June 21, 2024

F1000 Scientist

Health to Life

Six Ways ‘Thought-Units’ Can Increase Reading Power

4 min read

What if you could read two words at the same time?

…or 3 words, or 4 words, or even 7 words? Do you think that would save you time? Sure, but that’s crazy, right? No, not really-no crazier than reading 7 letters at the same time… The word ‘letters’ has 7 letters, and you probably read them all at once… without thinking of each letter. “OK, but how can it be possible”, you might ask, “to read multiple words together?”

Well, you already do! For example, compound words, such as ‘everything’ and ‘anyone’ were originally written, and thought of, as separate words: ‘every thing’ and ‘any one’. Over the years, these were combined into single words, and we now think of them as single ideas.

This same principle can be applied to any small group of words-as long as the words make up a complete and meaningful thought. You can read any thought-units as whole ideas-in just one glance. But reading thought-units is more than just a speed reading technique. It is also an incredibly more effective and efficient way of understanding text.

The Power of Thought-Units

Reading thought-units can improve: reading speed, reading comprehension, reading concentration, reading retention, as well as learning English as a second language (ESL), and help with developmental reading disabilities (DRD).

1. Reading Speed

Reading in groups of words is not new. All ‘speed readers’ take in whole groups of words at each glance. This has been known for over a century, and is the foundation of all other speed reading techniques, taught by all reading courses. Whether it’s ‘eye span widening’, or ‘eye movement exercises’, or using your hand as a pacer; all speed reading techniques rely on reading faster by learning to take in multiple words at once.

2. Reading Comprehension

Thought-units are also more meaningful than individual words. You improve comprehension when you read meaningful groups of words as a complete unit of thought. By reading whole thoughts, you are actively paying attention to the ideas rather than just listening to the words. Instead of concentrating on phonics, you are focusing more attention on comprehending thoughts and ideas.

3. Reading Concentration

Focusing on thoughts rather than words is a skill that takes practice. Taking in more information in less time means you have to make an effort to focus more on what you are reading. This ability to focus gets better with practice, and whether you’re a student learning how to focus on schoolwork, or a senior interested in maintaining mental sharpness-reading thought-units is an excellent way to increase your power of concentration. At the same time you are learning to widen your eye focus, you will be learning to sharpen the focus of your attention.

4. Reading Retention

When you increase comprehension and concentration, you will naturally improve retention, because the more you understand and the more you pay attention, the more firmly ideas will get planted in your mind. You increase reading retention because meaningful ideas are ‘stickier’ ideas.

5. English as a Second Language (ESL)

Thought-units can also be helpful for improving English fluency. Readers who are learning how to read English as a second language (ESL reading) will have an easier time accurately understanding text if they take one thought-unit at a time instead of trying to decipher longer sentences. Of course, this is how we learn our native languages when we are children; we don’t start off pontificating in long sentences. We start by communicating in short meaningful phrases, and only later do we connect these into longer sentences. The same thing applies to learning English as a second language. Reading thought-units can be a very helpful ESL activity which can help make reading in English easier to learn.

6. Developmental Reading Disabilities (DRD)

There are also many who must work to develop fluency in reading their own native language. Some developmental reading disability (DRD) courses teach students to stop and think about each phrase. Many have had success with techniques such as ‘picture-at-punctuation’ that teach DRD students to pause when they come to each punctuation mark, and to visualize what the preceding phrase meant. There are many types of reading disabilities, but all of us could improve our reading abilities by learning to read thoughts rather than words.

Learning to Read Thought-Units

Although it’s long been understood that the best readers are those who read in groups of words, it hasn’t always been so clear that these word-groups must be selected so as to be meaningful on their own. It is important to read thought-units as opposed to just trying to see more words at a time. You obviously can’t say two words at one time, but you can think one thought at a time, and that means each word-group must form a complete thought.

Learning to read thought-units takes practice, and even though some books and courses have referred to reading ‘thought-units’, or ‘phrases’, or ‘units of meaning’-until now, there was no easy way to get the necessary practice. At most, a book could supply you with a few pages of text which had been painstakingly separated into meaningful phrases. But this is an insufficient amount of practice material.

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