I must have read at least 100,000 words in Thai over the last few years And yet my reading speed has remained terrible. Very interesting that. Shouldn’t be possible. And when I say “terrible” let me be more specific – about 30 words per minute. You likely read English (if you are English) at between 200 and 250 words per minute for most people. Reading at 30 words is absolutely miserable. Try it if you want to see. You can do that in English if you like you only need a text and a watch or a metronome.

Humans get better at things naturally if they continue to practice. Thus we can assume that either I stopped practicing (incorrect) or that there is something preventing my otherwise natural process of improvement. In my case I identified that my brain cheats when it reads. Instead of getting to 100% clarity on each letter and tone calculation, it has been trying to shortcut that process by reading / guessing whole words. The result is that my clarity never did increase and my recognition of the letters never became reflexive / unconscious / immediate. I can recognise them of course – but it requires my conscious mind to do that. Does that sound far fetched? You can see it in many aspects of life. For how long have you used a computer? Are you a relaxed almost reflexive user? Some are, some aren’t. Some people traverse the complexities of social interactions with grace and ease and some people never get there. It’s not just me. But Thai is the way I have demonstrated that during learning it is possible to find a trap from which one does not naturally escape.

If one cannot escape “naturally” one should escape unnaturally. To this end, I was recently shown an interesting exercise where one reads words one does not know so that no guessing is possible, only the calculation of the sound of the word by following the rules. Such a rule in English would be that station would be pronounced “stay-shun” and not “stat-ion”.

The result? A doubling of my reading speed in less than 7 hours of practicing so far. I’m not saying 60 words per minute is great as a reading speed; it isn’t. But it is a whole lot better than 30. More importantly, I was tiring out massively after reading one paragraph when I started this exercise but I can now read 2 or 3 before getting tired. What does that indicate? It indicates that processing is moving from the conscious mind to the unconscious mind. Why is that important? Because only the unconscious has the required speed to ever get to 200 words per minute. And anyway who wants to be tired?

There you have it. A really interesting exercise which I have supported with a technique for presenting 12 randomly selected letters in Thai and I go through recognising the letter, its name and class (which influences the tone). More on that, next post.

The moral of the story is: if you are not progressing consider that you may have a similar situation. See if you can identify the piece of clarity that is missing and fill it in.