Reading in English can be tough – especially if it’s not your mother tongue. It’s easy to get stuck on words you don’t know which can really slow you down.
In order to read quickly and effectively in English, it’s important to develop your skimming and scanning skills. Skimming is when you read through a text very quickly to get the general idea of what it’s about, and scanning is when you look through a text to find a specific piece of information.
Use these five tips to read faster in English by building your skimming and scanning skills:
Set a time limit
Got a smartphone? Use the countdown timer on it to set yourself a time limit when you read something for the first time. Start out at 30 seconds per 100 words. This is a great way to force yourself not to get stuck looking up words you don’t know. When you know there is a time limit, you’ll have to focus on the key words and phrases that you do understand in order to get the overall meaning of a text.
It’s important to set a time limit for both skimming and scanning so that you don’t get stuck trying to read all the detail in a text. Set an even shorter time limit for scanning (just a couple of seconds per paragraph) because when scanning, you need to be more disciplined about only looking for the key information you want to get from the text.
Try and think up an alternative title
The title usually provides a big clue to the main idea contained in a piece of writing. If you’re practicing your skimming technique as above, try covering up the title, reading the text with a time limit, then guessing what the title would have been. If your made-up title is similar to the actual one, you’ve understood the main point of the text correctly.
Work out what information you’re looking for before you read
This is a tip for scanning. If you’re looking for information in a text, such as the answer to a particular question or something you need to find out for your own research, make sure you know what you’re looking for first. Is it a number? A date? A name? Or maybe something even more specific than that? When you know what kind of word or expression you are looking for, you’ll be able to ignore the information that you don’t need.
Highlight bits to come back to later
When you are skim-reading with a time limit, there may be interesting words that you just don’t have time to guess the meaning of from the context. It’s important not to let these words slow you down but if you do want to add them to your vocabulary, just highlight or underline them as you read, then you can come back to them later and either guess the meaning or look them up. Underlining or highlighting these words means you can forget about them while you continue reading, safe in the knowledge that you will be able to pay more attention to them later when you read the text again.
Start looking for your key words from the bottom of the text then work up to the top. This only works for scanning but it’s a great way to read faster because it forces you not to focus on every individual word and just look for the words that will give you the information you need.