ll be so focused on saying that phrase over and over that you will be able to read and comprehend without sub-vocalizing the actual words you’re reading.
4. Don’t backtrack unless you really have to.
Most sentences only need to be read once in order for comprehension to occur. Yet I find that a lot of people will read a sentence or two then go back (usually unconsciously) and re-read those same sentences. It’s not necessarily unless the sentence is overly long and complicated or makes no sense grammatically. Still, it’s a bad reading habit and this one is actually pretty easy to get rid of.
I used to do this a little bit and what helps is having a sheet of paper, bookmark or ruler and covering up the text you’ve just read. Read one line, cover it up and move onto the next one. It’ll slow you down for a little while, but it will also help you resist the temptation to re-read a sentence unnecessarily. Once you’re sure you aren’t backtracking anymore, stop using your prop and read normally. Are you still backtracking? Then go back and spend some more time with the line method.
5. Avoid distractions.
If you’re serious about increasing your reading speed, the best and easiest way is to eliminate all those unnecessary distractions. Turn off your cellphone, turn the music down a little so you can focus, etc. I know this isn’t always possible because of things like kids, significant others, pets, location of reading, etc. But when you’re sitting down to seriously practice your speed reading, eliminate as many distractions as possible. You’ll be surprised how much faster you are at reading.
It floors me that some people who read books only once a week think they can learn to speed read overnight. Well I have some news for you: You may be able to learn to speed read when you only read once a week, but it’ll take longer than if you practice almost every day. Seriously, learning how to speed read is like learning a new language: if you’re serious you try to set aside some time every single day to practice even if it’s only a few minutes.