Library@Kendriya Vidyalaya Pattom

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Barriers to rapid reading



There is no really insurmountable barrier

save our own inherent weakness of purpose.

— Kin Hubbard, American Humorist

You want to read fast. But there would be several impediments, mostly in the form of poor reading habits. Unless you consciously fight and overcome them, you may not be able to move forward.

•Reading word by word

This is how everyone started reading. But you have to come out of the habit and start seeing group of words, if you want to increase the speed. Also, reading word by word hampers comprehension.

Try the following sentence. Read each word aloud in the same tone, one word at a time.

The / habit / of / reading / word / by / word / is / a / serious / stumbling / block / in / enhancing / reading / speed / and / improving / comprehension.

You were slow in reading, and you failed to grasp the idea contained in the sentence.

Now try to read the same sentence as groups of words.

The habit of reading word by word / is a serious stumbling block / in enhancing reading speed / and / improving comprehension.

The logical grouping of words enhanced your reading speed and helped in comprehension. The idea contained in the text becomes clear only when you appreciate the relationship among the words. Remember, you read with the mind in unison with the eyes, and not by eyes alone. You must have noted that the tone differs from word to word when you read as word groups. A word flows into the next. There is a rhythm. Each word does not stop abruptly.


If too much of regression has become a habit, despite the reader’s fine level of comprehension, a deliberate effort should be made to get rid of it. Elimination of habitual regression is possible, if you have the will to undergo reading practice with this goal in view. If, however, the text contains too many unfamiliar words, the construction of the sentences is roundabout or the ideas are hard to follow, you may have to regress to some extent.

•Faulty reading

Many people have defective visual perception; they would read one word for another – change for charge, sail for tail, censor for censure, industrial for industrious, Rome for roam, top for pot and so on. This leads to confusion in comprehension and consequent regression, slowing down reading. If it is a case of sheer carelessness, better concentration will help. If rapid word recognition is not being facilitated, drills in recognition should be attempted.

•Defective return sweep

Check how your eyes travel from the end of a line to the beginning of the next. If they move back horizontally along the line and then vertically drop to the start of the next line, there is room for correction. Train your eyes to travel diagonally from the end of a line to the beginning of the next. This will save the time for the return sweep almost to half. Frequently check and confirm that the new habit has taken roots in your system.

•Reading aloud

This seriously affects your reading speed. Though you can think quickly, your mind has to wait till the lips and the tongue have finished the movements to read out the passage. The pace of the loud reading would be constant. You do not spend more time for assimilating a tough idea; nor do you skip an easy passage that contains no new knowledge. Further, it would be hard for you to read aloud continuously for a few hours, since you would become tired.

If you allow your lips to move for reading, you can hardly exceed the speed of 150 words per minute. A good silent reader can easily go up to 350 words per minute or more.

You get a wrong impression that the passage has been learnt, when you finish reading it aloud once; the truth may be otherwise. Making a noise is different from grasping and idea.

Sometimes a reader may not be making a sound, but would be moving the lips and tongue as when reading aloud. This form of vocalisation also slows down your reading. If you go for silent reading, you can read fast and control your reading speed to suit the difficulty level of the passage.

A careful silent reader would have assimilated the ideas when he finishes the reading. The flexibility in silent reading enables him to read fast, with the speed of reading regulated in tune with the complexity of the passage. Even skimming through the passage could be done whenever possible.

There are instances where you have to read aloud, as when you are trying to improve your pronunciation or when you are enjoying the charms of poetry.


In this, there is no movement of the lips, tongue or vocal cords. But you go on speaking to your inner self. You speak every word to yourself and listen to it. You ‘hear’ each word.

When you were learning to read, you used to hear physically every word. But that tradition should not be carried forward indefinitely. A fluent reader does not have to hear the words, either physically or in the head. He can see groups of words and grasp their meaning, without hearing them.

It is true that all would sub-vocalise at times. But that should be occasional and not a routine. If you are in the habit of sub-vocalisation, gradually bring it down, and see how you progress in increasing the reading speed. If you attempt to stop sub-vocalisation in one go, you would experience difficulty in comprehension. It has therefore to be a phased process.

•Finger pointing

This slows down the speed terribly. Though your eyes can travel fast, they are held down by the slow speed of the finger that rests on each word progressively. You can read only one word at a time. Some people move a pencil or pointer along the line of the print, as a guide to reading. No good reader should go for such a crutch.

•Head swinging

This is a habit shown even by very educated persons. They swing the head from one fixation to the next or from one line to the next. There is no need for the head to move; the eyes can travel independently. They require no help from the swinging neck. After all, the swinging will cause muscular fatigue, and force you to stop reading after a short period.

Head swinging does not add to the reading speed. Unless someone else points out this defect, you may carry on with it, at the expense of your reading speed. Change the habit through conscious effort.


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