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Is speed reading really possible? (skeptoid.com)
253 points by saurabh 1524 days ago | hide | past | web | 143 comments | favorite



At around 7 or 8 years old, my reading level was several grades ahead of schedule. I was consuming large (for my age) novels with no sweat.

My parents noticed this and gave me a speed reading book. I incorporated each an every item on that book including the removal of subvocalization. It certainly gave returns right away, allowing me to consume books at a faster rate, but a huge cost.

Years later, I entered college as an engineering student. I noticed that when reading highly technical textbooks, and classes that required deep comprehension of text, I was much much slower that my classmates, or my comprehension level was much lower. Turns out, it was taking almost double the time for me to get through a section.

Really wished I didnt read the speed reading book now. I dont blame my parents at all, it was unfortunate that at nearly 40, i'm still trying to unlearn what that speed reading book taught me. I'm trying to re-learn subvocalication but its very very hard to 'slow' myself down. I've actually installed screen readers to replace subvocalization with some positive effect.


I just tried reading a number of articles on the front page using www.spreeder.com that another commenter here mentioned. I got up to 800wpm with chunk size of 3 before my suspicion was confirmed: while I had no problem following the story, it felt like I had a mental buffer that was constantly filling up and skipping over interesting questions or thoughts based on what I was reading.

Fundamentally, speed reading through something is at odds with processing that information in a useful way. And therein lies the rub: I don't read something merely for the sake of reading it.

When I read novels, I enjoy losing myself daydreaming in another world, and savouring the emotions of the characters while thinking about how I would react in their shoes. When I read technical documentation I'm attemping to create or update mental models of technical concepts. When I read a friend's Facebook post I think about what, if any, response I will offer or how I would deal with their situation. When I read a message from my girlfriend I have to take time to understand and plan for whatever she's discussing or asking.

I'm honestly struggling to see the value in speed reading. I cannot think of why I would be reading something simply for the sake of reading it without further processing. More valuable would be learning ways to process information more efficiently, i.e. accurately and quickly.


I think speed reading, as skimming, would be good in cases where you are trying to skip through data rather than process it. I do something very similar with lectures on topics which I'm already familiar with -- I speed them up to 2x or 3x speed in VLC, then slow them down when I reach a topic which requires extra thinking and comprehension.

There is also a tremendous value to watching an important lecture twice: the first time on fast-forward so that you understand the structure of the talk and the gist of the subject, and the second time on normal speed so that you can really get into the details. A lot of writing tries to give you an "overview" or "table of contents" to accomplish the same task, but when it's not there, skimming can be extremely useful.


Exactly what I found. I tried reading Les Miserables using a speedreading app (Fastr) and while I was reading more quickly, it left me wondering what the point of reading it was at all.

When I read it in a normal app (Kindle), I appreciated the beauty of the language, the depth of the characters, and the intricate storyline so much more.

For business stuff, a similar problem occurred - I missed out on key points in emails, and was less creative in solutions. I'm not saying that this applies to everyone, but for me, reading slowly is more efficient.

The key is reading the right stuff more slowly, and not reading the wrong stuff at all.


I'm honestly struggling to see the value in speed reading. I cannot think of why I would be reading something simply for the sake of reading it without further processing

Sometimes you don't need to fully process a text, just know where in it you can find answers for any questions you might have later. For example when reading technical documentation. Speed reading is great for that.


I have exactly the same problem. I learned to read extremely early (before the age of 2), and read Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was 7. I devoured everything I could get my hands on.

I never took a speed reading course or lesson, but I cannot recall ever having subvocalized. I find myself hitting 750 wpm on speed reading tests with decent comprehension. Not great, but decent.

To use a computing metaphor, I feel like I'm reading with two threads - one to take in all the words as quickly as possible, and a second one to pick the important ones out of the stream. The first thread is completely unconscious, to the point where if you ask me to find a specific word on a page of text, I can always pick it out within 2-3 seconds.

But I feel like a greyhound, itching to run at top speed. Reading fiction is a constant struggle to keep myself chained, forcing myself to imagine the scene playing out, when all I want to do is speed ahead to find out what happens next. It's like an internal war, and it gets worse at the climatic moments.


I'm in the exact same place. I devoured fiction (especially science fiction and fantasy) in my youth (ages 7-17, including 6 full LOTR readings), but the appeal has been destroyed as I've moved into hypersonic reading speed, in which my consciousness of individual characters and ability to emotionally relate to the plot line has been decreased to the point of near non-existence.

I've recently been contemplating a re-reading of LOTR, but feel so far away from the potential to immerse myself in the universe that I have not even given it a serious try. Virtually all of my consumption is rapid reading of relatively light fare that I can consume in a one or two sittings.

The introduction of digital means has not helped me (i.e. Kindle, Kindle App), as this increases my propensity for speed, and virtually the only novels which conform to my expectations are overly long novels (i.e. Neal Stephenson) which provide enough change of pace without any particularly deep or moving characters.

Frankly, I have no idea what to do either. I also feel like a greyhound on steroids, incapable of fictional engagement if it does not come at breakneck speed.


Have you tried listening to Audio books?


Yes, but I don't like it. It is too slow. I only do it when I am forcibly on a long car-ride and driving and can't do something else.


Maybe audio books at 1.5x or 2.0x speed?


Never thought of this, but I like the idea a lot. Are there any iOS apps that allow you to speed up the play speed of your music library?


After removing subvocalization, did you have comprehension problem while reading poetry?


Depends on poetry, but definitely anything other than sing-song poetry is lost on me. Not sure about the link with subvocalication though, since I've never enjoyed that kind of poetry (causality?!?!)

Funny thing, it was at english class that I actually started noticing it. The exercise was to read against the grain and find the hidden meaning. I didnt get it until I physically read out loud.


I just realized that same thing happened to me, I attributed it to ADHD. Helps me when I am skimming through news but reading manuals or technical textsbooks is a disaster.


> You can't read without subvocalization.

While this article seems well researched, I find this claim very hard to believe. I can read while singing (not a song with words, but a tune that I know well, without words).

I really don't think I "talk to [myself] so quietly, it cannot be heard" and while my "tongue and vocal chords" may "receive speech signals from [my] brain", I'm pretty sure they're not executed and neither my tongue or my vocal chords move in any way.

(While reading in English there are some words I don't even know how to pronounce, so how could I "subvocalize" them...?)

- - -

The other point I have issues with is the fact that one should retain everything they read while speed reading. While I'm unfamiliar with speed reading classes' claims, I would argue that it's useful to be able to skim a big wall of text to

1- get a rough idea of what it's about

2- determine if it's worth a further, more thorough examination

That may not be called "speed reading", but it's certainly a helpful skill.


Exactly this.

I tried to learn speed reading and got pretty decent at it, I can still do it to an extent. In all honesty, I remembered more about texts that I speed read than texts I would read normally.

The only real difference was that when speed reading I didn't have the feeling that I know the full text, but when tested the knowledge would just magically appear out of nowhere; knowledge I didn't know I had.

Eventually I stopped speed reading because it's too much effort. Usually when I'm reading it's to relax the mind, give it a low effort activity to keep itself busy while I rest. Speed reading seemed counter productive for that sort of thing.

Also, speed reading is rubbish for fiction books. You get none of the pleasant pictures in your head and watching the book like an imaginative movie, but all of the feeling of consuming information at a breakneck pace without much time to take pleasure in it.

PS: my main issue with normal reading is that it isn't taxing enough. Especially when I'm trying to study something. Then my mind starts looking for a distraction and I suddenly realise I have no idea what I'm reading. Or simply get bored of it. Speed reading very effectivelyf orces you to focus on what you're reading (probably why I have a higher retention rate when speed reading)


Yes, when you read novels/fiction book etc. Skimming texts seems to make no sense, you read novels to get entertained. Most speed reading books etc. recommend skimming or a quick glance say before actually going to attack, while it makes sense for reports and the like, most of short readings,news and the other thing one comes across may not fit in this category


As an anecdotal counterpoint, I tend to read fiction very quickly compared to non-fiction, and enjoy it / retain it well enough for me. When I try to read most non-fiction that quickly, I usually don't get much out of it.


Same thing here. When reading fiction (and some types of non-fiction) I can do away with my internal monologue and absorb the text directly, with full or near-full comprehension. [0] With textbooks etc. I need to actually subvocalize the words for full comprehension.

I'm skeptical of the claim about subvocalization made here as well, but I'm realistic enough to know that I'm not different enough to fall outside the realms of the study referenced.

[0] My reading speed in this `mode', so to speak, ranges from 300-750 WPM, depending on how engaged I am in the material. I measure comprehension by testing myself via asking others (with a copy of the material in question) to quiz me on the content after such a reading session.


Strangely enough, I find that retention is always better (for me atleast) in casual reading of novels etc; I'm ok there with ~400-500 wpm. I do skim through reports actually, well mostly that happens when you approximately know the content so there just may be higher speeds may be achieved as you know what to expect. I think for me it is mostly prior knowledge that maybe makes a difference of 100-200 wpm


Me too. What varies my speed in fiction reading (beyond plain badly written fiction) is the level of detail the story forces my mind to create to envision it. In a fiction book I really enjoy I'll spend more time 'dreaming' it then reading.

I think another way to test to see how well someone speed reads is to have them pick out a concept out of non-indexed data. If someone speed reads beyond their ability they will skip over it, if they are not a speed reader it will take some time for them to find it.


> (While reading in English there are some words I don't even know how to pronounce, so how could I "subvocalize" them...?)

Easy, you just mispronounce it. You either break up the syllables that you can pronounce, hoping it forms the correct word, or you just read it as it would sound in your mother language.


i think this comes down to how different people perceive the world in very different ways... ways much more different than we realize.

for example, here[1] Feynman talks about being able to count verbally in his mind while reading, but being unable to speak (since he is using his 'speaking' to count). and his acquaintance is able to count visually in his mind while speaking, but isn't able to read (since he is using his 'eyes' to count).

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj4y0EUlU-Y


These sorts of quirks are fascinating; I tried it and I can count while reading, but can't talk and count at the same time. I can listen to music with words while reading, or while writing, but not while doing math or non-trivial programming, which seem to place greater demands on my parsing center.


If anybody is deaf, how can he read?


It is actually exceedingly rare for someone who is "profoundly deaf" (cannot hear at all) to learn to read. Most of the deaf people with high levels of schooling completion are people who began life hearing, or who had moderate deafness and considerable support from a family who were capable in sign language.


Having gone to RIT in New York, which contains the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, that seems a dubious claim. I lived with and went to school with a lot of deaf people, many completely, utterly deaf (no hear aids of any kind), and even took classes taught by people who were completely deaf. While reading and writing English was difficult for some (due to learning it after American Sign Language and a frequent de-emphasis of English at many primary and secondary schools that admit deaf students), being unable to hear at all was not an insurmountable obstacle to reading and writing proficiency.


Apparently those who learn a sign language as their first language think (and I would assume read) in that sign language. Rather than "saying" the words in their head, apparently it's more like feeling the motions their hands would make if they were actually signing.


That is a great response.

The next thing that entered my head is: How does the reading speed of deaf-from-birth compare to those who learned to read and then became deaf?


I had trouble with the "You can't read without subvocalization." part too.

I can't understand if by subvocalization he means moving your throat/mouth or simply repeating the words you are reading in your mind without moving any muscles.

Wikipedia says "subvocalization is defined as the internal speech made when reading a word"[1], which further confuses me.

I don't move any muscles while reading, but my internal monologue repeats the words I read, does this mean i subvocalize?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subvocalization


From your Wikipedia article: "Subvocalization involves actual movements of the tongue and vocal cords that can be interpreted by electromagnetic sensors."

Apparently the signals are very weak, but they do exist and can be detected.


I would be fascinated to hear if subvocalization (either motor signals or internal monologue) has ever been studied in the context of reading code or mathematics, if anyone happens to know.

I know I basically need to translate mathematical statements to English in my head to comprehend them -- at least the first time I see them. But I'm also not a mathematician. As a programmer, I know I sometimes do it with code -- but I'm not sure how often -- I don't know if I've ever really thought about it. I suspect I'll become a little bit more self-conscious about it now, until I find out.


I found it a little confusing too, but my understanding is that it refers to just repeating the words in your mind. When you do this, apparently the signals actually get sent to your tongue and vocal chords as if you were talking out loud, but those signals are so weak that you don't really move the muscles in any noticeable way. You do move the muscles very slightly though, and this can be detected with certain tools.


Proof that you can read without subvocalization are ideographic languages such as Chinese (especially the traditional variety), where the written text and the 'vocalization' are not directly related - it is possible to understand a passage of text based on the relation of the characters to each other and the appearance of characters themselves (e.g. the radicals used and the parts within) without actually knowing how each character is pronounced.


My personal experience studying Japanese for a few years makes me skeptical of this claim. Granted, the radicals, etc in the symbols can give you a hint of their meaning, but ultimately a writing system is created to communicate vocalized words.

In fact, many of the "hints" in the written symbols are based on words that sound similar to other words when pronounced (their actual meaning being unrelated), which is fully lost if you cut out the vocalization. As another point, most words are written with multiple symbols, and the meaning of the overall word may be rather different than the words you would get if you read the symbols individually. At that point, I don't see any difference from a word written with an alphabet like English.


You and the poster below mention Japanese as an example. I counter by saying that Japanese use of Kanji is very different than the Chinese use. I am a native Chinese speaker and have taken Japanese classes, and their vocalization in the language are very different. Japanese places a heavy emphasis on how the characters are pronounced because their language is not purely ideographic; rather they use a hybrid phonetic and ideographic system which forces the reader to vocalize sentences including the Kanji characters.

I posit that if you were a native Chinese speaker, you could skim (or speed read as claimed in the article) without any subvocalization and still understand the given passage.


Hm...fair enough. I'm still skeptical, honestly, but I don't know enough about Chinese specifically to argue with that. I do see your point about Japanese being a mixture of systems.


This is not proof.

Come back when you've hooked up NASA's subvocalization detector to a Chinese man and seen it register nothing while s/he reads.


That was my first thought too. I learned a few kanji, and it seemed magical how meaning could just appear in my head. But there is a comment[1] on Wikipedia, citing a book saying that the process is still there in full effect for native users.

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Subvocalization#Subvocaliz...


Even if you don't know how to pronounce a word, you might subvocalize (I do) using an incorrect pronunciation.


I also found that hard to believe.

When I am reading aloud, I typically read a few words ahead of what I'm speaking -- and sometimes as much as a sentence or two! It's really necessary to get the emphasis right; I like to comprehend a whole sentence (or at least a clause!) before trying to verbally reproduce it.

I find it hard to imagine that I'm trying to 'say' two things at once. Certainly, I wouldn't know how to do that on purpose.


I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.

-Woody Allen


"I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia." Woody Allen


The comments in this thread, specifically the questions about deaf readers prompted me to Google "deaf readers subvocalization", which lead me to the book "The Psychology of Reading" by Keith Rayner and Alexander Pollatsek.

I'll excerpt a few paragraphs.

[Page 191 - http://goo.gl/VLaaM]

Electromyographic Recording (EMG) records have been widely used to study the role of subvocalization in reading. [...] Generally, EMGs are also recorded from some other part of the body, such as the forearm, where muscle activity should have no relevance for reading. In fact, normal skilled readers show little forearm activity during reading, while EMG activity in the speech tract increases markedly during reading in comparison to the baseline condition (where the subject sits quietly). In contrast, deaf readers show a considerable amount of forearm activity during reading (we shall see the reason for that later in this chapter).

[Page 211 - http://goo.gl/R3NPT]

That profoundly deaf people can read at all is sometimes taken as evidence that speech recoding in normal readers is optional. However, as we have seen, they do not read very well, and the best available evidence indicates that when reading English text deaf readers recode the printed information into their native language (ASL) for comprehension purposes. Since they have not experienced speech sounds, recoding into a phonological code is precluded from deaf readers. Instead, the information is recoded into a manual form to aid comprehension. The poor reading of deaf people is thus probably due in part to inner speech being a more efficient system of recoding than overt manual gestures.

Readers of logographic systems such as Chinese can probably access the meaning of many printed characters directly from the visual representation. However, associations between the printed word and the appropriate pronunciation are activated during reading and appear to be important in comprehending text.


my theory is that subvocalization (or this sub-signlanguaging) is actually a 'memory-query' aid that the brain uses. the subvocalization of a word is a key, in addition to the printed key, that lets the brain rapidly conjure the meaning from memory. not doing this makes reading inefficient, so there is a very strong conditioning for it


In so far as I have had "success" with speed reading it has been to force myself to run over the words more quickly and so interpret the commonly seen structures as single units. This means that if a piece is written in a very formulaic style then I can get through it fast because most of the stock sentences read like single words with only the unique modifiers jumping out of the page.

Think about when you look at code and automatically chunk the bits you have seen a million times before but are somehow magically able pick out the needle in the haystack which tells you what is special in this instance. The layout of code helps enormously for us, but I find the effect is the same with reading if I go quickly and with specific purpose to reformulate the information as it is scanned. And the more you do it the better you get because you have more data to draw from when identifying structures. It gets to the point where often I want an author to be formulaic rather than stylish and idiosyncratic because it makes it much quicker to reorganise and internalise.


> Think about when you look at code and automatically chunk the bits you have seen a million times before but are somehow magically able pick out the needle in the haystack which tells you what is special in this instance.

I guess the real solution is to use a denser language?


> It gets to the point where often I want an author to be formulaic rather than stylish and idiosyncratic because it makes it much quicker to reorganise and internalise.

Hence legalese, and bureaucratese, and any number of other things that get laughed at and railed against in equal measure.


Excellent point. I rarely think of those as standardised structural conventions for clearly and efficiently conveying meaning to those acquainted with the terms and, to my shame, usually write them off as obfuscating functions to mislead or confuse. Not so!


Obviously, you get your best speeds when you're just accepting the text uncriticially. If you stop to think about it, you won't hit top speeds.

Beyond that, you can certainly train for optimal eye movement, local or global optimum as the case may be. After I took speed-reading, I knew not to look directly at the very ends of lines, and I found it more comfortable to center my eyes on white space than on actual text.

IIRC, I tested up to 800 WPM, but that was on grade-appropriate material in a high school I found easy.

(Of course, this was all in the 1970s, when what one read was black text in a familiar font in neat rows on white paper, all at least somewhat thoughtfully arranged. Things are different now ...)

My best real-life estimates of my reading speed was in the 400 words a minute range, with sub-vocalization. E.g., I have a few times read 3 novels the same day, most memorably 2 days before my PhD qualifying exams. (One day beforehand, I crammed like mad. :D One hour beforehand, I led my fellow students in the most awkward game of frisbee ever.)

But it all depends on the material, and the approach to reading it. E.g., there are certain chapter subsections of Hormander's book on Analysis of Several Complex Variables that famously take a week or more each to "read".

And yes -- I subvocalize.


"(Of course, this was all in the 1970s, when what one read was black text in a familiar font in neat rows on white paper, all at least somewhat thoughtfully arranged. Things are different now ...)"

Different how?


Nowadays one mostly reads online. Adds, adds everywhere.


I thought CurtMonash was referring to books nowadays, and I must disagree with him if he's suggesting that typesetting, book design and the quality of book production was better in the 1970s than it is today.


I'll assume you meant ads :p

As an avid user of Firefox+Adblock I don't know what you are talking about, I don't see any ads at all.

I do see a lot of terrible fonts, colors, and typesetting though.


Yes, it is possible, I do it, but not as good as I would like. You could read a book in twenty minutes as if it was a video with better comprehension that reading it slowly(as most of the brain disconnects with such a low bandwidth).

When you speed read you train your eyes to look over a wide area and you are able to read several lines at the same time and train the brain to make sense of it(use the subconscious to store-order the lines automatically).

So the best thing you could do is to control the formatting, so text is always the same size and always organized the same way, so if you force your brain to make sense of it, it does after time.

The best structure is newspaper-like text, lots of columns, small lines so your brain could make sense of entire sentences with just an eye shot.

It does not work with Hacker News, or most of the web by the way as each format is different and content is scrolled, with wide lines, not paginated.

It works really well when you could control the formatting, aka non DRM text you could interpret with your own software, but if you try to sell this software you will have problems when even blind people are not permitted to modify copyrighted text.


Wow. That was well worth a read, at whatever reading speed gives you full comprehension. The author did a good job of reading the previous scientific literature on the subject, and relating important issues to one another. He examined both historical claims (supposed world records of reading speed) and scientific claims (statements about how people read in general).

I read quite a few books about speed-reading when I was a university student in the early 1970s, putting the techniques to the test while taking courses in linguistics, foreign languages, history of technology, and Japanese literature in English translation. There are a number of good books about how to improve reading skills, with various levels of credulity about "speed-reading" claims. After my own research and experience, I have to agree with the paragraphs in the article submitted here based on more recent research:

"Ronald Carver, author of the 1990 book The Causes of High and Low Reading Achievement, is one researcher who has done extensive testing of readers and reading speed, and thoroughly examined the various speed reading techniques and the actual improvement likely to be gained. One notable test he did pitted four groups of the fastest readers he could find against each other. The groups consisted of champion speed readers, fast college readers, successful professionals whose jobs required a lot of reading, and students who had scored highest on speed reading tests. Carver found that of his superstars, none could read faster than 600 words per minute with more than 75% retention of information.

"Keith Rayner is a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and has studied this for a long time too. In fact, one of his papers is titled 'Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research,' and he published that in 1993. Rayner has found that 95% of college level readers test between 200 and 400 words per minute, with the average right around 300. Very few people can read faster than 400 words per minute, and any gain would likely come with an unacceptable loss of comprehension."

I figure that my comfortable, steady reading speed in materials on a wide variety of subjects at an upper-division undergraduate to graduate school level is about 500 words per minute, with good comprehension. I plainly don't need "tl;dr" summaries of articles submitted to HN as often as many HN participants ask for those. (To be sure, many HN participants read English as a second language, and we should admire people who come here to participate in a second language, something very few Americans could do in a non-English-language online community.) I definitely read more slowly and with less comprehension on the first pass in Chinese or in German, my two strongest languages for second-language reading, but I have read whole books in both of those languages for fun or for research. I have diminishing ability to read other languages that are mentioned in my user profile here.

tl;dr: Don't worry about fancy eye movements too much, and don't worry about subvocalization too much. Just read steadily and think about what you are reading while you are reading it for best memory of what you read and best comprehension of what the author was trying to say. Building up your vocabulary--by more reading, of course--is the best way to build up your reading speed.

AFTER EDIT: The claim in another subthread here is specifically WRONG that Chinese constitutes any kind of proof about subvocalization. I'm not committing to a position on whether or not subvocalization, as defined by throat muscle movements, always occurs in reading, but I know from the books Visible Speech by John DeFrancis (a scholar of Chinese)

http://www.amazon.com/Visible-Speech-Asian-Interactions-Comp...

and Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention by Stanislas Dehaene (a neuroscientist who does brain imaging studies)

http://www.amazon.com/Reading-Brain-Science-Evolution-Invent...

and from my own study of four different Sinitic modern languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, and Hakka) that all writing systems, properly so called, are systems for writing out speech. Writing is based on speech everywhere in the world and the Chinese writing system is full of clues that most written characters are based on the SOUND of spoken morphemes.

How you might write the conversation

"Does he know how to speak Mandarin?

"No, he doesn't."

他會說普通話嗎?

他不會。

in Modern Standard Chinese characters contrasts with how you would write

"Does he know how to speak Cantonese?

"No, he doesn't."

佢識唔識講廣東話?

佢唔識。

in the Chinese characters used to write Cantonese. As will readily appear even to readers who don't know Chinese characters, many more words than "Mandarin" and "Cantonese" differ between those sentences in Chinese characters.


> Don't worry about fancy eye movements too much, and don't worry about subvocalization too much.

I took a speed reading class back in the 80's, and it focused on these techniques. I gave up. I found that I was concentrating so much on trying to move my finger fast and not subvocalize that I lost focus on the activity at hand - reading.

I was an engineering major, and the techniques weren't practical for my academic reading. When reading fiction and non-academic work, it took the joy out of reading. What was the point of reading a novel fast if I didn't enjoy it.

For my academic reading, i did a little self analysis. I found my biggest hurdle to reading quickly with high comprehension was concentration. After 10-15 minutes my mind tended to wander. It's an endurance exercise, and my brain is no marathon runner. So instead of trying to block out an hour or two for reading, I would break it up into shorter stints and try to focus very hard.

It turns out this works out well for reading programming books. I do not want to read a full book front to back without going over to the computer and trying it myself. Otherwise, you end the book thinking you understand everything but realize that stuff way back in chapter 3 is a bit fuzzy.


> When reading fiction and non-academic work, it took the joy out of reading. What was the point of reading a novel fast if I didn't enjoy it.

Agreed. Personally, I think that if you don't subvocalize at least the dialogue in a novel, you're missing out.


Well, up until recently people didn't read silently but always read out loud even by themselves. Saint Augustine remarked how taken aback he was by someone who read 'silently.' The propensity seems to have been that all reading didn't just involve subvocalization it was actually vocalized. I'm not sure that this proves much in terms of whether subvocalization is always involved. This simply may be a result of people learning to read much later (if at all)before the modern age and have decode the words into a vocalized step to aid comprehension.

I'm not sure I follow your claim that "all writing systems...are systems for writing out speech." I agree that "most written characters are based on the SOUND of spoken morphemes" but this isn't by itself proof of how written language is processed by the brain. Certainly ideographic cuneiform counts as writing just as much as modern english. As writing grew more complex we can see a shift in every culture that started out with ideographic representation to move to a system much more dependent on morphemes. But in every case, the shift is gradual and subsumes elements of the purely ideographic writing, proving that the early ideographic writing was seen as just as much a language as the newer script that includes phonetic elements. We do after all, use a language defined by phonetic features.


All the writing systems I'm familiar with (e.g. hieroglyphics, Sumerian cuneiform, Chinese) have very limited ideographic content. Instead, a limited vocabulary of ideograms (up to a few hundred) are used to make rebuses of the words that don't have ideograms of their own, turning the ideograms into phonetics. As far as I know, this rebus principle is present as far back as we have records of people writing actual language (as opposed to, say, calendars or general ledgers).

Do you have pointers to discussion of purely-ideographic language writing with no phonetic component?


"that all writing systems, properly so called, are systems for writing out speech."

This is true by definition, at least by the definition of a "writing system" commonly used by DeFrancis and others. For the Chinese system, it is true that the vast majority of written characters are based on sound, but there are also characters that are primarily semantic in construction (e.g. pictographic, at least in origins).

The more complicated (and somewhat philosophical) question is whether or not it make sense to call something a language (or writing system) that is not based on speech, or cannot be represented as speech. Symbolic logic, for example, includes a formally defined set of symbols that represent meaning in a consistent and intelligible way. How we discuss these sets of symbols is a very interesting topic (albeit rather distinct from the topic at hand).


Well, come on. It's also true that 100% of the roman alphabet you're using to write with is pictographic in origin, but who cares?


In the case of Chinese, the pictographic properties are often retained in the construction. For example, a common radical is that of the roof, which appears at the top of this character: 安 an1 meaning peace The perception (correctly or incorrectly) that the meaning of the word is to some degree derived from its parts affects the consumption of the language in a way that differs substantially from other languages with the roman alphabet. In the particular example, all sorts of people talk about how "peace" is a woman under a roof.


I think the point is that there is nothing phonetic about an emoticon or similar items. Doesn't mean you can not "read" it. Similarly, consider the reading of a map. If you are like I am, you convert the map you are looking at into the words you'd use to describe the path you want to take. Does not mean the map is at all based on those words.


  > "Ronald Carver, author of the 1990 book The Causes of High and Low Reading Achievement, is one researcher who has done extensive testing of readers and reading speed, and thoroughly examined the various speed reading techniques and the actual improvement likely to be gained. One notable test he did pitted four groups of the fastest readers he could find against each other. The groups consisted of champion speed readers, fast college readers, successful professionals whose jobs required a lot of reading, and students who had scored highest on speed reading tests. Carver found that of his superstars, none could read faster than 600 words per minute with more than 75% retention of information.
Interesting. According to "wc" that paragraph is roughly one hundred words, and your comment from "Wow." to "Chinese)" is around 600 words. I estimate I "speed read" that at around one minute (45 seconds on a second pass) -- and 75% retention/comprehension seems about right.

I'm a bit surprised native English speakers wouldn't do significantly better -- perhaps I am a faster reader than I thought.

I normally don't read quite that fast though -- 600 words in 60 seconds definitively puts me in "skimming" territory.

I can read faster than that, and I've found some common "speed reading" techniques, like scanning a page diagonally to help -- but I only use that in order to gain an overview of text -- and decide if something looks interesting enough for a proper read through.

I don't think the technique matters much -- but like all things practicing helps -- After a year or so of frequently forcing myself to skim -- I can speed read faster than before -- but I don't know if my "proper" reading speed has advanced much.

I still often appreciate "TL;DR"-summaries -- they are usually a great indication of weather an article warrants whatever attention is needed to read it comprehensively -- and they are much easier to read than skimming a full article.


Fun fact: people don't write books or articles in Cantonese. Except like forums or chat messages.


Speed reading meets its match: 默會文言文認識論 (the tacit epistemology of Classical Chinese)


I checked the link to The Straight Dope about the reading comprehension tests they had conducted; turns out they hadn't conducted one at all. So I guess the author didn't read slow enough before writing.


I've discovered a few things about reading speed in my experience.

1) When I read fiction by good authors, I take great delight in reading their sentences, so I slow down drastically to take every word and piece of punctuation in.

2) Reading speed improves with practice.

3) Read smarter: if you don't need 100% comprehension then read topic sentences of paragraphs carefully then skim the rest of the paragraph for details you think are useful. And in news stories, they follow the "inverted pyramid" for paragraphs meaning that they're ordered such that the first paragraph is the most important, second one is second most important, etc. So you can stop reading at any time.

4) Choose a column width that suits you. A lot of time is spent on line transitions. Smaller columns makes this easier which you can control via your window size.


I read this at 800 wpm (adjust this down @ 10-20% if a test I did a while back still stands) fairly comfortably using http://www.spreeder.com/app.php. I find it very much easier to stay "in the zone" using it.


This is called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapid_serial_visual_presentatio...). After a few hours (or minutes) you start to identify the drawbacks presented in the wiki.


Yeah I should probably add, I've only used it intermittently. For whatever reason I don't find it comfortable enough to replace regular reading. It works best for articles and the like where I want to actively extract information or quickly ascertain quality.


Seems like those problems could be corrected by slowing down on the problematic words.


Speaking of speed reading, the current layout of HN is not optimal for reading. Main content width is way too long which makes of long sentences. Font size is too small - so you're forced to zoom in.

Perhaps PG could think about improving readability of the site.


I did a speed reading course when I started uni and yes it does work. A lot of stuff is bad habits - some others have mentioned, sub vocalisation, keeping your eye in the middle of the page and read with your peripheral vision, obvious stuff - don't slide your finger along the page, don't use a ruler (some do) and so on. I improved my reading and comprehension quite a lot, but find I turn it off when reading for pleasure versus reading to extract facts. It's well worth doing - even if it only increases your reading speed 10 or 20%. [edit: How to skim read was another useful tool]


"don't slide your finger along the page"

Interesting, most speed reading techniques teach the opposite and condition you to move your fingers along the page.


I did a speed reading course in high school and often wondered if it was a scam.

Not a scam, scam more a motivational speaker/Eat less exercise more style scam. If you followed it through it would work but almost no one follows through hence the course/advice becomes bunk.

For instance one thing we were taught was to first skim the book/chapter really quick then read it 'properly'

Makes sense to me, but I never do it.

People do have different reading speed levels and I don't think it's all innate so I don't think it a crap idea.

I would agree that maybe the teaching is currently more based around customers and less about pedagogy though.


When I was younger I took a reading test and scored just over 1,000 words per minute with 100% retention.

I remember reading an article that there were 3 types of readers.

Readers who sub-vocalize the words

Readers who "hear" the words

Readers who "see" words

Not sure if that's an accurate assessment, but I definitely don't sub-vocalize. If I sub-vocalized, I think would at least some general idea how to pronounce unusual character names from fantasy novels. I couldn't have even tried to pronounce most of the character names in Lord of the Rings, immediately after reading it but I could recognize the name patterns if I saw them.


I am very much a sub-vocalizer, and I have no idea how to pronounce a lot of fantasy words. What I find I do is I just don't sub-vocalize that word. I don't even think about it, I just don't have a way of pronouncing the word, so I "skip" it. Subsequently, I honestly couldn't tell you, were we to have a conversation about that story, what that word was. My comprehension of names I can't sub-vocalize is dismal compared to my comprehension of a) names I can and b) larger story concepts and whatnot that I can largely sub-vocalize.

When reading Crime and Punishment in school, I remember specifically saying, "I have no idea how to pronounce a whole bunch of stuff in here and I'm going to need to talk about it, so I'm going to specifically come up with a pronunciation." Without that conscious effort, I simply wouldn't have tried to vocalize the names whatsoever, despite that being my standard method of reading.

And to be clear, I can not sub-vocalize, but it's just... uncomfortable.


I'm just like you. I don't sub-vocalize or hear words when reading and I can consequently read significantly faster than people speak (I'm assuming most people read at this rate if they're 'hearing' words -- though I'm actually not sure).

I have the exact same experience with character names -- that's a great example.


The article claims everyone sub-vocalizes, but I have to agree that this is not possible, the brain can adapt to many types of information sources, and I'm pretty sure born deaf people can read and comprehend without any problems.

I do sub-vocalize though so I guess I'm a lost cause :)


I had always equated sub-vocalize and "hear" the words. What is the difference?


I think speed reading is most useful when you are reading some text where only parts are relevant or new to you. By quickly reading those, you can focus on the important pieces and spend more time to think about them.

Interestingly, the faster I read, the less I'm able to "filter" the information I read about, it seems almost as if my brain absorbs it directly. That means that I'd never speed read content that might contain bad memes or false information: political propaganda, religious texts, etc.

Does anyone know a good test for reading speed (including comprehension)?


This book did in fact double my reading speed in 1 hour and there are 2 nice tests in the back which can help calculate you reading speed and also comprehension

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Speed-Reading-Double-Triple-ebook/dp...


how ironic.


I've been a bookworm from early age and even though I slow down when the material is highly technical and requires better comprehension I don't find the words being repeated in my head. As a matter of fact, while reading I find that while I do talk in my head, I might summarize or ask myself questions about a paragraph (stuff like: "Don't believe. Rem. check refs", like I did a few times in this article), as opposed to repeating the words I'm reading. The only moment I find I'm repeating words mentally or sub-vocalizing is when I'm writing, and I believe I do so to get the underlying tone of what I'm writing.

When I read a novel, I tend to want to spend more time immersing in the world and the events in it. While I slow myself down in this case, I tend to make images in my head while reading and I've found that it becomes inherently harder to do if I'm subvocalizing... it removes focus from the imagination side of things for me. I don't really believe that it's impossible to read without subvocalization.

In any case, one of the tricks I use to speed read at a moderate speed (as opposed to skimming) is to black out mentally everything but the current line and process it as a whole. It works like imagining a rectangle enclosing the current line. Works wonders for me taking into account I'm the fastest reading person in my social circles.


there are plenty of books around this topic. In short there are a at least 4 ways speed reading that you use for different materials. As the other comment pointed out the 1st thing you have to do is stop vocalizing what you read, then you need to learn vocabulary so you would know all of the words without putting much thought to it.

speed reading can really be a game changer, I used to get bored of books myself, but when I can read faster the experience seem to be way more enjoyable!


But do you experience the same limits as stated on Skeptoid? Are your reading at 500-600 words per minute, with full comprehension, or even faster?


I can read pretty quickly (I've never really measured, but it takes me about a minute to read a page, which I guess is around 500 words). Depending on the text, though, there's a lot of slowing down or re-reading. I read Harry Potter pretty quickly, but "Thinking: Fast and Slow" is nowhere near at the same pace.


Yes, a lot of times speeds keep on varying. It depends a lot on the type of book that you're reading. For the rest, it's inherent abilities that assist.


I worry more about the quality of my comprehension than the speed at which I read. I"d rather take ages and get a good understanding than speed up the pace at which I read. Depth over breadth any time. In product features, in overall understanding, in capability, in testing, art, in all things life. This is akin to a get rich quick scheme, do things on the cheap, doing more with less. You can only do less with less.


I'd argue with a few points made in this article. Subvocalization can most definitely be minimized - Not removed completely, but minimized. The article brought out a study from NASA stating that there were minute muscle movements, which I would believe - but if you can minimize it to a dull effect, can drastically improve your speed of reading.

As with "fancy eye movements" as some have claimed it - Whether they have much of a help, I'm not sure. Personally I generally read with my right eye, and my left eye tails a fraction of a second behind which generally helps pick up a few details I may have missed - But I notice I have trouble with this if a page's width is too large (HN has a fairly large width and I will read much faster if I make the window smaller). Anything more than that seems as if it would be fairly difficult - But I haven't read into the various techniques.

Can you learn to read at the crazy speeds mentioned in the article? Probably not. Speeding your reading up though seems definitely plausible - At least it seems to work for me, but I can't draw a very good conclusion from just myself in the sample.


I used the coursebook Breakthrough Speedreading successfully in teaching myself the technique a number of years ago. Though all arguments here about nuance and critical thinking also were nagging in the back of my mind then, the actual reason that made me drop it was actually reading another book on an unusual technique: Relearning to See on the Bates method.

The Bates Method emphasizes that one of the worst offenders to natural vision is staring, or the act of fixing a point and relying on peripheral vision to capture a much bigger area. Relearning to See is in big part about relearning to skip, like animals do, when they constantly move their eyes and heads to scan the environment or an object. And speedreading was at odds with this, because it emphasized you should fix your vision on some center point in the page and allow your peripheral vision to gobble up the surrounding text, and you need not even do it sequentially, you should get to the point where you "understand" the image of the page as a whole. That's the bill, anyway. So I opted for natural vision (and comprehension).


As I was reading this article, I used the SpeakIt! Chrome Extension[1] with the native voice setting to gauge how fast the quoted speeds actually are.

For me, 800 wpm was about the limit of how fast I could read while still understanding most of it. That's the '4x' setting. The '2x' setting is 400 wpm, which based on the article and my experience is a good target reading speed.

It's not entirely perfect because the rhythm imposed by the text-to-speech engine is not optimal for fast reading – it pauses when you don't need a pause and powers through complex sections, but I found it an interesting exercise nonetheless.

Lately I do most of my reading by listening to audiobooks. The last two books I read, I experimented with the 2x speed setting on the iPhone. It took a few minutes to get used to, but now I can't recommend it highly enough. Now I can get through audiobooks in half the time and I've totally adjusted to the butchered sound quality.

[1]: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/speakit/pgeolalili...


Anecdotal personal stuff: I learned to stop subvocalizing in grad school. I had no idea it was a canonical speed reading strategy. I can read really fast now, with unimpeded comprehension.

Common sense stuff: The author says that scientists say that reading without subvocalization is impossible. The fact that deaf people can read is extremely inconvenient for this theory. Seriously, man?


It's funny this comes up here and now, as I am working through "How to Read a Book", which was in one of the recommended reading threads on HN recently. In HtRaB, they talk a little about speed reading, but dismiss it as mainly something that can help bring someone up to speed, ie, it is mainly helpful in a remedial sense. I think the commentary with comprehension is quite cogent (it's precisely why I'm reading HtRaB), and so therefore the discussion should turn to what to read, since time is limited. Again, I am grateful to previous threads on HN for pointing out good reads, and feel that a more considered approach to how time is spent (both in what is chosen to be done and how well it is done), rather than in how quickly something is done is most beneficial.


There's another Ronald Carver book called "Reading rate : a review of research and theory", which comes to the conclusion that speed reading doesn't work.

People can skim at faster rates than they can when reading with full comprehension, but then their comprehension will suffer. You can learn to skim, to take notes, to get quick overviews of whatever you're reading by noting things like chapter and section headings and by reading for the main ideas of sections and paragraphs.

These are all useful skills. But they are a far cry from being to read every single word in the text with full comprehension, and doing that at a significantly faster rate than normal. This latter achievement is something there is little or no evidence of.


> read every single word in the text with full comprehension

Some would say this is impossible and unnecessary.


The whole eye-moving thing is a complete waste of time and effort. The real trick to speed reading is RSVP[1], rapid serial visual presentation.

In RSVP the words or small groups of words are flashed in extremely fast succession without the need for the reader to move their eyes at all.

I use iRSVP on my iPhone to read books from my Calibre library and my reading speed has never been higher. It's not for everyone and requires a high degree of concentration, but it enables me to read and understand books much faster that I would have been able to otherwise.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapid_serial_visual_presentatio...


If you've had good luck with RSVP on your phone, I built a RSVP bookmarklette[1] a while back for reading articles on the web. I never had much luck reading with it, but it might be useful if RSVP works for you.

[1] http://qwerjk.com/force-feed


My last YC pitch was a system like this, with some unique innovations.

Do you really use the iRSVP system? Can you speak to the problems or weaknesses in your experience?


Wondering about subvocalization, what about reading in a language I never learned to speak?


I you practice reading while saying "yadda yadda yadda" in your head, subvocalization goes away immediately.


Steve Pavlina reported that he stopped subvocalizing thoughts when he did his polyphasic sleep experiments.


unless it used an alphabet you don't know how to pronounce that's impossible.


What's impossible? Reading without subvocalization? I do it all the time.


I agree with the conclusion that improving reading comprehension is the best way to improve reading speed, at least for me. There are two things I learned from my stuttered attempts at speed reading: (1) The best way to increase reading speed for me is to simply stop re-reading sentences that I already read. I do this unconsciously usually because I didn't fully understand the sentence the first time. Better reading comprehension reduces this. (2) Attempting to speed read is probably a waste of time for me because most of the material I read is technical, so comprehension is usually the bottleneck to getting through the material, anyway.


Different people have different minds/brains. My ex read so fast that trying speed reading techniques slowed him down. I read ridiculously slowly for someone who was in a lot of gifted classes. I tried speed reading techniques. I was able to read faster. I hated it and went back to my snails pace voluntarily. I read with good comprehension, but, yes, I "say" everything mentally.

My oldest son also reads shockingly fast. When I began watching him play videogames, he flipped through dialogue so fast I could not read it. I thought he was just skipping familiar parts. Nope. He just reads that fast. He has to slow down if he wants to include me.


I have 3 thoughts on speed reading

1. Speed reading fiction is about as sensible as watching movies in fast forward.

2. Speed reading non-fiction will not lead to much formation of conceptual knowledge in your brain, and definitely not the sort of rich inter-connected learning that we probably read for in the first place.

3. Speed reading where you develop a sixth sense for which parts of, say, an academic paper you should slow down and read carefully could probably be a good thing.

In general, while I used to think there was some sort of prestige attached to how much / how fast you could read, I don't think that anymore. It's how 'deeply' you read that counts.


I once heard a talk by an top government official who says she has to read a briefing book of hundreds of pages every single day from 10p.m. to maybe 1a.m. Of course, They skim a lot and they probably know a lot about the issues already but still they must read at a much higher speed than a college kid to finish that kind of reading assignment every day, right?

I know some people who read a book a day and I can't do it a week, and none of them need to advocate their reading speed. They must read a few times faster I do, I think.

Does anybody here read new texts, with no skimming and a decent comprehension at 1000wpm?


How do deaf (since birth) people subvocalize?


Studies have suggested that some do, some don't. The more deaf you are, the less likely you are to subvocalise.

Totally not an expert in this area, but I think everybody associates more than just the sound of the word - movement of lips, memories, and other senses are also involved. Deaf people can obviously acquire those 'subvocalisations' instead.

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=8PhwXf9uj1IC&pg=PA114...


Sub vocalizing is the fact or reading syllables instead of entire words at once.

Deaf could find very useful to vocalize words as they could read peoples lips and faces based on those units.

Everybody read lips and faces subconsciously, there are famous illusions in witch people hear different sounds with the same sound file depending of the video of a mouth they watch:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-lN8vWm3m0


Around 5th-7th grade, I was in advanced reading and part of a speed reading training class/experiment. It still all seems a bit odd to me. A woman came in a couple times a week with a special projector that projected a book on the screen, but using a rapidly moving light, only showed a few words at a time on the screen. Each week the light moved faster. This was followed by comprehension tests.

I read about 30% faster than most people, but I have no idea if this is really why. Was anyone else a guinea pig? This was in Central NY in the 80's.


So, whenever I think of the subvocalization debate, I immediately see this video. The basic idea was, do not presume that everyone does the same thing you do in order to achieve the same goal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL273BA8C6E484C988&fe...

In other words, I find it hard to believe a claim that subvocalization is required across the board. At least, at an absolute level.


Feynman is not talking about subvocalization in that video.

He's talking about seeing and hearing. According to psychology, humans have two sets of "short-term memorybuffers"; spatio-visual, and auditory. It is perfectly possible to do two tasks at once, as long as you use different "buffers". Like juggling and singing.

But to be able to comprehend text, it needs to go through the linguistic centre. It doesn't matter if it goes through the spatio-visual or auditory sensors. Subvocalization is created by the linguistic centre.

Simple words or numbers do not need to go through the linguistic centre. So it is perfectly possible to comprehend text and at the same time count if you "see"/"hear" text and "hear"/"see" counting. But you cannot comprehend two advanced texts at once.


Hmm... I can obviously not claim you are wrong. But I do find the difference between internally hearing something and "subvocalization" tough to distinguish.

And, my entire point was that reading is different to different people. So... it may well be that many folks can not speed read. Might even be the case that most speed readers are not as good as they believe. Still, to see the numbers in this, 600wpm with 75% retention sounds ridiculously fast and not too shabby on the retention. So... yeah?


After reading this very informative article, it occurred to me that developers of new tools that will be built upon heavily would do well to try to think of names that can be vocalized in one or two syllables. Reading the name PHP or the mouthful WYSIWYG should take longer than words such as C or Java or SCRUMM or perl if we are indeed vocalizing them. Perhaps the convention of adding www to the beginning of website names has had a substantial impact on the efficiency of web navigation?


It's really up to the text. When I read math or comuputer science papers, I have to read slowly, and a few times over, to get any comprehension, even from the non-formula prose.


I wonder if NASA has done comparative studies on native vs foreign language wrt sub-vocalization and reading/speed reading ?

It is rather well known that native language and (all) foreign languages are "stored" in separate parts of the brain (with some limited controversy over whether there exists "bilingual" people in a biological sense).

I wonder if that has an effect on how we read written text (other than that most people presumably read faster and with better comprehension in their native tongue).


Good speed reading courses and books not only teach you how to skim faster and not to subvocalize but how to comprehend and learn better. For example in Paul R. Scheele's book he teaches you how to start on a book:

read the table of contents,

then read the headlines through the book,

then speed read the book and then try to probe your comprehension, ask questions etc.

The table of contents and the probing is the most important. Teaches you recursive learning, when you first build a foundation then you fill out the details.


I also use spead reading once in a while. I can read realy fast going through large documents To be able to find something quickly I once got a huge document on my desk 3400 pages, and i had to decide if we would do that project, please try to read it. To their surprice i fineshed reading and pointed them on the hard parts of it, they never thought anyone would be able to read the entire doc in just a few hours for the deadline.


Around the point in the article describing the eye movements required for reading, I experienced a weird anxiety as I attempted to both perceive my own eye movements and consume more of the text. After a few sentences it actually became uncomfortable. Gave me the impression that implementing speed reading strategies would be dubious for me, personally.


I have this sort of problem all the time, and I wonder if it is due to a Problem. For example, if I become aware of my blinking (like if someone does the "manual blinking" trick on me ... ... damn it), then I become anxious and uncomfortable until I can be sufficiently distracted from thinking about it.

Another one is eye contact; I generally don't have a problem making eye contact during conversation, but if I start thinking about it, I become aware that I can only look at one eye at a time and, I get a similar feeling of anxiety and discomfort. I can't decide whether to focus on one eye, switch between them (and at what rate?), or stare past the person, "magic eye" style so they look like a triclops.


Hah, the triclops comment made me chuckle. And don't read too much into this, as I doubt it is at all an appropriate indicator, but I should disclose that I actually have an anxiety disorder. Particularly in conversation I will sort through conversational trees and actively analyze the dialog I am having, as it is happening.

It can be both maddening and very useful. But more than anything it makes you realize how comfortable you are with those closest to you, because all that overlaid mapping and planning fades away into actual casual conversation.

Veering far off topic now though!


Interesting. I also have an anxiety disorder, so maybe there is some relationship there. We just need someone neurotypical to chime in and tell us whether it happens to them too.


I'm surprised about the bit about the subvocalization; I always thought that brain speed was the number one limiting factor.


I have had a few workshops on speed reading at my university, and what those guys said about subvocalization was something along the lines of: We learn to read when we are about 6 years old, how do we learn this? By sitting in a classroom and reading out aloud a simple text, with the entire class at once. In this stage we start to connect reading with subvocalization, when we learn to read better the teacher tells us to 'read in our heads'. Meaning that you are still sub vocalizing. This is a limiting factor as one can (presumably) only speak around a maximum of 500-600 words per minute. Coincidentally, this is the maximum speed for which we can read with a high comprehension according to skeptoid.

I personally never thought much of the guys giving the speedreading workshops, they seemed to be acting and came across like secondhand car dealers. Their claims of comprehension with over 1500 words / minute just sound insane. The techniques however are not all nonsense, and I do believe that I have learned to increase my reading speed from +/- 300 to around 500 words per minute.

The most important lesson they thought was 'guiding your eyes'. Our eyes are not that good in following a straight line by themselves, just try to stare straightforward, and make a perfect circle with your eyes: it will more likely be a pentagon or something. When we let our eyes follow our finger drawing a circle however, it is a lot easier. Applying this to reading, simply means using your finger or pen to follow each sentence on the paper. I find it a lot faster to read that way, but I still let myself subvocalize the sentences, for comprehension. Doing this on a 500-600 words/minute rate is a lot more exhausting though, and I only use it for academic articles or textbooks.


1) Silence the inner voice.

2) Don't fallback with your eyes, just re-read the entire sentence.

I can combine two lines I've read into a sentence while reading the next two lines. It helps when I'm in an exam, or when looking for something in a Website.

I heard of people who scan pages diagonally, which makes my envious :)


Besides sub-vocalization I tend to read loudly making full use of my oral musculature. It helps me stay active, improves comprehension and retention. I am not sure if it's a bad habit or just the way my brain works. Any of you guys have same experience.


Just a shout out for forcefeed - a javascript bookmarklet that lets you read any web page without moving your eyes. I think it's incredibly helpful, even if my comprehension isn't 100%.


link? thanks


Yes, if you don't value what you read and just want to get a quick idea of it.

It's not possible for actually _reading_ stuff.

Which reminds me of the Woody Allen quote:

― "I speed-read "War and Peace". It's about Russia, right?".


Just a shout out for forcefeed - a javascript bookmarklet that lets you read any web page without moving your eyes. I think it's incredibly helpful.


Is there any good speed reading online course?


You are still looking for one after reading that article?


For a user of a speed reading CD (eye-Q), thank you for this info!


Not for me.


The text says it's been proven by NASA and several others that you can't remove subvocalization, yet most speed reader comments here go on to say "yes it works i removed subvocalization". It's obvious all these "speed readers" didn't read a single line of this article.


The article treats subvocalization as an absolute value to present a lazy argument.

Is reducing subvocalization beneficial? Is every single phrase and word important to subvocalize? Relevant questions completely ignored here.


depends what you mean by sub vocalisation - some people move their lips when they read - this slows things down. You still read the words in your head - so you could call that sub vocalisation - but don't move anything physical (throat, mouth, tongue) - that slows you down.


From the article:

Even skimmers subvocalize key words. This is detectable, even among speed readers who think they don't do it, by the placement of electromagnetic sensors on the throat which pick up the faint nerve impulses sent to the muscles. Our brains just don't seem to be able to completely divorce reading from speaking. NASA has even built systems to pick up these impulses, using them to browse the web or potentially even control a spacecraft. Chuck Jorgensen, who ran a team at NASA in 2004 developing this system, said:

"Biological signals arise when reading or speaking to oneself with or without actual lip or facial movement. A person using the subvocal system thinks of phrases and talks to himself so quietly, it cannot be heard, but the tongue and vocal chords do receive speech signals from the brain."


Maybe they skimmed it :)




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