What? I bet a lot of you feel that you should be reading quickly, not slowly. Aren’t better readers faster readers?
No, better readers are not necessarily faster readers, and faster readers are not necessarily better readers. Plenty of people agree. I myself know the importance of slow reading from personal experience.
I read a lot as a child. From second grade through sixth grade, I probably averaged four hours a day—about 7,300 hours total. Though I read less in middle and high school, I still probably averaged two hours a day. So by the time I started college, I had already logged well over 10,000 hours of reading. According to Malcolm Gladwell, that’s the time it takes to achieve mastery of a skill.
By typical measurements, i was an accomplished reader. I finished my reading assignments quickly, did fine on my essays, and went to a good college, where I continued to get good grades. Unfortunately, my reading ability was superficial.
What was the problem? My technique was wrong. I didn’t use a dictionary; I didn’t visualize; I didn’t reflect on what I was reading. My eyes were skimming over the words, but my mind was idle.
And I compounded all these problems by reading too fast. I gave myself plenty of excuses: “I have too many pages to cover, so I need to move quickly”; “I need to know only 80% of the material”; “I already know enough vocabulary, so I don’t need to look up that unknown word.”
Eventually, I realized that as a student of the English language, I needed to become a better reader. So I put myself through a rigorous training program: I read, wrote, and reflected for up to 10 hours a day.
During that time, I applied many of the techniques described in these posts. But the most important element of my training was reading slower. Reading slower gave me time to think carefully about word meaning, word choice, connections to other books and ideas, and links to my own experience. I took the time to look up words (even words that I thought I knew) and to create strong visual images.
And at the end of about 18 months, I could read. I felt as if I’d shifted from experiencing the book in two dimensions to experiencing it in three.
So how fast should you read? If you are looking to improve your reading, read silently at about the speed it would take to read aloud.
Feel free to move your lips while reading in order to establish the right pace. Throughout the process, remind yourself of your goal: not faster reading, but deeper reading.
You’ll find that the rewards are enormous.
For Parents: Parents sometimes ask tutors to teach their children to read faster. But before you can read faster, you need to read smoothly at a slow pace. (You learn to walk before you learn to run.) If your child stumbles when he reads aloud, he needs to work on his uency, not his speed. See Tip 2.