Benefits of Learning Speed Reading for a Non-Native English Speaker

Benefits of Learning Speed Reading for a Non-Native English Speaker


I’ve been teaching speed-reading courses at Iris for a number of years now, and it seems that in every class, in every city, someone always asks me one, or a variation of the following questions:

  • What if English is not my native language?
  • Can speed reading help me with my ESL courses and tests?
  • Will speed reading help me do well on the TOEFL exam?
  • Can speed reading help me read faster in my native language?

These questions are common as there are SO many students, whether high-school, college, graduate, adult or professional, that fall into this category. Many people here in the US and around the world speak, and read, English as their second language.

It’s a common myth to think that just because English is your second language that you can never read it very well or even very quickly. And the students that asked those questions are in the minority as MOST non-native English speakers simply never think they could even enroll in such a course and learn speed reading in English.

This article is for all those who thought about speed reading in English as their second or non-native language or perhaps didn’t even know about the possibility of themselves learning to read faster in English as their second language. I will articulate here that not only is it possible, but it is highly beneficial!


Speed reading techniques not only benefit the non-native English speaker in being a faster and more efficient reader, but the skills are also directly translatable to their native language as well! Basic speed reading skills also help with those taking ESL classes and those preparing for the TOEFL examination. So it is essentially a double bonus!

Speed Reading techniques are great tools for developing one’s language capabilities and cognitive skills together. It essentially makes you smarter! After all, reading is the underpinning to all knowledge; the more you read, the more you know, and the smarter you become.

What was once the intimidating thought of reading in one’s non-native language of English soon becomes easier and easier with even basic speed reading techniques. In time your confidence improves. As you read more,  you encounter new words and vocabulary. As you master those words, your fluency with the language increases even further. Reading much more will also enable you to develop your other language skills and your brain’s cognitive (i.e. “thinking”) facilities.

Basic Speed Technique

The easiest way to read faster is to use your hand as a guide (more info on this can be found here). This  requires you to use your finger or hand to lead your eyes across the line of words/text thus forcing your eyes to see words at a faster pace.

This hand motion engages you with the page (or screen) and literally drags your eyes across from left to right forcing the eyes to take in the words at a slightly more rapid pace than normal. At first this may seem jarring or uncomfortable, but quickly normalizes as your eyes start grouping together chunks of words and eliminating less necessary words. Even though this may seem only slightly faster than “normal” reading (and may seem slower compared to a native English speaker) it soon will gain speed and the faster pace will become your new “normal”. Before long, you will be reading at a pace that may even surprise yourself as you enter into higher realms of comfort and fluency. With a little effort and practice, combined with disciplined speed drills taught in online and in-person speed-reading courses, you will be well on your way to speed reading English just like a native speaker!

Improving Your Focus

A large part of reading, especially in a non-native languages, is learning how to stay focused. As one struggles to read, frustration builds and the possibility of distraction increases. Using your hand as a guide is the simplest way to improve your focus while reading. The above finger technique assists in helping you focus as you are directly engaged with the material and are therefore commanding all of your attention to it. You are consciously controlling your rate of intake and thus further exhibiting sustained effort toward maximizing concentration toward your reading. The chance for your mind wandering is minimized as you direct all your attention to the task of reading.

Using your hand is also helpful if you are reading in a language that doesn’t read left to right like English. Certain non-western languages are read right to left or vertically so using your hand as a guide will simply have to be adjusted or modified for those languages.

In Conclusion

A non-native, English reader, depending on their initial fluency,  may start off slower than a native English reader. However, the important thing to keep in mind is that even at a slow pace the new pace is still FASTER relative to the person’s initial speed and approach to reading. This fact alone will make the non-native reader gain confidence, increase speed, read more, learn new vocabulary, and assist with their focus. This snowball effect eventually enables the reader to become even faster and more efficient.

Due to tremendous demand, we are in the process of developing a “Speed Reading Course for Non-Native English Speakers (ESL/TOEFL)”. An in-person and online course is coming soon!


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More Resources:

Paul Nowak

Paul is the founder of Iris Reading, the largest provider of speed-reading and memory courses. His workshops have been taught to thousands of students and professionals worldwide at institutions that include: NASA, Google, HSBC and many Fortune 500 companies.

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  • Emalron

    Thanks for the tips! I wish I can read English as fast as my native language… no just two times faster is enough :)

  • Ma. Janice

    Thank’s this article is very informative. I’m a native English speaker but i think I have to take also speed reading course.