Improve your word power

speed writing

f u cn rd ths, u cn bcm a sec & gt a gd jb.

I’d forgotten about these once-ubiquitous ads for a speed-writing technique that threatened to knock traditional shorthand, with its infuriating dots and squiggles, into a cocked hat. I couldn’t say which method triumphed over the other or whether, very possibly, they happily co-habit to this day in court rooms and press briefings the length and breadth of Britain. But last week’s media flurry over the imminent release of a revolutionary speed-reading technology by Boston-based company, Spritz, brought the memories flooding back (or should I say, fldng bk?).

The appliance of science

The technology works on the underlying principle that experienced readers don’t laboriously decode words, instead reading them as complete units. Which, incidentally, is why most of us can manage to decipher meaning even when words are misspelled or if we can only see the top or bottom half of sentences. The Spritz method takes an ‘Optimal Recognition Point’ (OPR) – the point at which the brain recognises a word – and highlights it in red for easy reference. Each word succeeds its predecessor in exactly the same position on the screen (a display called the ‘Redicle’) so that our eyes don’t have to move from word to word as in traditional reading. The company claims that people can quickly progress from reading an average of 220 words per minute to ‘spritzing’ at an eye-boggling 1000 wpm, at the same time increasing their level of comprehension.

If I have a mind to, I can read – and write – at a rate of knots. It comes in handy when I need to absorb a large volume of background information for a new client or when I’m searching for a specific piece of data in a mountain of source material. I had a go at the Spritz exercise and although it felt a little odd, I can see how it could transform the process of acquiring information, potentially slicing a good chunk of time off a research task.

The pleasure principle

That said, acquiring information isn’t the same as reading for pleasure. While I can see the benefit in employing this system to speed up the absorption of data, I can’t imagine using the same technique to approach a work of fiction. For me, reading a novel is all about the journey, not the destination – it’s a world in which ‘what happens’ is often a long way from the full story, and, in any case, I want to take time to savour the artistry, not gallop to the finishing post like a jockey riding the odds-on favourite.

On its website, the company claims that ‘reading is inherently time consuming’; well, yeah, but what’s wrong with allocating a little time each day for this most pleasurable of occupations? I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of progress and I’m all for time-and-labour-saving gadgets (I’m looking at you, with much affection, automatic dishwasher), but speed-reading a novel would be like watching a film on fast forward: you’d probably get the gist but you’d completely miss the meaning.

Diane Nowell
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2 thoughts on “Improve your word power

  1. Hi

    Blimey this brings back memories! When it comes to shorthand – the old Pitman’s version – not sure anyone does any more. I’m hopeless at spelling /hearing so didn’t take it up but it would have been very useful. Then T line came out as a less formal way of learning shorthand – which journalist still use.

    Speed reading – we had a company come to our school in the mid 70s to introduce those who cold afford to pay some speed reading classes. It was very expensive – almost as much as the school fees! But those who were lucky enough to do it – all saw really dramatic improvements in their reading and understanding speeds. Will have a look at this new invention – would help scanning the many blogs that come my way!

    1. Funnily enough, Jacky, the speed reading thing also put me in mind of a literacy experiment in Britain in the 1960s and 70s called ITA (initial teaching alphabet) – a phonetic reading programme designed to make the process of acquiring reading skills easier by standardising spellings. You can see an example of a Ladybird book of the time here – Whilst children on the programme certainly did learn to read with greater speed and alacrity than their counterparts, there were huge problems transitioning to standard English later on and the scheme failed. The reason I remember it so vividly is that it was trialled in the primary school I attended but my mum lobbied for me to be excluded from the programme on the grounds that I was already reading in standard English and she didn’t want my progress disrupted. Am eternally grateful to her for that timely intervention!

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