Friday, September 25, 2015

Speed reading courses and their effect on reading authentic texts

Speed reading courses and their effect on reading authentic texts: A preliminary investigation 
John Macalister

This study is just a preliminary investigation into speed reading and the effect it has on those who are attempting to gain reading fluency in a foreign language.  The article states that reading rate is one of the four dimensions of reading fluency.  The others are automaticity, accuracy, and prosodic structuring. The article also considers fluency in reading to be vital to the enjoyment of reading and for long term success in mastering a foreign language.

There are three principle approaches to increasing reading speed according to the author, these are easy extensive reading, repeated reading, and speed reading.  Extensive reading is accomplished by assigning a large amount of material that is not challenging in content to the reader.  A set duration of time or number of pages read can be assigned to ensure that proper volume is achieved.  Repeated reading involves reading the same passage over and over again either silently or aloud.  Speed reading training in the authors words, “usually consist of a set number of texts of a fixed length, written within a restricted lexicon, followed by several multi-choice questions. The presence of the questions encourages learners to read the texts for understanding”

The question of whether or not reading gains made during a speed reading course are maintained when switching to material not designed specifically for speed reading is central to the remainder of the article.  The author refers to these normal texts as “authentic texts”.  The study conducted to test this involved four classes of a university preparation course at a New Zealand university.  The author is the first to point out that methodological rigor was not the focus, rather it was on getting the ball rolling on the topic.

The results of this study show that overall taking a speed reading class overall improved the student’s ability to read authentic texts fluently in a foreign language.  The author draws these conclusions in conjunction with earlier texts:

1. Students who take a speed reading course will likely increase their reading rate.
2. Participants in a speed reading course tend to show greater gains from the beginning of a language course to the end than those that don’t.
3. Students that take a speed reading course are likely to get quicker at reading authentic articles by both the end of the speed reading course and ultimately the language course as a whole.

The author of this study is his own biggest critic.  He points out that, ”the small size of the sample, the lack of comparability between the two groups, and the use of only one measure of reading speed transfer,” are all limitations to the study.  I agree with him that this is a topic deserving of further study.  It would seem that recommending speed reading to all students of a foreign language is premature since most of the speed reading students who got worse were from the same class.  This is just points to the greater rigor required by a more professional attempt at such a study. 

Macalister, J. (2010). Speed Reading Courses and Their Effect on Reading Authentic Texts: A Preliminary Investigation. Reading in a Foreign Language, 22(1), 104–116.


  1. It seems the main problem the author encountered was that the benefits from speed reading could not be maintained, or as the saying goes, “use it or lose it”. The conclusions I gained from your article is that speed reading is a skill that can be developed, but the benefits will be lost when one stops practicing. This implies the students who showed a decrease in reading speed likely did not follow the program due to their own reasons, or as the author concluded, may have been caused by a teaching variable. Nonetheless, I find your article interesting as it highlights problematic areas associated with measuring the long term benefits of speed reading.

  2. Studying speed reading with EFL students seems to be a less-than-optimal method for testing this technique. I did not see what level of fluency these students have in English, but if it is anything other than the highest level, I think comprehension should be emphasized over speed. I believe that speeding through texts may make the students more confident readers, but is unlikely to increase their proficiency in the language.

    1. Andrew, I completely agree with your assessment in regards to using EFL students as the subjects. Based on the reading it seemed as if though the author was already in the EFL teaching profession and was interested in seeing what speed reading could do for it. This is opposed to him trying to advance the state of knowledge about speed reading for the general public.

    2. I think the complexity of the foreign language is also an important factor to consider. In Chinese, like most languages, one character (word) or part of a character can give a sentence a completely different meaning. Completion and comprehension, I think, are more important than speed in a foreign language because what is the point of reading something if you cannot comprehend or retain it?

  3. I agree with Andrew in how this technique was applied to fluency in a foreign language. Ideally, this would be applied to the participants' first language as comprehension of a foreign language can require much more thought from the participants' perspective as it requires a different set of skills in comprehension outside of understanding a first language. The addition of speed reading could then reduce comprehension on the participants' part. The students who improved and those who got worse may have had differing results if the technique was applied to their first language. Nonetheless, it was still a valuable read.

  4. I agree with both Oleg and Andrew's thoughts on this article. I believe it was also valuable to see the weaknesses of this technique as many of the other articles highlighted the strengths. I also agree that testing this technique with EFL students was not the optimal way to test the effectiveness of speed reading due to the comprehension aspect of it. I think a certain level of fluency is necessary for speed reading to work. Even so, I found the article to be an interesting read since it applied this technique in a different way. I also appreciate that the author took it upon himself to critique his work as I feel that that is a very important part of being a good researcher and critical thinker.

  5. I think one weakness is controlling for natural reading speed. In such a small sample size it would be good if possible to separate the naturally fast readers prior to training.

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