100 to 200 Words per Minute: Slow Readers

If you read between 100 and 200 words per minute, you’re considered a “talker.” Talkers do one of two things when they read: they either move their lips to sound out the words they’re seeing or internally hear their own voice reading to themselves word for word. This is called subvocalization.

The fastest you can read while talking word for word is 240 words per minute. Speed talkers may hit 400 words per minute, although they are an elite group.

Many times this speed is a result of how you learned to read. If you learned phonetically, you’re probably used to sounding out the words, either with your lips or mentally whispering, hearing them in your head, and then comprehending them. It might have been important when you were learning how to read, but when you are a fluent reader, you no longer need to say and hear every word you’re reading.

Phonetics is a method of reading that breaks down language into its simplest components. Children learn the sounds of individual letters first and then the sounds of letters in combination and in simple words. Some know this method as the “look and say” method of reading.

Subvocalization is the learned habit of reading word for word, either mentally or physically. It is also sometimes referred to as mental whispering.

You may be thinking that all you have to do to read faster is to zipper your mouth and cork your ears, but unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. Do know, however, that you can learn to reduce the talking just by speeding up your reading. Throughout this book, I offer specific suggestions for reducing the talking. But for now, just know that the faster you read, the less word-for-word talking you can do.

The following video is a short speed reading course prepared for you.

200 to 300 Words per Minute: Average Readers

If your reading speed is between 200 and 300 words per minute, you’re considered an average reader. Average readers definitely do some internal talking, like the slower readers, but they also do some of what the above-average readers do. This is the most common group for those readers who have not had any reading training since elementary school. But being “average” is not something to be ashamed of! Doctors, lawyers, economists, and other professionals read at this speed. And they have so much to read! Imagine if they could double or even triple their speed.

300+ Words per Minute: Above-Average Readers

Above-average readers clock in at more than 300 words per minute. They have naturally figured out how to read more in less time by reading groups of words, or thoughts, instead of one word at a time. They don’t decode every word, which enables them to subvocalize much less than slow and average readers do.

how to read faster

If you ask an above-average reader what strategy they use to read more than 300 words per minute, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell you … until now. Most likely they haven’t been taught to read like this; they probably figured it out on their own.

A person needs two things to speed read successfully:

• A solid sight vocabulary (the ability to see a word and immediately understand what it is and what it means).

• A beginning reading speed of more than 100 words per minute Don’t expect as dramatic gains in speed as someone with a starting reading speed of more than 100 words per minute and a good sight vocabulary. Work at your own pace and comprehension level.

700+ Words per Minute: The Excellent Reader

Reading at 700 words per minute or higher is an incredible starting point. It means you already have command of the other speeds (assuming you know how to slow down!) and already get through your material quicker than most. You already know what it’s like to move your eyes fast over words and generally trust your brain’s ability to comprehend at this speed.

Raising Your Reading Speed Comfort Level

We all have various comfort levels. How comfortable are you in a crowd of people? How comfortable are you on an airplane? How comfortable are you speaking in public? How comfortable do you feel driving fast? 70 miles per hour? 85? 110? What about 210 miles per hour, the speed many race car drivers travel? You might not like going that fast, but racers have learned to drive at top speeds because they’ve raised their comfort level.

How do you raise your reading speed comfort level? First, you need to learn how to be uncomfortable! I call this your discomfort zone.

You know you’re in your reading discomfort zone when you get an uneasy feeling when you’re trying something new. Most new speed readers feel it the first few times they try to read fast and realize their comprehension isn’t what it should be. This uneasiness is expected, necessary for the learning process, yet temporary. When you learn the new strategy, you reenter the comfort zone at a higher level.

Speed reading is about using reading strategies and also about having a speed reading mind-set. It means believing you can read faster and you will read faster. It means not being overly concerned about comprehension at first, but knowing that it will follow when your eyes become adept at picking up information in a new way.

If you find yourself in your discomfort zone and want to re-enter the comfort zone with faster speeds under your belt, here are a few ideas:

• Practice, practice, practice! Practice on everything you read: e mails, magazines, books, newspapers, and all other daily reading tasks.

• Remember the gear shift. You don’t always need to read in overdrive. Sometimes third or fourth gear is sufficient.

• Teach others what you know. When I travel, I read. And when I read, I typically use a pacing technique that involves using my hands or a card. Inevitably someone asks me what I am doing. When I show them, they are pleasantly surprised and thrilled, which reinforces that what I’m doing really works.

• Don’t compare yourself to others. Your reading abilities are yours and yours alone. You are out to achieve your personal best, not compete in a race.

• Know that you are normal. In almost every speed reading class I teach, someone wants to know if what they’re doing is “normal.” My answer is always “yes!” However you interact with these strategies is normal.