Speed-Reading Apps


The recent publicity of speed-reading apps (and the recommendation of Mr England) made the astounding(ly dubious) claim that anyone can read War and Peace in nine hours or so. However, seeing as I spend an inordinate amount of time in Beijing taxis, finding a way to read on my phone and tablet caught my attention.


Speed reading (also known as skim reading) is an essential skill, especially with non-fiction texts. The average college graduate reads at about 300 words per minute (WPM). The average person reads between 120-180 WPM when speaking outloud. The key the speeding up your reading, apparently, is to get past the vocalisation of words so that the reader processes meaning, rather than sound.


Current speedreading apps do this by flashing one word at a time onto the centre of a screen at a preset speed. I have found my classes able to comfortably cope with a speed of 250WPM, with some able to cope with 300+WPM.


This style of reading is not for everyone: the repeated flashing of words onto a screen has been described as ‘a word splash’ that can be initially overwhelming. Also, traditional speedreaders (like Mr Pryer and myself) normally read by taking on groups of words rather than single words. Therefore, it is definitely a different type of skill. However, after only a few minutes of a relatively fast speed (such as 500+WPM), your brain begins to process groups of words and retains comprehension.


Apps that allow you to do this (that are free) are Outread and Spreed. Both require you to input content in from the internet. For this purpose, I also use ReadQuick (a paid app). In all cases, you need to have content from a website. For this purpose, you could convert an .epub book for text using free software like calibre, and post to a blogger webpage (or any similar website). I hear it is possible for some less-than-ethical-types to do this Kindle books for personal use, but there are very many classic books that you can use for free on Gutenberg press (more than can be read than your time in China!).


One considerable benefit of these speedreading apps is the social aspect of them: it is possible to create and share highlights of books (as it is with Kindle books), as it is to track your reading in both terms of time and amount of words read. For able but reluctant readers (of which there are always surprisingly many!) these benefits might prove to be a boon.


There is no way that e-reading will make paperback ‘real’ books obsolete, especially with fiction. For starters, you cannot happily drop a tablet into the bath, nor read it easily on the beach. In addition, digital content will also become harder to keep with file upgrades over the coming decades (although modern books might also degrade relatively quickly, too). The truth is that different types of reading are needed for different types of tasks, and for your child to be ready for the world ahead, they should be experienced in all types: both digital and non-digital, both fiction and non-fiction.