Reading Faster: just don't hear or see it

12 posts / 0 new
Last post
Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture
Reading Faster: just don't hear or see it

I recently saw, then somewhat begrudgingly read, this article "Want to read faster?" when I was scanning my news reader (side bar: I use Prismatic, and it is awesome. try it.)

Begrudgingly because (1) most of these articles can being dumb or painfully obvious and (2) I am the slowest reader in the world and it pains me every time to think about it (I am also the world's worst typer too if you haven't already noticed), but I reluctantly read to see if there were any useful tips.

To paraphrase it says in order to read faster, you need to stop hearing the words in your head and imagining things in your brain.

I'm wondering

- doesn't everybody hear the words in their head? Isn't that how you comprehend and, you know, learn to read?

- my memory is photographic and my learning visual, I usually see the words in my mind and also imagine all the events. This helps me to understand and 'figure out' the book. If I took this away, wouldn't I take away my understanding. Does anyone else read like this, or did my public school really let me down?

- if you don't hear or see or say the words, what do you do? How does that affect your understanding?



Issues Pages: 
Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I tell my students that they should be working on reading slower, not faster. What's the point of reading more quickly anyway? Do you get paid by the word?

ElizaQ ElizaQ's picture

 I just spent about ten minutes reading the article and then trying to figure out how I read.  I actually had to work at 'seeing' and 'hearing' the words.  To me it felt weird to even make my brain try and do that and it most definitely slowed me down. 

I am a really fast reader. Always have been. I don't recall being taught to read a certain way though so I have no idea why.  

As to how I read if I'm not seeing or hearing or imagining.  You got me.  The closest I can tell is that when I read words I read them in concepts and thoughts.  The letters just evoke some sort of meaning and understanding without needing to focus so much on the actual words.  I could be wrong it's just hard to figure out.  The simplist thing I can come up with is that my brain just 'knows' what the letters in the form of a word and words strung together mean and I move on.  

I think it does have to do with familiarty as well.  In school when I was learning a new subject with lots of new words, biology and sciences especially I know I would read more slowly as I learned the new ones.  If I was to guess what I was doing was learning what the word form means or represents in or to get it to the justing 'knowing' without thinking and translating level.

It's been really interesting to try to figure it out.  



I was able to read this easily.  I also read very fast and have since I was a kid. I am not sure of the process I use since it is just how I read not the product of any reading skills course. I had older brothers and sisters so I was already reading when I arrived at school in Grade 1 thus I never had any help for my reading,


Take a look at this paragraph. Can you read what it says? All the letters have been jumbled (mixed). Only the first and last letter of ecah word is in the right place:

I cnduo't bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too.


Yeah, I've seen that before, kropotkin, and it amazes me every time that I can read it so quickly - pretty much as quickly as I can read text that's written properly.

Kaitlin, I wouldn't worry about the speed that you can read.  It's true that speed sometimes counts.  (And Catchfire, out here in the pink collar ghetto, where I've lived most of my life, speed of typing and reading DOES count.  Most secretarial jobs or admin jobs require you to be able to type quickly, and in order to type quickly, you have to be able to read quickly.)  But comprehension counts more.

Regarding how I read: Yes, sometimes I hear the words in my head, or at least I think I do.

But have you ever read a pun in print that you didn't "get" until you said it out loud?  That's happened to me so many times.  So maybe I don't hear the words in my head most of the time, but I just think I do (because when I'm thinking about it, I do see the printed words on the page and hear the words in my head).

I definitely do visualize images when I read, much more than the typed words themselves on the page.  But this depends on the type of stuff I'm reading and the quality of the writing.  Which is probably why I have such a problem reading dense academic crap writing.  Some academics really get off on reading and writing prose that is so packed with $10 words (where simple language would get the point across more clearly) and convoluted sentence structure that it's impossible to figure out what they're trying to say without reading the same sentence 10 times and parsing every phrase. 

It could be that those who do focus more on seeing and hearing the words in their head might do better with that kind of writing - I don't know, because I don't think I'm that kind of reader.

And I'm betting that people who really see the printed words are also much better editors than those who do more visualizing and skim reading.


Michelle wrote:
Some academics really get off on reading and writing prose that is so packed with $10 words (where simple language would get the point across more clearly) and convoluted sentence structure that it's impossible to figure out what they're trying to say without reading the same sentence 10 times and parsing every phrase. 

Some non-academics too. :)


I usually suggest to students that they need to vary their reading approaches. For example, one shouldn't read a poem in the same manner in which one reads an academic essay.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Interesting! I thought I was confusing "reading faster" and "reading slower" with "speed" and "understanding" but that is obviously not true. As in speed reading is great for getting the project down, but maybe doesn't aid in understanding -- not true as evidenced by ElizaQ! [A girl -- who I was not too found of -- in highschool used to brag about how fast she could read (a book a day!) but in reality to was skimming the pages! The nerve!] 

It is baffling to me that some people can't hear the words, I tried to just "read" and totally could not do it. As an experiment I read everything out loud and BOY did it take a long time, but my undesrtanding definitely improved (as did my coolness factor).

kropotkin1951 i've seen that as well, it has to do with your brain filling in things as well as your familiarity of words -- I think, if my psych hasn't failed me already. My grade 6 class did an exercise like that to familarize kids with dyslexia and attempt to normalize it and children who had it.

Alright, I guessed I'm doomed to being a really slow reader forever! Gah!

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

I'm a fairly slow reader most of the time. It's because I prefer to read one word at a time, so I can consciously understand what I'm reading as I read it.

The human brain is capable of reading multiple words simultaneously. This is what enables us to read "faster". At the same time though, it changes the process of understanding what we read.

Take the sentence "Joe put on his jacket, then his hat, and finally his gloves." If I read it word by word I consciously understand first that there's a person named Joe, then that he put on his jacket, then that he put on his hat, and finally that he put on his gloves. Which gives me a conscious understanding of what I read as I read it, in linear fashion. No further thought was required to know that I read what I read and that I understood it.

Now if I read all the words in that sentence simultaneously, the way my brain processes the information changes. My brain will unconsciously decide what info from that sentence to commit to my short-term memory. I can then retrieve from my brain what I committed to my memory, but I won't be consciously aware of having read the parts that my brain didn't commit to memory.

To do this reading in chunks over longer passages of writing requires that I practise it to make sure I'm able to commit enough of what I read to memory. Because if I can't commit enough of what I read to memory via this method to understand it, I'm not really reading.

Sometimes I do resort to this reading method in order to get through the piece of writing in the time available. Other times I'm piecing together enough linear concepts that I need to use word-by-word reading in order to understand it enough to make it worth my time. And often times when the writing involves linear accounts of human actions, either fictional or non-fictional, I want to be able to visualize it in my head as I read it, so I use the word-by-word reading style.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture


My understanding seems to break down on the idea of 'not reading one word at a time,' but then I just remeber my university days and the process of 'skim reading' is all too familiar. 

I guess it boils down to what you want to sacrifice: speed or understanding because seemingly they do not go hand in hand.


Howzabout speed, but then read the material several times for clarity.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

where does time factor in? More specifically a lot of time?