I was four years old when I learned how to read and it didn’t take long before I realized that it opened up a whole new world to me. I read as much as I could and I suppose it helped that my dad offered me a dollar for every book that I read! After many years I realized that the amount of information I wanted to absorb would take far more time than I had to read, so I began a quest to learn how to speed-read.
After reading several books and going through courses on the topic I was able to go from around 300 words-per-minute to well over 1,000 words per minute! The only problem is that my comprehension went down to around 30-40%. Since then, I found that my sweet spot is between 700 and 900 words-per-minute where I feel like I am actually comprehending what I am reading.
The problem with most speed-reading courses on the market is that they take too much time! Isn’t it ironic that something that is supposed to save you time takes so much time to master. After reflecting upon it, I realized that there are one or two things that will drastically increase your speed and the rest only help minimally and would probably only be important if you have absolutely no life at all.
The Best Tip
The number one way to read faster is to reduce subvocalization. Subvocalization is what we were taught to do in school. Why? I have no clue!
First, we are taught to sound out the letters to form a word. Then we learn to read out loud and finally our teacher tells us to read silently. This is basically the same as reading aloud except we shut our mouth so we don’t distract the other kids. We still keep reading the words in our head. In fact, if you watch someone ready you can often see that they are moving their lips.
So, why is this a problem? Well, our brains can think at least at 1,200 words-per-minute, but the average person can only talk at 200 words-per-minute. Guess what? The average person can only read at 200 words-per-minute because that is the amount of words that they can say! The faster you can talk the faster you can read.
So if you can get subvocalization out of the way you can almost immediately increase your reading speed without losing comprehension. Most people are able to at least double their reading speed immediately!
You need to realize that when your eyes see a word your brain immediately associates a meaning to that word. You don’t have to ever say the word to yourself. When is the last time you said to yourself “stop” when you came to a stop sign? You didn’t need to! Your brain immediately knew what it meant. I will list a few words below and I want you to look at them but try not to say it in your head:
How did you do? Were you able to immediately recognize the meaning of each word without saying it in your head? If you had a hard time doing it try it again but this time say the vowels (a – e – i – o – u) in your head as you look at the words.
I don’t know if this amazes you as much as it amazes me, but I find it so fascinating that I can just look at a word and immediately know what it means without having to say it. Let’s try something a little harder. Read the following word pairs but do not allow yourself to say the word in your head.
How did that go? Maybe a bit harder? I bet you were able to do it though! If not, go back and try it again saying the vowels.
So, now we will try to read a whole sentence without saying it in our head.
The brown bear is eating.
Were you able to do that? That’s not so bad is it? The problem with reading a book is that the words, sentences and phrases are all crammed together into paragraphs on pages and it’s easy to get lost. So, here are a few tips that can help you to reduce subvocalization while you are reading a book.
1. Listen to music
While you are reading put in some instrumental music. Sometimes it is just enough distraction to keep you from subvocalizing the words in your head.
2. Say something else
In the example above, I had you say your vowels while you read. That can get old really quickly but it is something that you can do that can occupy your subvocalization engine while you are trying to read.
3. Read faster
If you force yourself to read faster you will naturally not subvocalize as much. You can force yourself to read faster by tracing your finger under each line on the page and moving it at a faster pace than you can say it to yourself. Some people are even able to sweep their fingers only a few times per page, but that’s just crazy! After practicing with this for a while you may find that you no longer need to use your finger.
There are also tools like AccelaReader that will allow you to paste text into it and it will flash the words in front of you to force you to read faster. You can try it with this article if you want!
As you force yourself to read faster you should pick out a few words per sentence to subvocalize and let your brain just digest the rest of the words on its own. Let’s try that out! I will write a sentence below and I want you to only subvocalize the words that are in bold.
I am amazing. I am able to read so much faster than before!
Did that help? This is a way that you can use subvocalization and still read at lightning speeds. This also can help in comprehension if you are having difficulty understanding the things that you read at fast speeds.
Subvocalization is not always bad
Most speed reading gurus will try to get you to totally stop subvocalization but it can actually be a good thing at times. The key is that you learn how to turn it on and off.
- If you’re trying to remember something. If you are trying to memorize a quote, poem, verse, speech or your grocery list you will find that subvocalization will be helpful. In fact, you may want to actually say it out loud so you can also engage your ears in the fun.
- For pleasure reading. If you want to sit on the beach on a nice sunny day and read a book there is no need to read fast. Personally when I read fiction I like to slow it down and really read each word as it increases the enjoyment for me.
- As and aid to read faster. As I mentioned before you can choose to subvocalize certain words in each sentence as you go to help you understand the material better but to cut the amount of subvocalizing you actually are doing.
Try it out
If you want to practice with something take this article over to AccelaReader and paste it in the box. Then hit “play.” Once it starts showing the words hit the little “settings” menu and put the “chunk size” at 3 words and hit “play” again. You may find that this is too slow so feel free to speed it up some. When you are comfortable with three word-chunks try five.
I don’t think you should use an app like that all the time, but it is beneficial to help you to see that you are able to read faster than you thought!
One of the best things I ever did when starting to learn how to speed read was to read kids books. Kids don’t start reading these really intense books with lots of crazy words, so why should we? They read “Goodnight Moon” and what an utter joy that book is. So go to the library, or raid your local preschool, and start reading some kids books and then work up from there.