The Braille Monitor                                                                                       May 2003

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Surmounting the Braille Reading Speed Plateau
by John Bailey

John Bailey
John Bailey

From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Spring 2003 issue of the NFB Vigilant, the publication of the NFB of Virginia. John Bailey is first vice president of the Virginia Association to Promote the Use of Braille. John learned Braille in his later years after his vision began to fail. He has made Braille an important part of his daily routine. He writes about several successful techniques that can get people beyond the Braille reading speed plateau.

Most Braille readers would love to increase our reading speed. We know of those who have mastered the techniques well enough to achieve Braille reading speeds of several hundred words a minute.

Although it would be nice, it is not necessary for everyone to read Braille at lightning speed in order to use it productively. If your only use for Braille is to mark objects for easier identification or to take quick notes, lightning-fast Braille reading speed may not be important to you; however, for those who need to digest a lot of information quickly, any increase in reading speed can be very beneficial.

Unfortunately, many of us have reached a plateau in increasing our Braille reading speed. Many of us have struggled to overcome a speed limit of about sixty words a minute. The truth is that surpassing the sixty-wpm barrier takes work and the honing of specific skills. By using the proven techniques outlined below in combination with daily practice, the sixty-wpm barrier can be broken.

Several speed-increasing techniques and related exercises follow. They have proved effective for those who already know Braille and want to increase their reading speed and comprehension.

Technique One

Use two hands. You can identify a Braille-reading pro by the way he or she uses two hands to move across the page. By using the index fingers of both the left and right hands simultaneously, a Braille reader can reduce the time it takes to read a passage of Braille text.

The trick here is to have at least one of the fingers of each hand moving across the dots at all times. While one finger finishes a line, the other index finger begins reading the next line; this means no pause between lines.

For example, at the top of a new page, both hands start at the top left side of the page. Together they move across the letters until they reach the middle. While the right hand continues across, the left hand moves down a line and orients itself at the beginning of that line. When the right hand is finished with the top line, the left hand immediately begins to read the second line. The right hand joins the left until they reach the middle of the second line of text. The left hand breaks off and orients itself to the beginning of the third line. This process continues to the bottom of the page. The whole process begins again on the next page.

The problem with the one-handed method of reading is that a pause takes place between lines because the reader has to slide the hand back across the page to the start of the next line. The two-handed method of reading eliminates this delay.

Technique Two

Make the hand movement across the page automatic. If you don't need to focus on the way your hands are moving, you can concentrate better on the text. To make the movement of your hands across the page as fluid as possible, try this exercise:

Starting at the top of a page, move your hands from left to right as quickly as you can while retaining good two-handed Braille reading form. Remember to touch every character and line. It's not necessary to understand the symbols you touch. The goal is to execute your movements as unconsciously as possible.

Do this exercise for a few minutes several times each day. After a while your hands will know where to go without your having to think about it.

Technique Three

Push your reading speed envelope. All readers tend to read at the speed at which they are most comfortable. Simply reading on cruise control isn't enough to improve your speed markedly. You need to move beyond your comfort zone.

Using technique two will assist in mastering this concept; however, instead of moving as fast as you can, go just fast enough to recognize an occasional letter or short word. Don't stop to decode the words you missed. Again, as in technique two, you should do this a few times a day for a few minutes at a time. In just a few days, you will notice that you can move faster while understanding more.

Technique Four

Make Braille a part of everyday activities. The axiom "Use it or lose it" applies to any new skill you acquire. It is particularly true for learning Braille. Make the commitment to include Braille in your daily activities. Make opportunities for reading Braille. Use Brailled labels. Take Braille notes. Take a Braille magazine along with you so you have something to read when you are waiting at a doctor's office. When you go out for a meal, ask for a Braille menu. In addition, bring NFB Braille alphabet cards along with you to hand out when strangers ask you what you are doing.

Increasing your Braille reading speed is a challenging goal for many people. There are many ways to get beyond the plateau that almost everyone encounters in their journey towards Braille reading proficiency. The most important ingredient to any successful Braille reading activity is continuing to practice while using the correct techniques.

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