- Why The Way We Read Sucks, And How To Fix It: Part 1
- Why The Way We Read Sucks and How to Fix It: Part 3 — The Unified Reading Process
- Why The Way We Read Sucks and How to Fix It: Part 4 — Why SRS Personal Development Books?
- Why The Way We Read Sucks and How To Fix It, Part 5: Examples Shown and Questions Answered
There’s so much I want to say on this topic. But it would take too long to put it all together, so I’m going to do what we always do here at AJATT — give it to you piecemeal.
As with everything on this site, the advice here is just based on my personal experience. I’m not an expert. Take what works, leave what doesn’t — the overall principles matter more than the minutiae of technique. Your mileage may vary and all that (then again, I am quite confident that it won’t vary by that much — otherwise I wouldn’t be writing it, eh lads, eh?).
Also, an interesting thing happened. While I originally intended this advice to be specifically directed towards languages we suck at (i.e. early- and mid-stage foreign languages), I soon found that it applied just as well to reading languages where we have native-level skill. Yay!
Anyway, first, a little bit about:
The Sucky Way We Read
By “how we read”, I mean “how we are taught to read in school”. Fortunately for me, growing up, I did a lot (indeed, most) of my reading entirely outside of the school framework, so for a long time I wasn’t “infected” as much by the school disease — at the very least, I was asymptomatic for many years.
But over time, it did get to me as well. So much so that I had to reach back into my childhood and reflect on what I had been doing outside of school, why it was so much fun, and why it worked so well, in order to get my then-stalled reading habits back on track (in the early years of my adult life, I went through a stage where I was basically not doing any reading, despite having a strong desire to read and a history of reading).
The style of reading that is typically taught and/or encouraged in school is all about:
- Hitting every single word.
- No change of pace or shifting gears.
- No skipping unless teacher says so. Any self-directed skipping is “cheating”, and is to be punctuated by feelings of guilt and remorse (aren’t these, like, synonyms?).
- Zero or severely limited choice in terms of start time, stop time and duration.
- Zero or severely limited in terms of reading material, with no option to change after initial choice.
- The order in which the book is written and presented is the One, True and Only Correct Order. You have no right to permute it or ignore it. You earn the right to read page p+1 only after perfectly reading page p.
It’s no wonder that so many adults never pick up another real book once they leave school. If you’d never ever been allowed to set or change the channel on your TV, and never been taught that you even had the right or ability to make such a judgment call, then you’d probably hate TV, too — no matter how many “TV-worms” (think: bookworm) told you that TV was the shizzle and that there were tons of great channels and shows out there.
The above is a style of reading that is, on the surface, well -suited to an early-stage student. After all, does someone who can barely read or who barely knows the subject matter at hand, really have the ability to decide where and what to skip? (Actually my answer to that is “yes”, but, school’s answer tends to be a resounding “no”).
Why How We Read Sucks
My guess is that the core reason why this reading style came about in the first place is because, at one time, in many parts of the world, there simply weren’t that many books, period. So, reading one book a year was fine, since you only owned one book and maybe had access to a few more. Oftentimes, the books in question were these massive, dense, metaphor-laden sacred texts, which probably do lend themselves to a special style of reading (then again, judging by how few people of any religious persuasion actually read sacred texts, perhaps these too could benefit from techniques like those I’m intending to share).
Of course, things have changed. A lot. At least in terms of the number of books available. But in most schools and classes, the reign of tyranny of a single source of information continues. Moreover, the semi-compulsive behavior of reading (or, attempting to read) every-single-word-on-every-single-page-so-you-get-exactly-what-was-said-and-don’t-miss-a-single-thing is exacerbated by the earnest student’s fear of “missing” something that might be “on the test”. In fact, many tests are designed to reward this one-tree-matters-more-than-the-entire-forest type of reading.
There’s just no sense of priority; everything becomes equally important. It’s as if the Pareto Principle never existed. Indeed, some people might argue that that was the point: it is said that most school systems in the world today are based on a design that aims to produce compliant, docile factory workers — people who unquestioningly obey pre-made decisions, not people who make them. Those who go on to be managers get let in on the secret that most decisions are arbitrary, but people lower down on the ladder are to be left in the dark, believing that the pre-made decisions are absolute, based on the perfect or near-perfect knowledge of their elders and betters (“experts”, “superiors”), and carrying all the weight of divine decree.
OK, social engineering, blah blah whatever. Let’s not get too worked up. The deeper problem is that to force yourself to read everything is to force yourself out of your growth/true-comfort zone and into either your boredom zone or your panic zone (both of which are places where you are just going to…wait for the pun…”zone out”).
This leads to stress. Stress makes you forgetful: short-term memory gets pwned. No short term memory → no long-term memory. No long-term memory → no learning new information. No new information → less intelligent choices, far less brilliant flashes of insight. Less intelligent choices → more stupid choices. In short, the way school typically teaches us to read, makes us stupid. As in, Republican Gilmore Girls the end of Prison Break running out of cheap jokes stupid. The phrase “dumbing down” starts to take on a whole new meaning..
And now that we’re done complaining and making sweeping judgments and dubious historical references, it’s time to talk about how to fix the problem! But for that, dear children of the AJATT, ye shall have to wait for the very forthcoming sequel to this article — part deux! Wherein shall be demonstrated reading techniques that can help you have more fun reading any language, including Japanese.