Friday, October 26, 2018

Reading Speed Improvement in a Speed Reading Course and Its Effect on Language Memory Span

By Thi Ngoc Yen Tran, Vinh University, Vietnam &
Paul Nation, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

This paper examines the relationships between English as a foreign
language (EFL) reading speed, reading comprehension, and memory span by looking at the comprehension scores and language memory span results. Reading speed is generally thought to be associated with reading comprehension, however experts are still arguing if this is true or not. Nicholson and Tan argue that poor readers benefit from rapid decoding training and suggested that, in children’s first language, oral reading, speed increases facilitate comprehension. However, research found that speed and comprehension are not competing components in second languages performance. Speed and comprehension have a supporting relationship by speed promoting accuracy in comprehension and accuracy is one of the indicators of fluency development.

For their study the authors used the book “Asian and Pacific Speed Readings for ESL Learners” by Millett, Quinn and Nation, an adapted version of Quinn and Nation, was used for the speed-reading course. They used 116 first-year students at a university in Vietnam. These students were then split into four groups, A, B, C, and D.  The participants in Groups A, B and C were English majors at the university. The participants in Group D were non-English majors. The students were required to take a vocabulary test to qualify for the study. All groups also took a pre- test on reading other types of texts and memory span. Following that Group A and B took both the speed-reading course and the usual English program.

Their findings showed that both Group A and B made average increases of at least 50 wpm after the speed-reading course. The authors found that 62% of the participants increased their comprehension level, 20% of them kept their comprehension at the same level and only 17% had their comprehension scores decrease. The table below shows the break down of percentages based on groups.

Memory span was improved in all groups between pre and post tests. There was a slightly larger increase in the groups that had done the speed-reading course, however increase was not significant enough to draw a conclusion. The data did show that the larger the speed increased throughout the course and on other types of reading, the greater the improvement in memory span.

I think the authors did a nice job at setting up this study. They were very detail oriented and measured their findings in several ways to confirm the findings. They also were able to sort of measure the human error on this topic. I think it would have been interesting to expand the study to people who’s first language is English to see if there is a significant increase in memory span. Also, comparing the effects of speed-reading between people who’s first language is English to second language would be interesting to see if there is a larger increase in words per minute.


  1. "The data did show that the larger the speed increased throughout the course and on other types of reading, the greater the improvement in memory span."

    This is interesting in comparison to other articles posted here. Researchers found that accuracy or comprehension decreased as reading speed increased. I wonder if there was some content based difference in the experiment design. Did the authors suggest this finding as unusual or of any significance?

    1. Harry, in their study the authors tested only people who where learning English as a second language. All groups, except group D, were enrolled in formal English class. This could be a flaw in the study because their memory span in general could be increasing. Group D had an increase in memory span, however they did not take the speed reading course. When learning a second language in general word for word does not translate. So there is already a sort of skimming involved. I believe that's why their findings were different from other studies.

  2. I agree with your critique, I would love to see if this study is applicable to those whose first language is English. I can say that I am surprised that the study results showed that EFL readers memorized more content the faster they read. Maybe they focus on certain words to help memorize a statement or information, I know this is something I do when reading in different languages, including English.

    1. Chelsie, I agree with your last statement. They are learning the language as they are learning the speed to it. I think that is why the memory span is developing more as well.