A common question I’m asked after telling people how fast our graduates can read at the end of our courses (average of 1,200 words per minute) is are they really reading it? So I start our speed reading classes and seminars by having everyone write down their own definitions of reading. I collect them and after looking them over, I tell them that one of the most helpful things they can do to read faster is to remember their own adult definition of reading along with the one I give them. So quick–before you read any further–write down your own definition of reading (to make it easier you can write down how you know you read something). I’ll wait. …..
…………………………………….Done? OK! Did you write down something similar to any of these: I remember what it was about; I enjoyed the story; I understood the information; I learned something new; I could use it? Good! That’s pretty close to ours! Our official definition of reading is: “getting information from the source and adding it to what you already know.”* In other words if you have the information you need for your purpose, you have read it. If it’s to enjoy a story and you enjoyed it, you read it. If you need a specific fact for a client or report and you find it, you’ve read it. If you want to know who won the game and who made the most points and you learn it, you’ve read it. So, how does remembering this definition make you read faster? Well, you carry another definition of reading inside of you that was formed when you were a small child–and it gets in the way.
When you were a toddler and you asked someone to read you a story your definition of the word “read” was “tell me a story by saying all those words out loud exactly the same way you said them the last time.” (Ever tried to skip a few pages or words to get a child to bed earlier? It doesn’t work.) The word “read” meant pronouncing words out loud–exactly right.
When you got to first grade, you brought your first book home and your parents said to you, “read me your story.” You sat next to them with your book and you pronounced the words out loud to them–and you needed to say them exactly right. If you made a mistake, you were corrected. Some people, unfortunately were not only corrected but also scolded. Or maybe you were reading out loud in reading group and people made fun of you if you said a word wrong. Again the word “read” meant pronouncing all of the words out loud–exactly right. Sometimes a parent will say about their child “he says all the words right when I ask him to read to me but he has no idea of what the story was about.” That’s because he is pronouncing words–and that is different from “reading” –which is getting “meaning”.
Does this ever happen to you? You try to push your speed, but you are afraid that you “might miss something?” Do you want to make sure you pronounced every word “just right“? That’s your inner child with your earliest definition of reading getting in your way.
Remind yourself of your adult definition of reading and you’ll think about looking for and getting the meaning you need. You’ll be faster and your comprehension will be better!
* Frank Smith, a guru in the reading world says you have to know 30% of what you are about to read or it’s nonsense of noise. (Another blog will tell how to get that prior knowledge.)