by Guy Perring
MOST of my columns are about 500 words in length and this one is no
exception. Of course, I would recommend that you read at leisure
and reflect over every word! However, realistically, in a bulky
newspaper like The Star
you will only have time to glance quickly at a few articles. To
work out your reading speed, get a stopwatch and time yourself. If
it takes you one minute to read the article, then you have a
reading speed of 500 words per minute and if it takes you five
minutes, you have a reading speed of 100 words per minute.
Somewhere in between, 250 words per minute is assumed to be the
lowest level for an educated native speaker without specific
speed-reading training. Of course, speed isn’t everything and there
has to be some level of retention. You can check this after reading
by making some notes on what you’ve read.
Pacing is included in most speed-reading courses. Take the book you
are reading at the moment and after every five minutes take a note
of the page you have reached. You should work out the number of
words on average per page and then you can work out your reading
speed. If you pace yourself regularly, then your reading rate
should increase. You can also try reading at breakneck speed
without worrying about meaning. Then go back and read at your
normal rate. You should find your usual w.p.m. has increased. Prior
to reading an article, you should try and predict what the article
is about. Jot down the ideas and words you think might occur. You
can then identify the new information far more quickly.
When young children first learn to read, they point at each word,
and mouth each word carefully. This is known as “vocalising” and if
you have a tendency to do this in a second language, then it is
unlikely that you will be able to increase your reading speed
significantly. Good readers do not read word by word. As we read,
our eyes do not run continuously along in a line. Instead they take
jumps as we absorb groups of words. The fewer jumps you take, the
better, as you are taking in longer phrases at one time. These
phrases that you are taking in are called sense groups.
The weakness of the dollar has
led to jitters in the world’s currency markets.
A good reader would chunk it into the following:-
The weakness of the dollar/ has led to jitters/ in the world’s
(only two eye jumps)
A weaker reader might chunk it as follows:
The weakness/ of the dollar/ has
led/ to jitters/ in the world’s/ currency markets. (
So that was about 500 words, you can now check your stopwatch!
Perring is Director, Professional Development Unit (PDU), at the
British Council Malaysia. The PDU offers a wide range of learning
opportunities from management and communication skills training to
developing English skills. Visit it at www.britishcouncil.org.my
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.