Cutting out complicated cognition for quicker communication
Reading alongside a first grader is an excellent chance to practice patience. It’s not passive listening though, as she still needs help with oddly spelled words, definitions, and most importantly, the words she just glosses over. At this point, she has figured out how to guess what unfamiliar words are likely to be, but when her guesses are wrong the meaning of sentences quickly fall apart. In this sense, my daughter is at a point where she’s a lot like a speed reader, only in slow motion.
Text is taxing
Reading requires a lot from your brain. Visual centers scan and recognize letters or words. Audio and language centers are engaged, since most people conceptualize what they’re reading as an internal voice pronouncing each word. We assume we should be able to read with enough practice, but these combining these processes isn’t innate, and so the work required to make sense of these inputs can eaisly put a sort of governor on our reading speed. Even without reading, the average conversation between two people usually involves around 150 words spoken per minute. We can still understand an auctioneer speaking at 200 to 400 words per minute, but the repetitive phrasing certainly makes comprehension easier in that case. From these starting points, how do speed readers go any faster?
Speeding up with shortcuts
For the most part, speed reading aims to make the process of reading more efficient by reducing the number of variables involved. For instance, if you’re reading is limited by the speed your internal voice “speaks” each word, eliminating that voice might let you read faster. A basic way to do that is to practice keeping your vocalization centers distracted from your reading, even with something as simple as humming.
To speed up the visual side of the equation, it’s recommended that you practice not reviewing sentences already read, and keeping your eyes focuses in a small area rather than allow your natural saccades to bounce your gaze around a page. This can be aided by new tools that cycle words by, one a time, in the middle of a screen, like a fast slideshow. Your visual centers will have enough time to recognize each word without getting distracted by anything else.
Slow down or skim
The catch to all this is that these efficiencies generally come at a cost of comprehension. Reviewing previous sentences can be very beneficial if you lost the author’s line of reasoning. Allowing your language centers time to process each word helps you remember and manipulate the ideas being presented. Researchers have found that these methods lower comprehension enough that they shouldn’t be considered a full substitute for reading as much as skimming. There’s some disagreement about what should qualify as “comprehension,” but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that speed reading offers all the benefits of a more measured read.
Source: Big Question: Is Speed Reading Actually Possible? by Bryan Gardiner, Wired