I want to be a speed-reader

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A few days ago, I started looking into speed-reading as a means of gaining more knowledge in a shorter period of time. Years ago, when I was still in high school, a friend of mine had told me that one of her goals was to be able to read more quickly. She had even enrolled in a night class at a community college in order to accomplish this goal. That was the first time that it had occurred to me that speed-reading was a “thing”.

I always felt that I read at a slightly more than average speed. Heck, I even have the test scores to prove this. However, I never truly embraced how useful this skill could be. If I could increase my speed and even my comprehension at those higher speeds, I could be at a strong advantage in my studies. I know, this has probably already occurred to many of you. Why am I so slow to realized the obvious?

Laziness.

I have always been a sort of lazy individual when it came to homework or doing anything that felt like homework. On the other side of the spectrum, if I want to look up the history of spoons, in about 30 minutes, I could present you with 5-7 different sources of it’s history, tell you where and why the first spoon was made and even branch off into my own research of various other utensils. I’d say that I’m a pretty efficient learner. What I lack is the motivation.

My motivation for wanting to increase my reading speed is knowing that the price of being an English major is having to read a lot of text in a brief period of time. Not only that, but having to being able to comprehend the text fully. My goal over the next 2-4 weeks is to drastically improve my reading and comprehension speed.

To start off, my base reading speed going word for word and having full comprehension was about 350 wpm. Please note, that for this initial test I read slower than I normally read in order to have the highest comprehension rate possible. The average reading speed for most people is anywhere around 200 wpm. My goal is to be able to read and comprehend comfortably at around 900 wpm.

I started off with Scott Young’s suggestion for practicing. Within a few days I had already doubled my reading speed and my comprehension is slowly starting to match my new speed.

To quickly summarize how to practice, you simply take a book or piece of text and read it as fast as you can for a short length of time, let’s say between 3-5 minutes. You must read slightly faster than you can comprehend all of the words and time yourself. This is important. Then when the time is up you go back and roughly average how many words there are per line of text – I do this by looking at the first 5 lines and counting how many words per line (wpl) there are, then picking a number right in between the lowest and highest number of wpl. You don’t have to be completely accurate, but try to use your best guesstimate. Now count how many lines of text you read. You want to get your total number of words by multiplying average wpl and number of lines. See? You do use math in real life. Now, divide this number by however many minutes you were reading for. If you’re still confused by this, feel free to look at this e-book Scott has put together. He gives a few tips on how to improve your reading.

If you want to take an initial test, I recommend trying this free online test before implementing any speed-reading practice techniques and then retesting after a week or so. This site also offers a program that you can purchase for more similar exercises. For those who don’t want to buy a program but still want to reap the benefits of a speed-reading practice program, spreeder is a really cool free alternative. Happy reading, everyone!

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Elementary Japanese in 10 Weeks Challenge (Day 1)

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A short term goal that I have at the moment is being proficient in elementary Japanese within the next 10 weeks. I know what you’re thinking, and no, it’s not impossible. I’ve already got 2 semesters of elementary Japanese under my belt, now is the time to review and create a firm base in this language so that come fall semester, I won’t be struggling in the first half of intermediate Japan.

I chose this goal for a few reasons:

  • I need to be proficient in elementary Japanese because I am required to take two intermediate Japanese courses in the next school term.
  • It is something I’ve been meaning to do for over a year now, but just “never got around to”.
  • I needed a topic that I could see myself progress through using different learning and review techniques.

I’m sure that I can come up with a much longer list of reasons as to why this has become my new immediate short-term goal, but for the sake of progression, allow me to continue.

My first day into this challenge, I had to really look at my weaknesses. I noticed that I was a little weak in grammar, but further insight has allowed me to identify that my ultimate weakness was in my limited knowledge of vocabulary. During my JAPN 101 and 102 courses, I recalled being behind in vocabulary, but telling myself that I would catch up again later. I never did. Most questions that I failed to answer on my exams were because I literally had no idea what was being asked of me. For those of you currently learning a language or wanting to learn a language, let me give you a vital piece of advice: vocabulary should be your first task when starting out, then grammar.

Let me give you an example:

Two men were raised speaking English as their first language. Man A is well-versed in various texts and has quite the vocabulary. Man B is not as well-versed in English but still functions just fine in his daily life. One day, Man A and Man B meet and begin to converse. However, Man B finds himself having difficulty comprehending some of the things Man A is talking about.

Now, how could this be? Both men are speaking English. On the surface, both men can communicate successfully, but once you get beneath the surface, it becomes apparent that both men are not of equal proficiency in this language. Man B stopped at basic proficiency while Man A went beyond into intermediate or advanced proficiency. The same could be said of my Japanese: I functioned just fine in the beginning of my elementary Japanese course, but once I got into the latter portions of the course, I could no longer function as successfully as other students could. I knew the grammar well enough, and the things I didn’t know as well, I had no trouble picking it up as I went along. It got to a point where the readings were getting more involved and my proficiency level was staying the same.

The moral of the story? Vocabulary will help you form a firm base in your language studies.

Now, you may be wondering what it is that I am now doing to correct this weak area in my studies. This concept is by no means new to me, but it has taken me a long time to finally tell myself to get right into it. I wish now that I had done this much sooner.

For learning vocabulary or any new concepts, spaced repetitions can be your best friend.

Benny Lewis of the Fluent in 3 months website has his very own article further explaining his own experience with spaced repetition and how you can do it, too. You can go here to read more. For more about spaced repetition or language learning in general, I’d like to recommend AJATT. Feel free to check out these two sites. I’ll be sharing more in the future.

the best version of myself

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Sometimes in life you feel stuck. Simple as that. Quite honestly, I feel as though I’ve been stuck for a long time. At least since high school, maybe even before that. As a student, I’ve always felt like I was simply average with grades in the B+/C- range for honors and AP classes (that’s a A+/B range for regular classes). It was never that I had difficulty learning — in fact, I never had trouble learning a new subject if left to my own devices. The struggle occurred whenever I had to complete masses of homework for the sole purpose of credit rather than retention or whenever all of my learning was dependent upon reading and recalling entire textbooks and novels.

Believe me when I say that I’ve tried to be the type of student who sits down for hours simply reading and taking notes on what I’ve read. I’ve tried and I’ve failed. You see, I never really knew how to study. Nobody ever taught me how. When I’ve asked successful students how they’ve managed to study, they all replied with the same unsatisfying response: “Read and reread until you’ve pretty much memorized things word for word.” I like sleep. At times I even love it. These people weren’t sleeping! Every morning at 8 a.m. I’d notice them napping in the library or walking like zombies in the quad. There just had to be a better way.

Only after 4 years of being out of high school did I realize why certain things I learned on my own were much more easily retained. It was never that I sat there constantly memorizing things. I’m much too lazy for that. If I can read something over once or twice and remember most of the main information, that’s good enough for me. It’s not that I’m too lazy to learn. I love learning. In fact, I spend hours every day doing my own research on various topics that I find interesting (psychology, physiology, linguistics, etc.). For whatever reason, my brain just made connections to this information differently than if I had been forced to learn it.

Starting from now, I’m going to begin approaching everything I learn in the same way that I learn about the topics that interest me. It’s going to be a long journey of trial and error.