Two reading systems called Speed Reading and Slow Reading Techniques in Japan were featured on a segment of this morning’s rather interesting NHK Asaichi TV programme. I will go into the details of the methods as applied in Japan, and its equivalents elsewhere.

According to research, the Japanese average reading speed is 500-700 characters per minute. The programme carried out reading speed measurements and reading performance tests on an expert on speed reading, Watanabe-san. According to Watanabe-san, one may change one’s reading speed by his programme according to type and purpose of books that are read.

In the case of Mr. Watanabe his speed is 10,000-character/min when reading with firm understanding, and 20,000-character/min when reading with a grasp of the outline of the material. It is an achievable pace for a 10 minute read of a pocketbook with an understanding of its contents. With books containing a great amount of information requiring memorization, repeated by speed reading will also achieve fixed memory reading.

Various training methods on speed reading are available, Asaichi introduced during today’s programme the method of speed-reading instructor by Mayumi Go: which involved a series of exercises carried out for 6 seconds at a stretch, which are roughly as follows:

(1) focusing on using eye muscles or scanning eyes in vertical and horizontal movements or directions (about the span of a finger) by turn, and without moving one’s face;

(2) focusing the peripheral vision by expanding the reading exercise by an additional finger span of 20 cm to the left and also to the right by turns and for 6 seconds each.

Measuring reading speed – How many characters per minute can be read?

The reading exercise is carried out with speed to the extent regardless of whether one can understand the meaning of each line one reads, it is a training of the eyes in upward and downward movements (in the case of vertical writing) that is the focus of this speed reading method.

One practices for about 6 seconds before taking a rest.

The objective of training is to “see” as many characters as widely as possible [increasing peripheral vision] and it gradually increases one’s ability to do so more quickly each time. Repeat 3 times.

The training method aims to finally increase maximum reading speed to the end, and the exercises are repeated 3 times, with reading speeds measured each time.

Asaichi’s Pointers:

■ If one’s eyes get tired, stop. (One can try to carry on the exercise by removing one’s contact lens.
■ Since eyes do not get used at first, he does not do his best too much.

With one’s best efforts, the exercise should be performed around two sets per day (max 6).

It is important to continue training at one’s pace at least once a week.

With speed reading, scanning large amounts of text can be achieved. The programme introduced two methods of scanning large amounts of text.

The TV programme went on to show that there are various exercises, some found in sports, that can improve the visual abilities (related to spead reading) – including baseball batting training. I was rather amused by the clip on the lady who trained her speedy visual skills by catching falling dishes (she did prove that her reading speed was phenomenal compared to the average person’s). It sort of reminds me of the scene in the movie version of the Count of Monte Cristo, where Dantes is taught fencing skills by an old priest while in prison by training his hands to watch water drips and move his sword arm at great speed between water drips without getting them wet!

 

Speed Number Search/Scanning Training was also touched upon in the programme.

 

This training method is recommended by speed-reading instructor’s Mayumi Go

The exercise: Locate the numbers in sequential order from 1 to 25 as quickly as possible, scanning the above table chart in random lines.

Perform the exercise to the point of being conscious you are taking broad sweeping views.

It is also recommended that we make a copy of this number chart and stick it on the wall of a toilet, and to train our eyes.

When you are able to locate all the numbers under 10 seconds, you may may join and become a member of the speed-reading experts’ association.

Japanese Speed-Brain, Speed-Reading Association 『日本速脳速読協会』

Website URL: http://www.sokunousokudoku.net/  Tel: 0120-499-882 (Free Dial)

More information is to be had by following up on the subject at these  websites:

Speed Reading Gakuen 『SP速読学院』 Tel: 0120-784-005 | Braining Training Consultants Association 『脳開コンサルタント協会』 – in Japanese only.

Apart from Japanese Speed Reading techniques mentioned in the Asaichi programme, you might want to note that Speed Reading techniques have been promoted for a really long time. In my student days some two decades ago, I attended a brief Speed Reading Course which differs a little from the system described above which apparently is tailored for the Japanese character reading system, but which approximated the Princeton PX Project Speed Reading System which is elucidated at the blog “Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes” by Tim Ferriss’ who says he taught Speed Reading to undergraduates at Princeton University in 1998 at a seminar called the “PX Project”.  The PX Project, a single 3-hour cognitive experiment, that produced an average increase in reading speed of 386%.

The experiment involved test subjects with speakers of five languages, and according to Ferriss even dyslexics were conditioned to read technical material at more than 3,000 words-per-minute (wpm), or 10 pages per minute. This amounts to one page every 6 seconds. By comparison, the average reading speed in the US is 200-300 wpm (1/2 to 1 page per minute), with the top 1% of the population reading over 400 wpm.

Ferriss explains in the blog, how Speed Reading works:

“You do not read in a straight line, but rather in a sequence of saccadic movements (jumps). Each of these saccades ends with a fixation, or a temporary snapshot of the text within you focus area.

Untrained subjects use central focus but not horizontal peripheral vision span during reading, foregoing up to 50% of their words per fixation (the number of words that can be perceived and “read” in each fixation).

As a general rule, you will need to practice technique at 3x the speed of your ultimate target reading speed. Thus, if you currently read at 300 wpm and your target reading speed is 900 wpm, you will need to practice technique at 1,800 words-per-minute, or 6 pages per minute (10 seconds per page).”

Speed Reading techniques and exercises have formed a core part of the curriculum of the Shichida Academy in Japan for very young kids (0-7 or 8 yrs or so). (Read more on the Shichida method, at Dr Shichida’s “spy-kids” school.)

It seems self-evident, that if one is able to read a lot faster, one could cover a great deal more ground, more books, get a lot of studying or more research done a lot quicker and more efficiently.

However, it is also self-evident, that we neither need to nor want to read everything at top speed. Some books are meant to “savoured”, enjoyed like a good wine, and with atmospherics. Some works provoke thought or require analysis.   As the article Speed Reading Learning to read more efficiently | Why learn to speed-read? says:

Speed read as appropriate – not everything that you read lends itself to speed-reading. Legal documents, the draft annual report, or even the letter you received from a loved one in the mail are better read in their entirety, sub-vocalizations and all. If you need to understand the message completely, memorize the information, discuss it in detail, analyze it thoroughly, or simply enjoy the prose the way the author intended, then speed reading is the wrong approach.  Reading has to be done in environment where external distractions are at a minimum…

Having looked at Speed Reading, we turn our attention next to the Slow Reading Technique.

***

The Asaichi programme also examined a reading method that seems rather odd in opposition to Speed Reading Techniques, the Slow Reading Method. Although a clear definition does not exist, slow reading involves not reading a specific book quickly, but requires repeated readings, savouring the whole book slowly, and deepening one’s understanding or expanding one’s knowledge and interest.

The programme spotlighted the Slow Reading method that is the famous brainchild of Takeshi Hashimoto (who is 99 years old today) whose exercises and lessons involve the “Slow Reading” of the paperback entitled “Silver Spoon” over a three year period. Takeshi Hashimoto’s method or reading system is rather famous because it has been and is currently in use by Japan’s topmost ranking private high college-prep boys’ high school, Nada High School in Kobe, which has produced many luminaries of society, and the reading system is featured in the two books below:

The style of the Nada School language teacher, Takeshi Hashimoto and the tradition of the miracle classroom” 『奇跡の教室伝説の灘校国語教師・橋本武の流儀』(小学館 Shogakukan)

奇跡の教室 エチ先生と『銀の匙』の子どもたち (“The Silver Spoon and the Children of Miracle Classroom Teacher Mr Etchy)

Echisensei

The Slow Reading Method was also adapted and is used by the Meiji University department of literature’s full-time lecturer, who goes by the name Ito-san and who authored the book  奇跡の教室 エチ先生と『銀の匙』の子どもたち (“The Silver Spoon and the Children of Miracle Classroom Teacher Mr Etchy).  Ito’s slow reading program involves the parallel reading of two or more books, and involving the liberal use of a pen and post-it tags and margin notations. See a translated excerpt of Ito from “”The Silver Spoon and the Children of Miracle Classroom Teacher Mr Etchy”  奇跡の教室 エチ先生と『銀の匙』の子どもたち

The Silver Spoon Class

A high school teacher used to teach Japanese with only a paperback for 3 years. Class with what would be a lifetime sustenance for students, it’s the hope he had and it changed the private high school from just a fallback private school turning it into the best high school all over Japan having produced countless leaders…

After reciting a passage from the book, the teacher smiled gently and took out a paper bag. Students’ eyes glowing, wondering what was in it. They were red, blue…many-colored candies.
He gave them out to the students and told them in a didactic tone… ‘I’m going to read this passage again. Please listen to it, it’s OK to eat them while I’m reading.’The passage he recited was the scene the main character ate an candy at a store.
‘As I bite and broke up the red and blue striped candy, making a noise “Kokkiri”, it…’

One of the students murmured, ‘Normally the sounds you make when you bite and break up candy are “Pokin” or “Pakin”, but for sure “Kokkiri” gives me rather sweet and gentle taste image of the candy.’

This is how his class went on. Japanese class with no textbook. Reading the paperback ‘Siver spoon (Gin no saji)’ for 3 years taking sidetracks.

It was Takeshi Hashimoto who conducted this unprecedented teaching style. He is 98 years old now. He had taught for 50 years and left Nada high school at 1984. It passed 27 years since then, however ‘silver spoon’ class still is oft-old tale as the legendary class.

What was taught by teacher Hashimoto to his students? He told them,

‘”It’s back bone of learning.” Whether you have comprehension ability makes difference for understanding other subjects. Math, physics, any subjects – when you step into it deeply and approach to the core of the theme, that’s the ability. In other words, it’s the ability to live.’

Not using any texts, sidetracking on every single word, there was a confusion amon the students as it can be imagined easily .

One of the student asked,
‘If we keep up this pace, we couldn’t finish 200 pages’

Teacher Hashimoto told in a calm tone shortly after looking over the class.
‘Speed is not important. Things becomes useful in short time, they would become useless in short time too. Anything, start from anything you get a little interest and grow up that interest, dig into deeper and deeper by yourself. What you find in that way will be your lifetime treasure. You will know it one day.’

– End of excerpt and translation, read more at withahatindoor.blogspot

The above books attribute the stellar academic ability of Nada High School (灘高校)‘s students to the tradition of using Hashimoto’s Slow Reading Technique in school. The Hashimoto Slow Reading Method is said to be highly effective in putting any mediocre private high school student onto the success track of entering the top-ranking public University of Tokyo of Japan. Around 1,000 students are said to have received lessons and graduated using the legendary Hashimoto method or reading system peculiar to the Nada School which has a consistent same-teacher for its students for 6 years. Many of his graduates are luminaries of Japanese society.

The Slow Reading Lessons  involve the reading of a 200-page paperback over a 3 year period.  The ultimate aim in Hashimoto’s instruction is said for each student to learn to be able to read a book thoroughly. The instruction requires practice in slow reading in which a student has to “dasen” to digress or stray from straight reading path. The aim is not to read through a book quickly, but to revert repeatedly to earlier pages, thinking about, “tasting” or savouring each and every page that is read. To find out more about the other techniques described by Ito-san, refer to his book “Slow reading which causes a miracle” 『奇跡を起こすスローリーディング』(日文新書)

What is to be found on the subject of Slow Reading outside of Japan?

It appears that there is “Slow Reading” is a new method and movement that has come to be seen as an antidote to short attention spans of this wired generation, see Mark Bauerlein’s “Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind: Slow Reading Counterbalances Web Skimming”Chronicle of Higher Education 54(31) (19 September): B10-B11 (2008). Read John Miedema’s study Results of a Search on Voluntary Slow Reading.
In Chicago Parent’s August 2010 edition, its “New method of ‘slow reading’ to help kids love the written word ” article tells readers:

“Want your kids to read more? Try “slow reading.” The concept, promoted by Thomas Newkirk, professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, suggests that students get more enjoyment out of and have greater success with reading when they slow down.

Here are Newkirk’s strategies for slowing down and savoring the written word with your child… they appear to be elements similar to the Hashimoto Slow Reading technique:

  • Memorize. Memorization is often called “knowing by heart” and for good reason. Memorizing enables us to possess text in a special way.
  • Read aloud. Even older kids can appreciate a human voice animating the words on a page.
  • Read poetry. Poems demand a slower pace and usually several readings-and are best when read aloud.
  • Savor passages. Kids know something adults often forget-the deep pleasure of repetition, of rereading, or of having parents reread, until the words seem to be part of them.”

I believe that both Speed Reading skills and Slow Reading skills have their uses. Speed reading skills can be a real help especially for university students who read subjects that require heavy readings, like Literature or Law. Which is why I think it would be highly practical in a high school classroom situation to take Hashimoto’s Slow Reading technique a step further, and combine his exercise with that of Literary Analysis or Literary Criticism lessons (see “Guidelines for Writing a Literary critical Analysis” | Literary Analysis: Using Elements of Literature | Elements of the Contest | The Language of Literary Analysis

And finally, even though this sort of Slow Reading isn’t exactly the stuff of the Hashimoto Method, the excerpt below provides an amusing take on how to read slowly AND ACTIVELY … can be found at “Read texts actively & slowly, before & after class

Read it, SLOWLY;

IF you do not understand it, THEN

BEGIN (* if *)

re-read the previous material, SLOWLY;

re-read the incomprehensible sentence, SLOWLY;

IF you still don’t understand it, THEN

ask a fellow student to explain it;

IF you still don’t understand it, THEN

ask your Teaching Assistant (TA) to explain it;

IF you still don’t understand it, THEN

ask me;

IF you are in an upper-level course & you still don’t understand it, THEN

write a paper about it (!)

END (* if *)

END; (* while *)

Posted by Aileen Kawagoe