I’ve heard adults bemoan that they are not “good readers”, and that’s why they don’t enjoy reading books. When asked what the problem is, one friend of mine cited the fact that she was a “slow learner” in grade school. She said she was placed in the “poor readers” class, and, according to her, that determined her reading ability for life.
I explained to her that she was undoubtedly placed in the class so she could improve her reading. But instead of helping her become a better reader, the special class seems to have only ingrained in her mind that she has a “handicap.” That’s sad.
The truth is, many adults can actually improve their reading skills on their own without the help of a tutor or a “special class.” According to studies, the two areas that readers have the most problems in are speed and comprehension. Speed is self-explanatory. Comprehension is the ability to understand what we have just read.
When we learned to read in school, we were all taught to read words starting at the left side of a page. As “slow” or “poor” readers, as they are labeled, move their eyes to the right, they tend to stop on one word at a time. This is known as “fixation”. Fixating on one word at a time in a sentence slows our reading ability down. That makes the reader read slowly.
Usually the only difference between “fast” readers and “slow” readers is that the former looks at large groups of words at one time. People who can read sentences quickly don’t fixate on words. They especially don’t stare at insignificant words such as a, an, the, or, and so on. These words are insignificant because they can be skipped over without missing the idea behind a sentence.
As a result, the larger the group of words is that we can look at, the faster we can read. It’s pretty much as simple as that.
Let’s take an example from the novel, “Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens.
The first sentence of the book is a doozy:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Even though this sentence is a mouth full, you can read it and understand it without a lot of effort. The answer is to make your eyes skip over the insignificant words. Focus your attention on the key words instead. You should focus on “best, times, worst, times, age, wisdom, age, foolishness, epoch, belief, epoch, incredulity, season, Light, season, Darkness, et cetera. These are the words that make up the point of this particular sentence.
Here’s another secret to improving the speed of your reading: don’t move your lips. Moving one’s lips is simply a habit that can help a reader concentrate. While it may indeed increase focus, it also slows us down. Fast readers can’t move their lips while they’re reading silently because they are reading too quickly for their mouth to keep up!
Concentration can be improved by mentally blocking out noises and movements around you. Ignore that dog barking in the background. If you can’t turn the television off, at least turn it down. Focus instead on the written words in front of you.
If you want to become a better reader, then practice, practice, practice. Check out books from your local library and work on improving this important skill.