Language Learning Tip #09


I read too slow. In fact, it is so slow, it is embarrassing!


Reading is a skill that is acquired in stages. At every stage, until you are quite advanced, I advise the same thing:

Practice reading aloud.

First, I want to say something that will most likely make no sense at first.

Many people read slowly because they are trying to read too quickly.

“What?! Then if I try to read slowly, will I read more quickly? And if I eat more, will I lose weight? And if I’m nasty to people, will I become nicer? You had better explain yourself, Tim.”

Alright, be patient, and all will become clear.
Consider reading as visual decoding. (Just as listening is aural decoding)

Observe the following stages of decoding:

  • Stage 1– Learning to associate sounds with letters. (b, c, k, l, . . .)
  • Stage 2– Learning to quickly decode the sound combinations to create word parts. This is reading at the syllable level. (ba, lo, ap, at, lip, pil, top, pit . . .)
  • Stage 3 — Putting syllables together to make words. (paper, radio, come, …)
  • Stage 4 — Whole word recognition for common “sight words”, (words you can read quickly without noticing the letters and syllables). (In English for example — on, in, you, never, like, to, would)
  • Stage 5 — Increasing your sight words from a few dozen to several hundreds.
  • Stage 6 — Increasing your sight words further while learning to see “chunks” (meaningful phrases of 2-4 words)
  • Stage 7 — Predicting the coming words and phrases before your eyes even see them.
  • Stage 8 — Reading whole lines at a glance. Your mind can be engaged in things other than reading. At this stage you can pronounce what you just saw (reading aloud) while your eyes move on to the next bit. You can evaluate and consider the words you read without stopping. You can interact with the thoughts expressed without stopping your reading. You automatically sense the emotions conveyed as you read.

You will notice from these descriptions that the powers of the mind in this area can be amazing. You may have also figured out that I do not believe you can skip any of the stages. It may seem that your classmates are at a higher stage than you are. That does not mean they skipped a stage. It means one of two things: 1) Their natural talents enabled them to get through a stage more quickly, or 2) They practiced the skill more than you did until they became proficient and were able to move on.1

So, two questions arise. How do I get the practice I need to move on to the next stage? And what is the connection between decoding the written words and decoding meaning? Those are excellent questions. In fact they are so excellent, I can’t answer them yet. But let’s think about the questions more and let’s bring what we know to them.

How can I learn to read quickly when everything I am supposed to read is difficult? Am I being asked to do stage 4 things when my actual reading level is only stage 2? What about understanding as I read? I can’t even read one line without using a dictionary. And Arabic is really different; it seems that English speakers can learn quite quickly to decode and read in Spanish, for example, without understanding anything of what they read.2 Are the stages really the same for every language? And finally, what is the connection between the advice in the first paragraph and these questions?

My answer: Sorry, I’ll see if I can address these matters next time.




  1. Of course, actually the stages overlap somewhat and one second you are back at stage 2 and the next you are processing at a stage 4.
  2. But without understanding they will grind to a halt somewhere in Stage 4.

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