Monday, April 07, 2008

4 Bad Reading Habits Picked up at School

This piece is guest-blogged for us by James Abela, author of X-treme Speed Reading and X-treme Creative Writing.
There are many reasons why people read and for those of you who want to sit down with a good book, relax and savour every moment, even I can confirm that you don’t need to speed read through the book! However for many of us our jobs depend upon being able to read quickly and efficiently. When I was a Webmaster I had to maintain 3000 pages and even as a hobby I maintain about 250 pages. Furthermore the average undergraduate should read 10,080,000 words per semester. (Check out my website for the calculation.) For these reasons it is imperative that you learn to read faster. Like any other skill before we start to acquire new techniques we must understand what maybe slowing us down and quite frankly rather like smoking, a lot of kids picked up some bad habits at school! So let us have a look at those bad habits and how they are slowing down your reading speed.

Reading Out Loud

Many children’s reading abilities are tested by reading out loud and this is fine if you want to test a child’s ability to pronounce the words, but it does not test comprehension and worse it can leave a nasty side-effect: sub-vocalisation (the voice inside people’s heads). I can hear it now as I type, but the difference is that I am typing as I think and a typing speed of 100 words per minute is not bad. If you can hear that voice now as you read, then I am afraid your Ferrari of a brain is being kept in gear 1. Incidentally, words per minute (wpm) is the official measure of typing speed in a minute and a word is any five characters.

Using Your Hands

Some of us were told NOT to use our hands when reading, so we were expected to track our reading by simply looking at the page. Teachers at my school were fairly abusive and regularly used to point out my so-called stupidity. In actual fact, removing your hands when reading is the act of stupidity, because your hands are a great metronome and cannot only keep track of where you are but also encourage you to speed up your reading.

Skipping to the Back

Of course teachers do not want you to read the answers in the back of the book, but that does not mean you now have to read from the beginning to the end of every book. Sometimes, reading the end first can be a tremendous help. I have a personal hatred of books that leave you a cliffhanger and you have to wait for an eternity for the next book to appear.

In-Depth Comprehension Tests

Let us not forget that many a time people need to read something at a certain level of depth. I have seen too many English textbooks that just test the depth of the learners' reading ability and never their overall understanding of the text.

In this regard, books designed for students learning English as a foreign language are far superior and ask for an overview before getting into questions that require intensive reading. Imagine reading the telephone directory line by line to find the information you need, I doubt many people would get beyond the letter ‘a’. Not everything you read needs to be read so intensively.

Once we have understood why these habits are bad for us, then we are ready to begin the journey towards reading faster, with purpose and clear understanding of the information we have digested. To find out more and test your reading speed, visit my website.

Or if you are in Kuala Lumpur for the book fair (In PWTC) drop by the Marshall Cavendish booth stand number 3156 in Hall 3 and pick up a copy of X-Treme Speed Reading. On the 13th April at 3.30pm I will be doing a presentation at the Activity Hall.
James Abela originally came from an online Marketing background, his biggest responsibility was looking after 5000 pages for ARM Plc in England. Since he's started teaching he's done teacher-training, taught absolute beginners through to advanced, IELTs and the Cambridge exams and worked for a few companies and the big names include: British Council, Ministry of Defence, New Straits Times, University of Southern California, Sanofi and DHL.


Amir said...

I am reading this book and so feel the need to point out there is a missing apostrophe in "the learners reading ability."

James Abela said...

Eeek... I will fix it for the next print... Sorry it spoiled your enjoyment.


Khairil said...

I might have picked up the first two.

Just realised that sub-vocalisation thingy.

And no wonder reading something on the computer screen much easier because can use the mouse pointer.

bibliobibuli said...

amir - one of the other of you should write "x-treme" proofreading

the subvocalising is a big problem, khairil, and english teachers continue to get their kids to read aloud in class instead of reading silently, not realising it is really holding them back. i sued to get my students to read silently with a pencil in their mouths so that if they subvocalised it would fall out!

bibliobibuli said...

the errant apostrophe has now been rounded up and tied in place, amir.
btw where was your link supposed to lead?

Anonymous said...

Well actually using your hands and subvocalizing seems kinda like the things old people do. I mean maybe one day I'll do it, but if you do it, how do you eat and read at the same time ?

And it's impossible to read fast enough to form a coherent moving picture if you read that way. It's like watching a movie where parts fill in a bit at a time, if they fill in fast, then you don't notice as much. But if you read slowly they fill in slowly, and then you get bored.

Amir said...

Ah, the link was supposed to go here.

Read a negative review of the book here.

bibliobibuli said...

how do you eat and read at the same time? that's a whole separate reading skill, just don't mark your place with a slice of tomato

bibliobibuli said...

amir - poor lynn truss is really taken to the cleaners there!

ikanbilis said...

when i went for an exchange to USA, i realized how slow of a reader i was. sophomores would read To Kill A Mockingbirg, Juniors would read Brave New World, Of Mice and Men and Macbeth while Seniors read Sophie's world - to name a few while Malaysian students read merely The Pearl and all short stories.

Personally I've been a victim and realized how low my vocabulary level was. Now, I'm reading more of Farish Noor and much more challenging book to improvise.

There is still a long way to go.

bibliobibuli said...

ikanbilis - i reckon that most malaysians leave school as what's termed "marginal readers" and don't move far beyond that in adulthood. vocabulary of course is a big hurdle.

books like "the da vinci code" and "the alchemist" and "tuesdays with morrie" and "the secret" etc. etc. are often snapped up because they are fairly easy reads, not because they are the best of what's out there.

glad you've realised you have a way to go, and hope you have fun getting there.

Naho said...

I tried to find out if I could get this X-treme Speed Reading by online book shops. But I couldn't.
Do I need to come to KL to get one?

James Abela said...

You can buy it online from the Marshall Cavendish site:

If you're in Malaysia, you can phone them directly: +60 3 5628 6822 (And of course the price will be in RM)


P.S. As an English teacher I shouldn't share this, but I so wholeheartedly agree with this BBC clip:

bibliobibuli said...

that's so funny, james. i think i might blog something punctuationish as soon as i have time

naho said...

Thank you for the information.
I guess I will ask my friend in
KL to get me a copy.

Anonymous said...

It's the success disease. People become victims of their own successes. Most authors' second and subsequent books aren't as good as their first ones.