Steve Moidel has a point. "When you learn to read -- going back to first grade -- your attention span is at its very worst. School is still a new and frightening experience, and you're trying to learn the skill most important to the rest of learning."
Mr. Moidel is president of Allstate Speed Reading Schools, which is owned by Western Research Institute. He's been teaching speed reading for almost 20 years and has built up steam on the subject of reading quickly and well.
"Reading is a skill that has to be developed," says Mr. Moidel, whose new book, "Speed Reading" (Barron's, 1995) has just been released.
Until schools catch up to this fundamental fact, Mr. Moidel and other speed-reading teachers like him will work with adults who do realize that increasing reading speed increases one's productivity and ability to function efficiently at work and home.
Fortunately, training such as that provided by his book, classes and videos, as well as others like his, can help readers overcome the six impediments to faster reading over which average-speed readers stumble. (Average speed is in the 150- to 300-words per minute range, with about 250 words per minute being most common for reading material that isn't technical.)
Mr. Moidel says it takes practice, but most people can greatly increase their reading rate, even double or triple it, by being aware of the following problems and the solutions to them. He provides a beginner's tip for each to get you started.
* Unconscious regression is rereading words or lines already read without wanting to. This is a function of how the eyes work, which is in very jerky, sporadic motions, not smoothly as we tend to think. This causes us to unconsciously lose our place on the page and eats up about one-sixth of the average reader's reading time, or 10 full minutes an hour. Solution: Even though your first-grade teacher told you not to, use your finger, a pen or pencil eraser to guide the eyes along the line.
* Slow recovery time refers to the time it takes to move the eyes from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. We spend about one-third of reading time doing this, or one hour out of three. The eyes must be trained to move more quickly back and forth. Solution: Keep that finger moving across the line as above, but practice making the finger move very quickly from the end of the line to the beginning of the next one.
* Word-by-word reading is another elementary practice better left at school. We don't think word by word, says Mr. Moidel. We think in units -- tall brick building is one thought, not three words. Solution: Take in groups of words that equal a single thought by visualizing that image and move on. We can fixate only four or five times a second. Instead of fixating on only one word at a time, take in four or five thoughts.
* Lack of concentration is due to brain boredom. Reading word-by-word is a real snoozer for the brain. If it's not being challenged properly, it wanders to find something to do and you end up daydreaming. Solution: Read in units, as described above. Give the brain more to focus on, and it will stay with you.
* Subvocalization, or pronouncing each word inwardly as it's read, is the major reading problem in limiting reading speed. People tend to read only as fast as they talk because they pronounce each word inside their heads. Solution: It's impossible to eliminate that inner voice -- it's too ingrained -- but disciplining oneself to not pronounce the structure words -- a, the, of, etc. -- can increase speed.
* An inadequate vocabulary can cause readers, especially word-by-word readers, to stop in mid sentence. On the other hand, speed readers have learned to read in units, so they will probably get the meaning of the word from the context of the thought they've taken in and keep on reading. Solution: Start by learning common prefixes and suffixes to understand how words are formed and use the standard tools for improving vocabulary.
Have you developed a time-saving technique you think could help others? We'd like to hear about it. Next month, we'll begin a series of periodic Time Saver columns that will share reader tips so we can offer some solutions to your professional, home or leisure time-management problems. Please leave your name, city residence and daytime phone number when you call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6220 after you hear the greeting.