All my life I’ve never been into reading books, hated it. Boring slow and inefficient method of data transfer… this is probably because I was crap at reading, really slow. I mean, r,e,a,l,l,y  s,l,o,w. Just comes with the territory I suppose.

Even though I never really considered it “reading”, I was always researching online, planning out new things, learning new stuff. The only reason I could stand this, was because most of the information was short form and to the point so it didn’t matter if I was painfully slow at reading it. It didn’t feel like I was wasting my time with a made up story…

Over the last couple of years, I found an appreciation for storybooks. Mainly because it’s one of the only things that can actually put me to sleep at night, and there are so many things to learn from a well crafted story, you just need to find the right ones, and then the time to actually read them.

I’ve found some really amazing authors and certain types of story that make you forget about reality and eventually allow you to sleep. Such as “Ocean at the end of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman and of course anything Terry Pratchett.

This last problem, the time to actually read them, was the big problem for me. It could take me weeks to finish a small book, if I tried any quicker, I would not remember a thing, this did get better after a while and a lot of practice, so now instead of being a special sort of sloth, I’m  just plain slow…

Recently, I’ve been getting into how we read and from what I gather so far; as children we are taught to sound out letters to construct the words and this is really where our reading education stops, so it’s not surprising that most of us don’t progress. When you read by Reading individual letters and sometimes words as a whole, you are limited to speed at which you can speak those sounds. Whether that be out loud, silently physically mining, or even just in your head.

When I first read about this, I didn’t think it was possible to read without saying the words in your head. After all, to me, that’s what reading is, converting the individual characters on the page into language, but this is not always the case…

The average adult reads about 300 words per minute, sadly I was reading at less than half of this… Most people read word by word, which is better than letter by letter, but still not very fast. The goal is to read quickly while retaining the information, however storybooks are slightly different, you don’t just want to retain information, you want to experience the tale. So I’ve now learnt that you should use different techniques for reading different things.

If you’re reading for pleasure (storybooks), you want to read word by word, as if you’re speaking, readily skipping back a sentence or two to really take in all information and the situation the characters are involved in. However with documents such as; reports, articles et cetera, you want to retain the key points of information without getting caught up in the syntax.

To read more efficiently, we need to read more at once, with less mental processing which in turn makes it faster. Whether you’re going from letter at a letter, word to word, groups of words, short sentences or even full lines the basic principles are the same.

Our brains have evolved to quickly analyse shapes and colours for survival, whether that’s recognising prey or even faces. However, we don’t have the ability “built-in” to distinguish between intricately detailed differences of written language and when we try to speed up the process of seeing letters, knowing the meaning, then combining those meanings together to make a word, it takes a lot of mental capacity to retain very little. You need to think about text differently, don’t see each letter, or even each word but see groups of words as shapes.

When you’re starting off, think of each word as an individual shape, its own thing, not something consisting of many other individual things. Once you’ve trained yourself to identify the majority of words by their shape rather than their composition. You’ll find you can look at text, and know its meaning without ever reading a single letter of a single word. We do this all the time, with other parts of our lives, such as logos, safety signs and even road traffic stop signs. The last time you saw road traffic stop sign, did you read it, or did you see it and instantly know its meaning?

Once you have trained yourself to recognize entire words and their meaning. You can then move onto recognizing groups of words, 2, 3, 5 words at a time and eventually entire rows of text. Nearly instantaneously understanding an entire row of text, without concerning yourself with a single letter or even a single word. However, before we get onto that last stage, we need to retrain our peripheral vision to see and understand the words without you directly thinking about them, allow your dormant subconscious to deal with the reading.

I’ve started on this path and it seems to be going well. I can now read text without actually reading it… There are many tools, to help train your brain to detect words as shapes and to train your peripheral vision.

I’ve started using an iPhone app called Acceleread. I’ll let you know how it goes.