Here on the AceReader site, we’ve been discussing some common myths about reading and what the realities actually are (read Part 1 here and Part 2 here). I’d like to add one additional myth from my personal experience to the list.
MYTH: I read how I read. I can’t learn to read any differently or faster.
REALITY: For many years, I bought in to this myth. I was an avid reader, but I read slowly, and I was convinced that was just the way things were going to be. My little bubble got abruptly turned on its head when I took a reading improvement class. It wasn’t my choice to take that class; I was required to attend it as part of one of my jobs. Needless to say, I went in with a healthy dose of skepticism, but after only one three-hour session (out of a three day, nine-hour course), I began to question my beliefs.
The average person reads between 200-250 words per minute (WPM), which is the average speed at which we talk. That’s no coincidence. Most people subvocalize – that is, they hear a little “voice” in their head that reads the text along with them. Of course, that means they can only read as fast as they can talk. I thought this was my own peculiarity, and I wasn’t about to admit that I heard voices in my head! However, when the teacher asked how many people in the class experienced this phenomenon, and I saw that everyone else’s hand was raised, I started to wonder about it. What if you could stop the voice, or at least mute it somewhat – would that help increase your reading speed? I’ll get back to that in a minute.
A lot of people also believe you need to read word-by-word to get full comprehension of the text. I wasn’t quite a word-by-word reader, but I was close. The thing is, your eye is capable of taking in much more information than just one word at a glance. The central part of your vision looks at a single word, but your peripheral vision can see one, two, or even more words on either side of it, and even on the lines above and below it. Your brain is also capable of processing the increased amount of information. What’s the benefit of learning how to do this? Increased speed, for one, and increased comprehension, for another. By taking in multiple words, you are seeing them all in context – phrases or even whole sentences at one time. With context, you can see the author’s intent, and that leads to greater understanding.
Now, here’s where it relates to subvocalization. There comes a time when you’re taking in so much information that the little voice can’t keep pace with your progress. Your brain then has a choice. It can drop some of the silent reading or drop some of the comprehension. Fortunately for you, it always chooses the former. Some people can get past subvocalization altogether, but most people retain some of it as they continue to read, and that’s okay. It can be handy when you’re confronted with unfamiliar words and need to sound them out, or when you’re reading a play or poetry, which are really auditory forms of writing and need to be heard to obtain full comprehension. The point is to reach a stage where the subvocalization is not dominating your reading, a stage where you are in control. It was a very empowering realization for me.
Reading effectively is a skill, and like any skill it requires practice. After my class, I practiced for quite some time, and I was thrilled at my ability to read more in a given time and understand more of what I was reading. Then I got complacent and stopped pushing so hard, figuring I had it mastered. It’s kind of like exercise – you say to yourself ‘I’m in shape, I don’t need to go to the gym today,’ and that skipped day turns into a couple times a week, then most days, until you stop going altogether and lose your fitness. All of a sudden, I realized that I had fallen back into the bad habits of subvocalization and regression (re-reading material I’d already read). Clearly, I had to do something to change the situation.
That’s when I found AceReader. AceReader is an online, bundled platform on how to read effectively. It has leveled and themed reading comprehension tests so you can see how fast you read and how much you understand of it while you learn some interesting facts at the same time. It has drills that push you to read at faster and faster speeds so that you train your eyes to take in more information at a given time. And it has games that reinforce good reading habits while letting you have some fun. Training with it just 15-20 minutes two to three times per week, I managed to get my reading scores back up to where they were after took the class. And every time I slip again, I go back to the program and repeat the process. I have recommended this program to many of my friends and students in the past, and I continue to do so to this day.
So what’s the takeaway from all of this? Many people acquire bad reading habits during their lives, but they do not have to be stuck with them forever. Learning to read differently, faster, and more effectively is most definitely possible. It’s simply up to you to make it happen.