Thursday, May 8, 2014

No need for speed when you read

Over at Language Log, Professor Julie Sedivy of the University of Calgary writes about speed reading. I've always been a fast reader (if I want to slow down, I just pull something off the shelf that isn't in English). I remember being told in first grade that I couldn't have finished the in-class reading assignment yet (and so I started reading everything twice).

Of course, there's no prize for getting to the end of War and Peace, and if you're not going to understand or retain any of it, there are better things to do with your time. And that, according to Professor Sedivy, is the problem with speed reading apps. She looks at one called Spritz.
Spritz provides a new-ish twist on the same speed reading promises by creating an app that streams text within a small viewing window one word at a time, at speeds ranging from 250 to 1000 words per minute. (The average reading speed is about 250 words per minute, though this varies dramatically across contexts and individuals).
She sees the problem as this:
One difficulty with the Spritz method is that the speed at which a word can be read depends on a great many factors other than the length of the word or whether it appears at the end of a sentence. The frequency of a word matters, as does its predictability in that particular context. The complexity of the syntactic structure in which it appears can also affect how quickly it can be processed.
The app is designed to limit eye movement, though Professor Sedivy says that
far from representing a wasteful activity, eye movements provide readers with a tremendously useful tool for language comprehension.
Now if they come with an app to increase my comprehension and retention, I'm ready to talk. Or at least read.
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