I’m getting this question so often now. Somehow people like to gauge reading level by speed. So many parents are so in a rush to have their child reading faster.
You can’t just force them to read faster.
You can’t just force them to read faster.
You can’t just force them to read faster.
I’m not sure if I need to repeat that again. Imagine someone told you to read faster when you were in school. How would you have felt? You would probably be thinking:
- How do I think about things when I’m reading so fast?
- I can probably speed read but then understand nothing.
- There’s so much vocabulary there’s no way I can read faster.
- I AM reading the fastest I could. WTF?!?!?!? (ok, not from your child of course)
Now you have to ask yourself. Do I want them to read faster or do I want them to understand what they read? Here’s what I found:
- Reading faster doesn’t mean their reading level is higher.
- Reading faster doesn’t mean they enjoy what they’re reading more.
- Reading faster doesn’t mean they’ll improve faster… although one of my friends in business school viewed old lecture videos on three times the speed in order to save time to study for exams (how he actually absorbed all that information at three times the talking speed is beyond me, lol). His video viewing actually really hurt my brain when I was studying with him. It made me 正經錯亂. Ha!
Even though I say all this, I still time my kids. I time them but I don’t tell them. I secretly time them to measure what kinds of books I need to give them. There’s only one goal in my head: what books should I feed them everyday for their 30 minute read so that they can start and finish at a reasonable place in the book? I also use it to measure if I’m giving them something too hard or too easy. For example, before summer, my older one was reading about 3000-4000 characters aloud in about 30 minutes time. All else equal in level of books, it became 6000-7500 characters aloud in about 30 minutes. Therefore I was on the hunt for books at the same level with 7500 characters. I did however run into some land mines and picked out some books way too hard with 7500 characters and she actually ended up reading 3000 characters in 30 minutes again for those harder books. In this case, did it mean her level decreased? No, it also didn’t mean much in terms of speed. Then there was a book that was 10,000 characters and she finished in 30 minutes (silent reading) and I found the language in that particular book to be easier so she read much faster.
My main point: speed doesn’t tell you much unless
if you’re reading the same level books.
When all other factors are equal (reading level, type of book, or better yet within the same series of books), then you can measure if your child got faster at reading and if they actually improved their vocabulary but if you’re switching around with different types of books and getting frustrated on why they aren’t reading “more” then you’re just stressing yourself out.
Let’s talk about how to actually make them read FASTER within the same level.
CONSISTENT PERSISTENT DAILY READING!!!!
There’s absolutely no magic in reading faster. All I know is, I feed them different material to read daily. We switch between bridge books, science books, newspapers, magazines, and even picture books. We actually read picture books way slower because we’re enjoying the pictures in the books. Here’s one thing that’s always going to be there: interest. The moment my child is not interested in the book or article at hand, we stop and switch. Not interested today may not mean not interested forever. We can revisit later.
Here’s the key: comprehension.
The key people don’t understand to reading faster or having interest in books is that you must have the comprehension. This means:
reading more, talking more, hearing more on a daily basis.
When you read, you encounter vocabulary you don’t use in everyday language. The more you read over idioms and these harder phrases and such, the faster it’ll stick in your brain what they mean when they are read in context. One exercise I like to implement is have them guess what the meanings of those phrases are before I tell them what it means. After a few books, they started having the ability to guess within context and then learn the idioms by themselves after a while. I thought about how I learned idioms and I did it the same way.
When you talk to your child in Chinese and ask for responses, they are required to pull out the vocabulary they learned from their brain repertoire and be forced to use it or they’ll try to imitate the way you talk after a while. The more they try to pull from memory, the more it will solidify and be used naturally conversationally in the future without even having to think about it.
When they hear more Chinese, they’re getting used to the language environment which will also further their vocabulary. How do you achieve this?
- Visit another country. You could visit China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and have the child immersed in the Chinese learning environment so that’s all they hear on a daily basis.
- Speak to them yourself. If you’re a native speaker, please ONLY SPEAK CHINESE TO THEM AT HOME.
- Listen to audio CDs and follow along in the book. Many times I find it stress relieving for the kids to read some books that are FULL OF WORDS but have them follow along with an audio CD instead. I do this with the Future Children Magazines 未來兒童 and I do this with material that is at least a year beyond their level so that they’re hearing some harder and not so commonly used vocabulary.
- Read to them daily. Putting your child on a CD is fine but many children really prefer having their mom or dad read to them instead. My children always preferred that I snuggle up with them on the couch and read to them instead of listening to the CD because they always had questions. With a CD, they didn’t have the chance to ask questions. With me, we can discuss whatever they want (sometimes it could lead to a longer conversation than I wanted but it was worth it). If you are native, definitely use this option!
Verdict: Every time I witness a boost in comprehension, I also witness a boost in reading speed!!!!!!!!!!!!
Those two are positively correlated. Here’s one thing to note. If you’re going to feed something that’s beyond their level, make sure you’re there with them explaining things or make sure it’s only slightly harder so they can figure it out themselves from listening. This means having only a few idioms in a book they don’t know (not 5 on a page). When you see your child’s mind wandering around when reading, you know will know that’s not the right book. The right book will be:
- A book they can finish by themselves in your allotted reading time daily or a book with a good stopping point (for example, they can at least read 3-4 chapters or half a book to at least enjoy it for that half and hour). If they cannot finish even one chapter in 10 minutes, you’re probably in the wrong reading level.
- A book where they know or can comprehend at least 95% of what’s going on with an infrequent question here and there.
- A book where they like or would not mind reading so this means they don’t give you a “no” look when you ask them to read it or in our case, I lay out about 10 books out for them to choose from (all approved and handpicked by me OF COURSE).
- A book where it’s appealing to their eyes for that age. What does this mean? Many times, there are books at the SAME READING LEVEL and SAME NUMBER OF WORDS but one has a WAY better layout! Words are bigger, sentence spacing is bigger, and pictures are prettier. As a normal human being, I am also more attracted to those books too. They’re so easy on the eyes. Be sure to look out for these when buying books. If you’re cross eyed when reading these books, your child will certainly get stressed out even before they start reading.
It’s important that you don’t stress your child out. If you’re having them memorize things ALL the time, they will get stressed out and actually not perform at top speed all the time. Imagine if you used 100% energy and concentration all day. You’ll be so exhausted by the end of the day everyday and eventually burn out. We don’t want them to burn out… at least not in reading Chinese. We want to foster a love for reading Chinese. Why else would we buy all those fart, poop, and butt books? It’s definitely for educational purposes! We do it to foster love for reading another language!
So… to increase reading speed:
- Read, talk, hear Chinese DAILY.
- Boost comprehension first.
- Feed something hard once in a while together where you can explain.
- Pick the right books for their level 90% of the time to encourage confidence.
- Quit stressing about speed because it doesn’t mean anything most of the time!!!
All this really means, you need comprehension! If your child is slow at reading, it means comprehension is not there! They’re still learning daily on their own level and boosting that on a daily basis so stop stressing. You can’t ask them to read at lightening speed with only a short time of practice. This means you shouldn’t be comparing your child to another child who has been exposed a lot more to the language. Some members (Valen S.) in our group for example, read hours.. yes HOURS to her child ever since her kid was born! This means her child had thousands of hours of “comprehension” foundation before she moved on to reading on her own and the moment she did, well, her reading level jump up like an exponentially increasing function. Yes, I was in quant finance and I’m a nerd. This is how I think about progress with this type of children. Everything is a function in my head sometimes. When you have the comprehension, this is what progress will look like (example graph, please ignore the numbers):
So for someone like Valen S., her kid may not know how to read any characters for years but then the moment she does and learns phonetics, she’s immediately reading super high level books.
For other kids, it will look like a stepwise function and their “jumps” will surprise you when they happen. You may get what feels like no progress for a while and then suddenly TA DA! They are reading faster and suddenly just get it. Feed comprehension, jump, feed some more, jump, feed some more, jump (another example graph):
Ok, so in conclusion… a short answer … is
BOOST YOUR COMPREHENSION!!!!!
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