Friday, September 25, 2015

The Effect of a Timed Reading Activity on EFL (English as a Foreign Language) Learners: Speed, comprehension, and Perceptions

Foreign or second language students read much slower in the language they are learning than in their native language. Various studies imply that students read slower because they lack automaticity of word recognition, which divides their attention between word meaning and content comprehension. To successfully master a second language, one must be able to apply the knowledge in an appropriately fluent manner. The author’s state primary language development has received much attention over the decade, but research is lacking in the secondary language development field. Thus, the authors explore the effect of a timed reading activity in EFL students in terms of speed, comprehension, and perception, and investigate three hypothesis:

1.       Did students who received a timed reading intervention read faster than those who did not? If   yes, by how many words per minute did they increase?
2.       Did students who received a timed reading intervention comprehend better than those who did not? If yes, by how much did they improve?
3.       How did students who received the timed reading treatment perceive the intervention?

The participants in the study included 84 college students from two classes, 46 students in the first class and 38 students in the second class. The first class served as the experimental group while the second class served as the control group. The experiment class spent 15 minutes of their session on timed reading while the control group reviewed content taught the previous week. The research class met for one two-hour sessions per week, for a total of 26 hours over 13 weeks. Reading for Speed and Fluency by Nation and Malarcher (2007) was the book used for the study. To assess the effect of the study, a reading speed test was administered to both groups before and after the program.

H1: Before the research study began, the average reading speed for both were comparable. The experimental group read at 118 (words per minute) WPM, and the control group read at 124 WPM. When the second test was administered, the experimental group read at 147 WPM, and the control group read at 131 WPM. Thus, the experimental group’s reading speed increased by 25% while the control groups reading speed increased by 7%.
H2: The group with speed reading intervention gained only marginally in their comprehension score compared to the control group. No Significant difference between groups was found.
H3: The authors reported the majority of the students significantly benefited from the research class, while a small minority mentioned the texts used were too easy for them. 

The authors compared the results of their study with the results from Cushing-Weigle and Jensen’s (1996) study conducted in 1994, and found that both experiments yielded similar results. Despite many different elements between the two studies (e.g. learning context, second and foreign environment, reading materials and academic versus general), the results of the current study indicate that including a timed reading activity approximately 15 minutes a week within a normal curriculum can improve a student’s reading speed and confidence. 

The authors also compared their study with studies conducted by Cramer (1975), and Chung and Nation (2006), and noted the students in their study made smaller improvements. The author’s gave two main reasons for the different outcomes.

R1: Students only received speed reading tests once a week for 15 minutes. Previous literature shows that time distribution does affect learning effectiveness.
R2: The students compromising each group had variable reading skills, and some of the students were not able to complete the tests on time which lowered their scores. 

The biggest takeaway from this article is that the speed reading study was done on ESL students. Results from hypothesis 1 indicate spending about 15 minutes a week on a speed reading exercise will increase the subject’s ability to read words faster. This implies the methodology will likely have greater effects on students with English as their first language. 



  1. However the experiment results show obviously the efficiency of speed reading exercises, further research is certainly necessary for testing long-term results. I mean, it is necessary to learn if the contributors continue reading fast in the long-term or not.

    1. I agree with your comment Osman. To add to your assertion, I think it is necessary to consider the speed reading techniques applied in just 15 minutes. Will users need to have variation in their practice of speed reading, or will they practice the same routine every time? This would be an interesting question for the author.

    2. Osman, you are correct. After reading some of the other articles, I have come to the conclusion that speed reading does improve words per minute, but it’s a skill that must be constantly maintained. Like with all the other articles, short term improvements are researched well, long term improvements are unknown.

  2. Do you think this study accurately takes into account reading practice vs the implementation of speed reading techniques?

    Also, do you think that speed reading for ESL analysts reduces or increases analytic confidence?

    1. Shadya, the study took account of reading practice and speed reading techniques, but only for the experiment group. The authors did not go into complete detail how the reading class was employed, but results from the third hypothesis indicates an overall reading improvement for the average of the students.

      It is highly likely Speed reading for ESL students does not improve analytical confidence, at least until the second language is completely mastered. Like many of the articles mentioned in this blog, long term effects aren’t researched well, but when speed reading is constantly used, the benefits are likely to remain and thus, improve analytical confidence.
      effects aren’t researched well, but when speed reading is constantly used, the benefits are likely to remain and thus, improve analytical confidence.