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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.

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> 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.

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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.

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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?

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"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).

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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?

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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.

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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.

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  > "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.

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

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

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