Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Reading faster: Activities for Increasing Fluency and Comprehension


For people who are attempting to gain fluency in a foreign language, this article details some useful techniques for increasing reading speed, as well as measuring progress.


Although the average reader should aim to read approximately 250-300 words per minute, the article notes that this is about as quickly as the human visual system is capable of seeing. Anything faster than 400 words per minute begins to enter the category of "expeditious reading," more often referred to as scanning or skimming.

Non-native speakers of English often read at rates much lower than 250 words per minute. When people begin to learn English, they start by attempting to recognize the individual letters, then soon progress to immediately understanding groups of letters, and finally entire words. As learners become more fluent, they are able to produce and recognize more complex sentences, thereby increasing reading and speaking speeds.

Activities to increase silent reading speed
  •  Easy extensive reading: language learners read simple texts to increase reading speeds and fluency rather than to improve vocabulary. The article recommends learners reread texts that they enjoyed.
  • Silent repeated reading: learners reread texts multiple times and note how long it takes them to complete the reading. This method can be used to track performance.
  • Skimming: readers skim the text for main ideas in order to decide if the text requires more careful reading.
  • Scanning: readers look through the text searching for specific information, such as a date or a person's name. The article notes that it is likely more important to increase skimming speeds rather than scanning speeds, as scanning speeds have little influence on fluency.
While using most of these techniques, readers should aim to score at least 70 to 80 percent on comprehension tests. When skimming and scanning texts, however, lower comprehension rates are normal, but readers should be able to identify the big picture. Readers can track progress by using reading logs, speed reading graphs, and "one minute reading," which tracks how much of a text a person can read in one minute.

An advantage to this pursuit is that by increasing reading speeds in one language, readers can increase reading speed in other languages. However, pressure to increase reading speed can cause stress and limit enjoyment of readers. Still, reading less than 100 words per minute can have negative effects on comprehension, as rates this slow cause readers to forget words from the beginning of the sentence and forces them to reread sentences.  Foreign language readers should aim to read between 250 words per minute when reading carefully and silently, and aim for 500 words per minute when skimming.
Nation, Paul. (2009). Reading faster. International Journal of English Studies 9(2): 131-144. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.mercyhurst.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=47574612&site=ehost-live.


  1. Did the research indicate an optimum speed of reading? Was there a level at which comprehension did not improve with faster speed? If so, was there any improvement in learning the foreign language?

  2. Following on from Sam's comment - how did this apply to languages with a different alphabet. Furthermore, is there a difference between the speeds at which you can read in different languages - depending on the structure of that language?

  3. Personally, I can read a lot more faster in my local language than english. My comprehension decreases if i dont verbalize what I read.

  4. This author said that it really depends on what your goals are. If you are aiming for reading comprehension, the author said most people will not retain details above 400 wpm.

    Dean - the article did not go into details on that point, but it did say that readers whose native language uses a different script may have difficulties differentiating between English letters. For example, Thai speakers have a hard time recognizing the letters b, d, g and p, and until they attain a higher level of fluency, this causes them to spend more time reading words that contain those letters.

  5. Puru - that would definitely make sense. From one of the other articles I read, it said that verbalizing the words helps people retain the information. However, as I mentioned in my post, if it takes a person too long to verbalize the words (reading speeds of under 100 wpm), they may forget the information before they get to the end of the sentence.

  6. I'd like to see how this compares not only with other languages that use different alphabets and/or characters, but also local teaching styles. For example, Korean is one of the simplest alphabets in the world and can be learned very easily. But the rote memorization learning that is commonly used in Asian countries may decrease (or increase) the retention of the learner.

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