You Can Improve Your Reading
YOU can see the sights of ancient Rome. You can “walk” with patriarchs of old—men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You can ascend a lofty Himalayan mountain peak, or stand before thundering waterfalls in Africa. You can watch a stealthy jungle cat, or gaze at distant stars and planets. Yet, while doing so, you need not travel farther than your favorite easy chair. A whole world of adventure, mystery, romance, humor and instruction can be yours—if you are a good reader.
Unfortunately, though, about a third of earth’s inhabitants above the age of fifteen years are unable to read and write. Doubtless, for this reason many of them feel severely limited. After all, there are many things to read—books, magazines, newspapers and street signs, to name a few. But even those who are literate should be able to read relatively fast, with ease and good comprehension. Otherwise, how can they learn things in school, follow written instructions at work or read at home with pleasure and benefit? So, we may well ask, How can one improve reading ability?
The road to adventures in reading actually starts at home. Naturally, slang, incorrect grammar, poor word choice and slovenly speech will not build up a person’s command of language. And you must know a language well if you are to read it skillfully.
In some homes, little or no reading is done. But, if you are a parent who wants your children to develop interest in reading, you may desire to gather the family together regularly to read aloud. The Bible is the best book for such oral reading, for it is rich, not only in language, but in story content and instructive principles. Incidentally, the Bible’s first book—Genesis—contains the absorbing story of creation and also tells about the lives and faith of such men as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
A recent item in the Chattanooga News—Free Press discussed the remarks by an Ohio school superintendent to the effect that “Jehovah’s Witnesses’ children . . . are the best readers in the school.” Explaining the reason for this, the article pointed out that “the Witnesses attach great significance to Bible-reading.” The Witnesses believe that their hope for future life is tied in with reading and applying God’s Word. The writer concluded that, with such motivation, “you’re very apt to be one of ‘the best readers in the school.’”
What and Where to Read?
Publications abound today and it is not likely that you could or would want to read everything published in your language. “To the making of many books there is no end,” says the Bible, “and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” (Eccl. 12:12) Not all literature will upbuild a reader and refresh his mind. Just as the food you eat affects your physical state, so the mental food you take in will influence your thinking. Therefore, be selective. You might ask, Is this book worthy of my time and consideration? Will that article be upbuilding morally or spiritually? You may be able to tell at a glance that, for your own good, your attention should be turned elsewhere.
What you are reading can have a bearing on where you will read it. A newspaper, novel or relatively light material might be read while you are traveling on a train or plane. More weighty information may require the solitude of a private room or study.
By all means, cultivate interest in what you are reading. Concentrate on it. Of course, if you are to do that, you may find it inadvisable to sit in the most comfortable chair that can be found, with music playing softly in the background. After all, you want to read, not sleep. Silence and an upright chair, with the book or magazine resting on a table, will probably be much better. In his study, Emperor Franz Joseph reportedly had two desks. He sat at one of normal height, but when too tired to work while sitting, he worked at a high stand-up desk. This does not mean that you need two desks. To concentrate, however, you should assume a posture conducive to reading, not sleeping.
Reading Efficiency and Eye Movements
If you feel that your reading can stand improvement, there are some points that may help you. For one thing, you might consider your eye movements. When you are reading, your eyes do not move smoothly across the page. Rather, they stop several times to focus or fix on a line. Then they sweep back, to the beginning of the next line. A slow reader’s eyes stop often on every line, perhaps seeing only one word, or merely a syllable, each time. Obviously, the messages sent to his brain are disjointed.
A person can read faster, with greater comprehension and pleasure, if he reduces the number of visual stops or fixations per line. Why not practice a little? Endeavor to read phrases or word groupings. See if this does not increase your reading speed and comprehension of the thoughts expressed by the writer.
Regression merits consideration too. This is the bad habit of rereading many words, instead of making one’s eyes move forward steadily. Regressions slow you down, fatigue your eyes and hinder comprehension. If you miss something, do not backtrack. It is better (and probably will take no more time) to read an article again. If you have a sense of urgency, a desire to make the best use of your time, regression will be discouraged.
Occasionally, the most skillful readers regress because a writer’s line of reasoning eludes them, or the message received by the brain seems garbled or unrealistic. “Once, on a plane trip, I was reading a magazine article by Pearl Buck,” wrote Cornelia Otis Skinner. “In a moment, one of those enchanted sentences caught my eye. It went: ‘At dawn we set forth in sedan chairs whose poles rested on the shoulders of barebacked Chinese beavers.’ How extraordinary! I thought. The Chinese beaver must be a good deal larger than ours, and is obviously capable of being domesticated. At that point, the plane went into one of those inexplicable shudders, which jolted me into losing my place. When I found it again, I realized that Mrs. Buck and her party had been carried by Chinese bearers.”—The Readers Digest, May 1972.
Vocalization—Good or Bad?
Generally, you will not want to regress. But there is something else to avoid, if you are trying to read rapidly. Certain persons read to themselves rather slowly because they vocalize. They may whisper or move their lips, tongue, vocal cords or throat muscles, actually saying every word to themselves. Others do not make these audible sounds or physical movements, but they still say every word to themselves, “hearing” each word individually in the mind. With persistent effort and by reading word groups, one can eliminate vocalization and thus increase reading speed.
Yet, vocalization is not always amiss when reading privately. Joshua of ancient Israel was commanded: “This book of the law [of God] should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful and then you will act wisely.” (Josh. 1:8) Reading in an undertone means saying the words to yourself in a low voice. This impresses more indelibly on the mind the material being read, for you see and hear the words.
What About a Course in Rapid Reading?
At this point, you may be wondering whether to study a book on rapid reading. That is a personal matter. Likely, such a publication would urge you to eliminate regressions and vocalization and take in several words with each fixation of the eyes. It might also suggest that you not permit your eyes to rest on the endings of long words (such as “-ly” in “fundamentally”). You might be told that words like “and,” “in” and “she” hardly exist for skillful readers. Such readers just speed along, surmising certain words and word endings.
In silent reading, do not let the idea of speed dominate you, however. It is not always vital or fitting. If you have planned to spend an evening reading a good book, you may want to take your time. You may be studying, with the object of remembering significant points. And you should not try to read everything with lightning speed. A novel might be read rapidly, but a lengthy memorandum at work may require concentration and a different pace.
When You Read, Think Actively
In any case, remember that reading should not be a passive activity. Author W. Somerset Maugham, basically a slow reader, wrote disparagingly of persons who “read with their eyes and not with their sensibility. It is a mechanical exercise like the Tibetans’ turning of a prayer wheel.”
Think actively while reading. Analyze the author’s statements, agreeing or disagreeing. Ask yourself, What is the writer’s theme? How does this paragraph support it? Am I expected to do something with this information? What should I do?
Take time to pause and meditate on the material being read. Dedicated Christians appropriately do this while reading the Holy Scriptures. Why? Because they wish to remember Bible accounts. They desire to apply Scriptural principles in life. And they want to be able to answer sincere inquirers. Says a divinely inspired proverb: “The heart of the righteous one meditates so as to answer.”—Prov. 15:28.
When possible, visualize what is taking place. Mentally see the terrain, the roads, the people. Note how men and women are attired. Hear the voices of happy children at play. Smell the bread baking in an oven. Relive the scenes. Then your reading will be an adventure, for you will be able to see an ancient city, ascend a lofty mountain, marvel at the wonders of creation or associate with men of great faith in God. In fact, why not open your Bible soon and begin reading its first book, Genesis? Therein you will witness Jehovah God’s mighty acts of creation and can walk with godly patriarchs of ages past.