Some people mistakenly believe that speed reading is impossible to learn. Others firmly argue that it comes with a toll – that reading quickly limits both comprehension and enjoyment of the text.
These two viewpoints fail to take into consideration one thing, and that’s the fact that fast reading is a scientifically grounded habit that takes practice to achieve.
Reading is about readjusting your brain’s functioning while you read, including eliminating 1st grade reading rules such as reading out loud or word by word.
Essentially, learning this skill is about optimizing your brain’s capacity. So how do you turn that switch on?
First, let’s see what happens when regular slow reading takes place. Conventional reading is a three-step process including the visual processing of information, followed by the acoustic phase (where you “hear” the words in your head), and finally the third step of turning the acoustic information into meaning. There is some overlap in these three steps as some processes can be done simultaneously.
To see how this works, read the following sentence:
She was given permission to leave as long as she agreed to come back at 7pm.
The part of reading done with your eyes is what is called the visual information processing step, where the words on paper are meaningful and comprehensible. By visually reacting to those words, you instantly realize they’re purposeful and with meaning. Your brain starts processing the words that your eyes have seen.
Once the visual recognition process is complete, the second process is introduced. During the acoustic phase the visually present words are then manifested in the brain as a voice, or an acoustic message. So while our first reaction to text is to visually encode (or recognize what we have before us), acoustic encoding entails hearing it in our brain, or sounding it out using our mouth.
The second step (the acoustic processing of information) is then superseded by the last one, which is the ultimate goal, the analysis or encoding of visual and acoustic information into meaning. As it has been mentioned, there’s considerable overlapping between these three stages, but the main idea is that they follow this sequence:
visual processing -> acoustic processing -> meaning or semantic processing.
Now this is the process that occurs when we read conventionally; at a slow, comfortable pace, with subvocalization and frequent re-reading.
A noteworthy feature of these three cognitive processes is that the visual and semantic stages have no speed limit. In other words, if you want to, you can learn to visually and semantically process information with great speed.
On the other hand, the middle information processing step, the acoustic phase, is limited. We can only “sound out” approximately 150 words per minute, which is a fast speaking rate. So if you’re limiting your processing speed to the rate at which you normally speak, you’ll quickly realize how much you’re impeding your reading progress with this second information processing step.
What happens when people speed read is that the second part is ignored or sidestepped. Reading moves from visual encoding right into semantic encoding. Since there’s no imposed speed limit by the acoustic information processing step, reading becomes a streamlined, virtually automatic process.
Because we are accustomed to hearing ourselves read, either by mouth and tongue movement or by acoustically processing the visual words into a voice in our head, we self-sabotage our reading potential.
Different reading techniques all focus first on eliminating subvocalisation – another term for the acoustic processing step – which is the primary reason for our slow-paced reading. Of course other reading habits come into play that can slow down reading speed, and these are also eliminated when we learn to speed read, but subvocalisation is the primary culprit.
How do you eliminate subvocalization?
The most efficient way is to force yourself to sidestep the second stage of subvocalization by increasing the speed at which you read.
This will feel awkward and uncomfortable at first and you will certainly think that by not saying or sounding out the words read you’re going to miss their meaning. This is definitely not the case. In fact, quite the contrary; having two instead of three reading phases makes the process a lot more optimized. You constantly move from seeing and visually encoding words to directly understanding them at their semantic level.
To teach your brain to adjust to this two-phase reading process you can use the following techniques:
Track-and-Pace – Use a pen, your finger, or some other prop to direct your focus where you want. If you also hide away the text before and after the section you’re reading, you allow your eyes to stay focused and not wander.
Expand eye-fixation – This can be achieved by fixating at the center of each line, rather than conventionally reading left to right. This is a matter of increased flexibility, which you can master with little effort. Once you fixate less frequently on each line, you leave no choice for your brain but to start semantically processing the visual information, as there’s no time to sound it out!
Word Chunking – another parameter of eye-fixation is to expand the number of words you read each time. Fewer word chunks per line mean less eye-fixation per line, which ultimately means a faster reading pace.
Resist Regression – regression is your former bad habits asking you not only to subvocalize but to subvocalize content that has already been read. Increasing your reading speed will discourage you from re-reading and keep you moving forward. It’s possible that when you’re first practicing this, your comprehension will go down, but as you re-train your brain it will catch up again.
Adopting the two-channel reading method is a foolproof way to streamline and accelerate your reading pace. Reading software like 7 Speed Reading™ is an affordable solution for people wishing to reach their goals in a shorter period of time and with less effort.