Decades ago, speed reading was the rage. Besides being able to cover more material with less time, a promised benefit was better retention. Does that really mean better understanding? And without truly understanding, is there better retention other than mere dates, facts, and figures?
The key to really understanding written materials thoroughly is within the building blocks of language – words. Oh it’s so obvious, isn’t it? But how often are words not fully understood glossed over and ignored? How often does understanding get twisted because a few words are incorrectly understood?
Pretty often judging from some of the comments I’ve observed from readers of well written articles online.
Words Not Understood
First, an obvious point: If you really don’t know what a word means when you’re reading, look it up! Don’t be lazy or vain. Admit there are some words that you need to learn, and don’t hold back from looking them up. Figuring out what it meant from the context is far from foolproof.
And you’ll find out in this article that there are certain physiological and mental reactions that will hinder you if you proceed past any unknown or wrongly understood words.
This is easy enough to concede if you’re dealing with a new or specialized subject. That’s what glossaries are for, unusual or specialized words. Many books have a glossaries in the back of the book for unusual words within. And you can also find them on the internet.
Then of course, there are those words that are not part of our normal conversational use. There are normal English words you don’t know too. So look them up before you continue reading! It’s easy to do on the internet by typing it into a Google search with “definition”.
But the trickiest ones are those words you think you know but don’t. The meaning you have in mind when you read it may not be what the author had in mine. With the English language, which contains words often with several meanings, that’s a common occurence. Or maybe you’ve been using that word incorrectly for years. It happens to the best of us.
When looking up a word’s meaning, find the definition that’s appropriate for the context in which it appears. Play with it by making up a couple or sentences until you make it yours. Also, within the definition itself, make sure you understand the words well. It seems difficult at first, but it gets easier with practice and as your vocabulary increases.
Signs That Let You Know You’ve Passed by an Unknown or Incorrectly Understood Word
As you read, be aware of how you are taking in the material. There are two warning signs of going by incorrectly understood or simply not understood words. The first is easy. You become hazy, foggy, or dopey, disinterested and restless. You may be tempted to give up or actually give up completely after reading by several unknown words.
The second sign is a bit deceptive. You may just be clipping along and, if you are honest and aware, eventually realize you are reading on automatic. You’re just not there as much anymore. The text, though you read on, is irrelevant or meaningless.
You’re not really imbibing and understanding it even though if you’re clever enough to rattle off some facts and figures or handle multiple choice exams. It’s simply not a part of you.
Finding the Word that Clarifies the Rest of the Text
With either of the two warning signs, the technique is the same. Go back to when you were doing well before the warning signs occurred, not when or after it occurred.
Somewhere in that immediate area, you should see a word that arouses your curiosity or perplexes you. You can begin to develop intuition with this practice. Accepting that there may be a misunderstanding or only partial understanding of a word is paramount.
Look up the word and understand which of the definitions is applicable to your reading. Use it in sentences that are realistic to the way you speak or write. Once you have it down, continue reading from that point on.
Another trick is to go back to where you were reading with understanding, and from that point read aloud. When you stumble or stammer, get tongue twisted, or experience any speech impediment, you’ve found your word.
Now you should be reading with a relaxed increase of clarity. You should feel less foggy or hazy. If you were clipping along on automatic, you should feel more that you are imbibing material and actually understanding more deeply. If not, go back a little further and dig for another word.
I urged my attention addled M-TV groomed son to apply these techniques while he was in college during 1999-2000. He protested for weeks. “Dad, it takes too long. I don’t have time for this!” But he finally gave in and tried it.
And he continued on his own. With a double major and a 19 credit hour load, in a few months he went from a C- student to a B+ almost A average.
He discovered that the word clarity process described earlier made it easier for him to maintain interest, and as he got better at it, his vocabulary improved and he was able to cover more material than he was able to before.
Soon he was able to correct both his parents misuse of words and grammar, a subject that had eluded him before he began using the word clarity techniques. It works.