As such, I would like to share with you an email that I sent to my father and my mentor Ann yesterday, discussing the current status of my reading ability and where I hope to take it in the coming months, now that I have measured it in concrete terms and I have a pretty good idea of where I stand with this one talent or ability:
Hi Dad and Ann,
So as you both know, I have decided to do something I have never done in my life -- actually see how good I can possibly be at the things that I am truly good at -- so far...
Since reading is my main portal for knowledge acquisition and self-improvement/"learning stuff," it seems only natural to work on my reading speed first to see where I am currently and to strive for measurable improvements in that area.
2 days ago, I read 4 non-fiction career-change trade paperbacks and hardcover books averaging 225-250 pages each, with reading speeds of 2 point something pages per minute. Yesterday, I read 4 more similar sized, similar topic books again averaging between 225 and 250 pages each, average reading speed 2.5 pages per minute. Today, I read 5 books ranging from 200 to 305 pages each, reading speed varying between 2.25 and over 3 pages per minute.
My guess is that realistically, I experienced 75% or better information processing and comprehension during reading, with few gaps in my understanding of the material, in spite of background music at cafes, etc. For the most part, I read in 50-100 page intervals with several minute stretching or bathroom breaks to clear my head before continuing. My average reading time for a 250 page book appears to be an hour and a half to an hour and 40 minutes.
At my final rate of over 3 pages per minute this evening for a standard sized trade paperback with around 35 lines of print, most books of this size averaging 10-15 words per line, these books would appear to have approximately 400 or more words per page. This means that my final reading speed tonight with 75% or better comprehension was just over 1200 words per minute.
This is encouraging in light of the following Wikipedia excerpt on speed reading [boldface and italics mine]:
The World Championship Speed Reading Competition stresses reading comprehension as critical. The top contestants typically read around 1,000 to 2,000 words per minute with approximately 50% comprehension or above. The world champion is Anne Jones with 4,700 words per minute with 67% comprehension. The 10,000 word/min claimants have yet to reach this level.
Much controversy is raised over this point. This is mainly because a reading comprehension level of 50% is deemed unusable by some educationalists (Carver 1992). Speed reading advocates claim that it is a great success and even state that it is a demonstration of good comprehension for many purposes (Buzan 2000). The trade-off between "speed" and comprehension must be analyzed with respect to the type of reading that is being done, the risks associated with mis-understanding due to low comprehension, and the benefits associated with getting through the material quickly and gaining information at the actual rate it is obtained.
Now that I know my starting point, I am going to strive for over 1500 words per minute at 80% or better comprehension, depending on the genre (fiction/non-fiction, etc.) The best part about working on this skill is that it will improve without me doing anything specific to improve it, other than continuing to read books I was already planning to read as I continue to learn new things and further my own self-actualization.
Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.
Best wishes and thanks for reading!
To give you all an idea of how my reading speed has developed over time, let me start by saying that in 6th grade, I was considered a remedial reader with a 150-180 word per minute reading speed and parents and school administrators who showed genuine concern for my academic future.
This determined, I took a fairly non-descript, standardized speed reading course during the following summer, with the goal of getting my reading speed to 300 words per minute or something to that effect. Since most adult Americans read in the vicinity of 300 words per minute according to various online statistics, this would have been a very respectable result had I stopped there. Presumably, I would have been prepared for the rest of my life -- reading-wise.
Something happened that summer, though -- something beyond overhead projector reading assignments followed by grueling academic reading comprehension drills:
I began to actually LOVE reading.
I read everything. I could not get enough. My parents even let me read my dad's Playboy magazines (purely for academic purposes, of course) -- as long as I promised to read the articles and not just wonder about the interesting photos.
You might say that I was introduced to two guiding "life principles" that summer -- an unslakable thirst for knowledge gained from books, and an equally powerful interest in female anatomy.
Skip forward through teen years of comic books and Stephen King novels -- of reading just about every book I could get my hands on that even remotely interested me -- and I began to develop some techniques on my own that allowed me to coast through many of my classes in college, once I switched majors to something that I loved. More on that later.
After college came a realization that I was reading pretty quickly, and I began to seek out various books on speed reading techniques. I tried most or all of the techniques I read about, and even toyed with the idea of Photoreading five or six years ago, when I accidentally came across the book during an Amazon.com search for another title.
I have since developed my own ideas about chunking and eliminating the need to recognize on a conscious level any articles, conjunctions, prepositions, common words, or other parts of speech whose meanings might automatically come out via context even in their absence; about using any previous knowledge of the subject matter to manage newly acquired reading knowledge in real time, so as not to slow down the reading process; about reader expectations gleaned from reading tables of contents and indexes prior to reading actual books (non-fiction only, of course); about letting language wash over me, all the while confident that the big picture of what I am reading will help any and all details to make sense without me feeling a need to hold onto any one word, phrase or concept during the reading process; the list goes on...
One exciting development that I foresee coming of my quest for increased reading speed is a parallel increased awareness, not just of information acquisition via the reading process as it is going on in real time during any one reading session, but also of the language acquisition process in general -- and in particular as it might apply to Stephen Kraschen's concept of Free Voluntary Reading: extensive reading to improve whole language acquisition during the overall (intermediate level) foreign language acquisition process, rather than briefer periods of intensive reading during shorter foreign language study sessions.
I am also very excited to see how I can apply speed reading to my own theory of knowledge bombardment during early learning stages, which I intend to discuss at length in this blog, as well as in my other language learning blog -- www.speakmanylanguages.com.
For now, though, thanks for reading!