Game On – Need For Speed or Speed Racer?

By definition reading is the action of a person who looks at and understands the meaning of written or printed words or symbols. But there is much more to that than meet the eyes. Nuttall (1996:2) believes that not only does reading comprise decoding, deciphering and identifying words, but it is above all an opportunity for learners to draw meaning from the written text.

Reading is a significant area of development in a language, either native or foreign, as we are surrounded by words daily. Unfortunately, some teachers are of the opinion that reading takes care of itself and relegate it to a skill not worthy of attention on its own. To make matters worse, reading in class is traditionally considered dull in the sense that is a solitary activity that can be done at home. However, reading comprehension does not seem to take care of itself without any aid or teaching. It is a skill that should not be ignored, but instead should be included as a critical and systematic part of the syllabus.

  • Is reading a skill in isolation?

No language skill, either receptive or productive, should be dealt with in isolation in class. Reading texts hold an awful lot of language, information, and topics among other things that can lead to speaking and writing. Thereby, it would not be wise to engage students in a reading task and move along after it is finished without connecting it to anything in the lesson. On the contrary, I fully agree with Brown (1994:283) when he states that ‘reading ability will be best developed in association with writing, listening and speaking activity. Your goals will be best achieved by capitalizing on the interrelation of skills, especially the reading-writing connection’.

Being reading an important strand that is interwoven with the other three skills – speaking, listening and writing, it is, therefore, of paramount importance that the teaching of reading as any other skills should be dealt within integrated-skill approaches that foster foreign language acquisition.

  • Reading Proficiency

According to the behaviourists, all learning, being it verbal or non-verbal, takes place through the same underlying process – habit formation. A highly effective way of enabling learners to enlarge their command of language is through reading systematically and widely. However, the role of reading should be seen as a means to an end and should be incorporated purposefully into the teaching–learning process as a whole.

In order to maximise the learners’ reading competence it is useful first to consider the abilities underlying reading proficiency – grammatical, sociolinguistic, discourse and strategic competences.

  • Reading Fluidity

Fluid reading is not just a trick you can use to look somehow impressive. In fact, for some it’s a necessary tool for time management and gathering information in this hectic world we live in. And, for others, specifically learners, it seems to be the way through heavy-going reading materials.

A trained speed reader is able to face a lengthy or a dense text and use their skimming skills (reading for the most important info) to get at the core of the subject. Without developing the ability to speed read, this time-saving technique is merely browsing through pages quickly. By the same token, speed readers are be able to scan through a text to spot specific pieces of information, infer meaning from context and make sense of it.

Increasing the rate at which you read text is closely linked to increasing the rate at which you make sense of what you are reading. Hence, it is fair to say that successful fluid reading is increasing one’s understanding of the text as they increase the rate at which they eye the words. As the saying goes, there is no such a thing as free lunch and to reach fluidity in reading a substantial amount of training and practice is required, however, one should never fret at the idea of a good-stress challenge. Instead, take natural yet solid steps to develop speed reading. The instant these skills are mastered, they will stick with you for good.

It comes as no surprise that schools are seeing to the teaching of English phonics and phonetics due to the fact of sheer irregular spelling and pronunciation English has. As a rule, we start learning to read letter by letter, with the alphabet and the specific sounds each letter makes. Then, we learn to group up and blend letter sounds to decipher words and, later on, recognise words without having to sound out each letter, which will lead to larger and longer stretches of the target language. According to Prof. Keith Rayner UC, San Diego, on average, a child will achieve the rate of 200 words per minute, whilst a well-trained fluid reader may reach up to 1.000 words or more per minute. Bearing this in mind, it is a foregone conclusion that with systematic practice common words and sentence structure tend to become more familiar and because our REM might increase the reading spectrum from few words to at least twice, thrice as many words in a stretch of written language. Consequently, the gap between average readers and speed readers is in the blocks of words they eyeball at one time. The larger the blocks, the faster our eyes move through the text.

  • The Next Step

I will take it as read that the notion that reading is one of the most important keys to education success is agreed, but what is actually happening to standards? Are our learners really being taught to read?

As I see it, fluid reading will definitely teach you how to take comprehension to a higher level of understanding. In addition, the techniques to be employed when teaching speed reading focus on one’s agenda, say, where a learner stands in terms of reading quality and what might be holding them back in terms of progress.

It is often said that reading aloud is one factor of preventing progress in terms of speed reading and if you are into moving your lips, speaking or whispering while reading, you are prone to slow yourself down. I choose to disagree with this fact on the grounds that we are extraordinarily good at breaking paradigms. Hence, should we be able to read at least two or three times faster than we can speak, so it is only fair to say that we can develop our speaking fluidity in order to break this mismatch between need and offer that is the core difficulty of learning to read and reading to learn. After all, music is there to back this up.

That said and done, having the strategic competence to read fluidly can play a significant role in your life as well as the way we grapple with ideas and concepts, especially if reading is a strong component of our work. What is certain is that by implementing some simple techniques will get our learners reading faster and more efficiently faster than we can fathom out.


  • Brown, H D – Teaching by Principles – An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy (Prentice Hall) 1994
  • Grellet, F – Developing Reading Skills (CUP) 1995
  • Halliday, M A K and Hasan, R – Cohesion in English (Longman) 1976
  • Harmer, J – The Practice of English Language Teaching (Longman) 1997
  • Lewis, M and Hill, J – Practical Techniques for Language Teaching (LTP) 1995
  • Nuttall, C – Teaching Reading Skills in a Foreign Language (Heinemann) 1996 (new edition)
  • Richards, J C – The Language Matrix (CUP) 1994
  • Scarcella, C S and Oxford, R L – The Tapestry of Language Learning – The Individual in the Communicative Classroom (Heinle & Heinle) 1992
  • Scrivener, J – Learning Teaching (Heinemann) 1994
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Adriano Zanetti

Adriano Zanetti – BA in Letras, Post-graduate in Language Teaching Methodologies, RSA Dip. DELTA. An educator for 30 years, an ELT consultant/teacher trainer at A2Z English Consultancy, a teacher/trainer/coordinator at FISK São João del Rei and Cambridge Assessment English Speaking Examiner. A Pronunciation SIG member responsible for Pronunciation courses for teachers/students. Presented several times in LABCI/ABCI conferences, Braz-Tesol Regional/National Chapters and different institutions in MG. /

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