Abby Marks Beale is a recognized speed reading expert, author, course instructor and public speaker whose ambition is to bring effective reading strategies to schools, colleges and universities. Grab a drink, lean back and enjoy this interview about reading efficiency.
The interview is structured into roughly three parts. The first one is going to focus on reading in general, the second one is about Abby as a person, the third part is about her work and activities.
Abby Marks Beale on Reading Improvement – Part 1
SpeedReadingTechniques.org (SRT): Abby, thanks very much for taking part in this interview. For a smooth start, I’m interested in what the phrase ‘speed reading’ does mean to you? What distinguishes it from ‘normal’ reading?
Abby Marks Beale: To me, it means having the ability to read slowly when needed but also shift into higher and faster gears when the conditions allow. I believe we all have five built-in gears where gears one and two are the slower gears and gears three, four and five are the higher ones.
Most people are stuck in gears one and two because they don’t know HOW to shift into gears three, four, and five. Once they learn some simple strategies for adjusting their reading speeds according to their reading needs, environment, and level of background knowledge, then all five gears will be able to be used.
SRT: What is the average reading speed of a literate person? How fast can we get by practice? Is the reading speed limited by our potential, our educational background or anything else?
Abby: The average literate person (high school age and older) who hasn’t had ANY reading training since elementary school reads about 250 words per minute. Of course, some are faster while others slower but this is what I have found as the true average. In my experience, most people who learn these active, mindful and conscious reading strategies double, sometimes triple, their starting reading speed with little to no effect on their comprehension.
SRT: That’s right, though comprehension is a passionately discussed topic when learning to read faster…
Abby: Indeed, however, some who start with low comprehension see strong gains in this area once they become more conscious and mindful of what they are doing when they read. What limits a person to reach their reading potential could be their limited background knowledge or an unresolved visual issue but mostly it’s a fear of losing comprehension. When you learn to read faster, it’s uncomfortable! The conversation between the eyes and brain changes where the eyes initially feed back more information to the brain and the brain takes a while to catch on.
SRT: …which is one common issue that prevents people from reading fast.
Abby: Yes. It’s in this period of “catching on” that can freak people out to think they shouldn’t read faster because they feel they don’t understand. I reassure people that this is very temporary and that it actually needs to happen in order to get to a higher level of reading speed with comprehension. It’s called unlearning to relearn and it’s a phenomenon that happens when you work on improving any learned skill.
SRT: True, patience is certainly the key here. Taking these insights to the next question: In this era of smartphones and tablets, the number of readers, especially among the youth, is decreasing. How can ‘accelerated reading’ encourage the younger generation to read, or read more?
Abby: I believe that the use of technology makes for distracted and unsatisfied readers which means people chose to read less. The result of all this technology has bred something I call “monkey brain”. It means when you sit down to read, your brain has a really hard time focusing on your reading because your phone is beeping, your email dinging or you’re just thinking of a myriad of other things…
SRT: Huh, tell me about it.
Abby: …Reading requires mono-focusing or focusing on one thing at a time. If mono-focusing isn’t happening, people find reading frustrating, unrewarding and an unsatisfying use of time. I believe people need to cultivate the ability to mono-focus through mindful habits like meditation and yoga. Additionally, setting up one’s reading environment with the least amount of distractions can also help along with active, mindful, and conscious reading strategies learned through my online tutorial.
SRT: Tough habit to break for most of us, children and adults alike. What is actually the earliest age a child can start practicing effective reading techniques?
Abby: I believe a person needs to have a solid sight vocabulary before starting to learn speed reading. That’s typically around the age of 12 or 13.
SRT: What I’m also interested in is: How will we read or process information in the future?
Abby: That’s an interesting question! I honestly don’t know how much can change as humans are human. They still need to mono-focus when they read, they still need to use their eyes and brains to read with understanding. My hope is the education I share will become a part of a secondary school‘s regular curriculum so we can breed more efficient and effective readers, for both on paper and on-screen. I have also seen a large increase in content normally found in books now available through audiobooks, podcasts, and YouTube videos. A lot of learning can be had through these other mediums so physically reading isn’t the only way to learn things.
A Bit More About Abby – Part 2
SRT: Thanks, Abby. Let’s talk a bit about you and the events or people that have influenced your career and life. What is your own story of learning to read faster? How fast can you read?
Abby: I used to hate to read. I went through four years of college feeling like a very slow and inadequate reader. I would spend a lot of time reading, falling asleep sometimes, and not really understanding what my eyes looked at. It was quite frustrating.
BUT once I had a college degree, I was able to apply for this job that advertised “Must have a Liberal Arts degree and be willing to travel.” I applied not knowing what it was about it but it sounded interesting. I got the job along with 20 others who were trained to teach fast reading and study skills to kids in private schools around the world. It was there that I learned that I wasn’t as slow as I thought AND there are some simple things I can do to become better! That was 30 years ago and over the years I’ve developed my own reading skills so I can walk my talk when I teach others.
My reading speed fluctuates through the five reading gears I spoke of earlier with gear one being around 100 words per minute up to gear five being 1500 words per minute. I would say my normal range is between 400 and 1200 wpm.
SRT: Well, you have certainly experienced the ups and downs and have come a long way. Do you still keep on improving your reading speed? Please explain why yes and why not.
Abby: I’m pretty happy with my learned reading speeds and have no real need to go any faster. Though my reading habits are much better than they were in college, I still find I have to be active, mindful and conscious of what I am doing to maximize my reading time.
SRT: And, why to teach people to read faster? What’s driving you forward? What inspired you to get down to writing your books: “10 Days to Faster Reading”, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading” and “Success Skills: Strategies for Study and Lifelong Learning”?
Abby: I love to share with people how easy it is to be a better reader! Since I am a convert, it’s an easy sell. If I had been a “speed reader” from birth, I wouldn’t be as credible. I personally find nothing more satisfying than to read something that I can immediately apply to work, family, relationships, health, etc. that ultimately makes me smarter and/or better. And sharing that satisfaction ability with others is important to me.
All three books I have written were not because I wanted to write to them, rather because I was asked! As an expert in my field, publishers sought me out and offered the writing contracts. That said, I have to admit I don’t love to write, but I do love to have written! What a powerful way to affect someone’s life! I have received a multitude of heart-warming testimonials about my books and how they have changed the reader’s lives.
SRT: Who has been your own teacher or mentor?
Abby: I have learned a lot from other people and other people’s writings but I honestly can’t say I have one mentor. I will say that my husband was and continues to be extremely helpful in supporting my business activities. Interestingly, I have served as a mentor to others and find it to be a very satisfying use of my time.
SRT: There is a high illiteracy rate in the world and in the United States as well. According to UNESCO, 757 million people worldwide are illiterate. Are you involved in any literacy programs and charities that help people get basic reading skills?
Abby: What I teach is developmental skills, not basic or remedial. At some point, as my revenues strengthen, I plan on giving some of the proceeds to a basic literacy group like Literacy Volunteers here in the US. Also, now that my online program is completely online (no printing necessary) and available around the world, I am looking for several worthwhile charities to donate my online program too. I could envision an economically challenged high school population that has students who can read but choose not to OR just need some solid skills for the college-bound. If anyone reading this knows of a good place for me to donate it too, please be in touch!
Work Activities – Part 3
SRT: Great bridging to the next topic. Reading fast can improve the quality of our life by enabling us to read more in the same amount of time. How much does it cost to learn to read faster? What if someone cannot afford it? Are there any options for these people to get involved?
Abby: I’d like to add that reading faster will enable us to LEARN more in less time cutting the learning curves and paving the way to higher levels of success faster.
Learning to read faster takes more time than money. Certainly, a person can spend about 5 hours taking my online course BUT they could go to their local library and take out one of my books, or any other book, on fast reading and read it at no charge. Or they could listen to my audiobook of 10 Days to Faster Reading (4.25 hours) or download my free podcast series called Rev It Up Reading Revolution.
There are many options. A person has to WANT to learn it and spend some time doing it. I’d say if you can give a minimum of five hours AND apply what you learn, you will absorb a lot.
SRT: Let’s talk a bit about your work. You have been teaching accelerated reading for more than two decades. Do you have your favorite students or clients? What’s the reason to remember and admire them?
Abby: I have many fond memories of many students and clients. The students that stick out in my mind are those that were really serious about upping their skills, asked great questions and ultimately had a lot of success with me. One student, I remember touched me deeply when he got in touch at the end of his high school years and said “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have graduated. Your program gave me the confidence and motivation to do the work. Before I didn’t want to and that felt bad. Now I feel I can tackle anything!”
SRT: Astounding story and what an impact. Reading also applies to so many different texts: scientific texts full of complex ideas and vocabulary, textbooks, fiction for entertainment and fun… What’s different in teaching reading improvement techniques to students, professionals and for leisure?
Abby: People listen to their own proverbial radio station called WIIFM, or What’s In It For Me. I learn who my audience is so I can give them something they can tune into. There are many similarities in teaching these reading skills to all types of readers but there are certain topics that are only for students and others just for professionals. I tailor my teaching based on who is in the room.
SRT: Is there a contraindication to fast reading? I mean, not a medical one… Perhaps there are times we should not read fast…?
Abby: There are basically five types of materials that shouldn’t be read fast, or more like, SHOULD be read slowly (in gear one or two): poetry, dialogues (like a play), when committing to memory/studying, reading Shakespeare or other Old English writing, and the Bible. I could add legal documents here but if you’re a lawyer, you would read it faster than me because of your background knowledge!
Basically, your speed should be decided on your answers to these two questions:
1) Why am I reading this? and
2) What do I need it for?
SRT: There are also many software promising fascinating results if we choose them. Is there anything you would ask our readers to be aware of and be cautious about to avoid future frustrations?
Abby: First, find out if there’s a money-back guarantee. This will protect your investment. Second, find out if there is any support if you get into trouble. Users of my course can email me directly through the user interface if they have any questions at any time. I think this is an important capability. Third, make sure the company is reputable AND you know the credentials of the person who designed the product.
Last, if you can taste it before you buy, meaning you get a free trial, you will know if the product will work for you or not. I offer a free One Day Access to my tutorial because I want people to use their time wisely on something they can resonate with. If they don’t like it, they won’t waste any more of their time. If they do like it, they will be motivated to proceed.
SRT: What would be your simplest tip to give to readers that wish to start improving their reading performance?
Abby: As Nike’s motto states, Just Do It! Get started with something, now!
SRT: Simply and straight forward. Should Fast Reading be actually part of public education? How would you encourage educational institutions to take further steps or open up for the topic?
Abby: I do believe that the active, mindful, and conscious strategies taught through speed reading should definitely be a part of public education! I’m currently working on marketing to high schools, colleges, and universities because these students are the ones who need these skills the most. They could include it inside a current course curriculum, like in a developmental course or study skills class, in a Freshman Year Experience program, or through the Learning Skills Centers. It would be offered to the parents of incoming freshmen as a way to protect their investment.
SRT: … which is an ambitious goal as well. As we come to the end of this interview I wanted to ask a few other things. What are actually the books you would advise every person to read?
Abby: These few recommendations are just some of the books that have changed the way I look at my life and work: Mindfulness by Ellen Langer, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.
SRT: What book are you reading right now?
Abby: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. In addition to teaching reading improvement, I also teach time management and this book is fascinating and very useful.
SRT: What would you advise those who dislike reading?
Abby: I would surmise that if a person doesn’t like reading, it’s because they feel they read slowly, they don’t understand or remember much of what they read or they have been embarrassed by their reading skills either in a classroom or among their peers. My advice would know that your past does not predict your future and your future can be brighter when you add reading into your life. Take a class, read or listen to a book. You’ll be happy you did!
Abby, thank you so much for this inspiring interview. And, to all readers, if you have any questions you might want to ask Abby, please use the comments below.
Questionnaire: Mark Ways, Anna Aghlamazyan
Note: All questions have been answered by Abby Marks Beale.
Disclosure: SpeedReadingTechniques.org is not receiving any commissions on sales of the above-mentioned classes and books generated through this interview.