Help ESL international students read faster

Last Updated on February 15, 2022 by Estrella

This blog was originally published on October 11, 2010.  It has been updated on February 12, 2022.
In my advanced ESL class at the University of Washington, I asked,
“what are you doing for fun this weekend?”
“I’m staying home to study,” replied over 85% of the students.  “I take a long time to read the chapters.”

How international students can read English faster

International students face this challenge.  Because English is a foreign language, often their speed is slowed down by new vocabulary.
If you encounter the same problem, here is a way to increase your reading speed.
Time your reading for 2 minutes.  Read the way you usually do.
  • Count the number of lines you read
  • Pick any 3 lines and count the number of words per line (Find the average number of words per line)
  • Multiply the average number of words per line by the number of lines you read
  • Divide by 2 (you read for 2 minutes)
  • This is how fast you are reading per minute
If you are disappointed at the speed, don’t worry.  It won’t stay this way for long.

Techniques to practice reading faster

Here’s the first technique.  Actually let me back up and tell you the logic behind this technique.  When you get on the freeway, you increase your speed from the street to match that of the freeway.  Let’s say no one is on the highway and you speed up from 55 to 60, 65, 70 miles per hour.  Suddenly you see a police car miles ahead.  You slow down–65, 60, 55.  Now 55 mph feels slow to you, right?
That’s the way with this first technique.  It is training the movement of your eyes.  Do not read for understanding.  Like the highway speed, you are moving your eyes at a faster and faster speed, then slow down.
So, let’s begin.
Underline each line with your finger.  When you reach the end of the line, instead of lifting your finger, wrap it around so you find the first word on the next line.
Research shows that we spend 1 out of 6 seconds looking for the beginning of the next line.
Continue underlining each line with your finger so your eyes are accustomed to moving fast and landing on the first word of the next line.
Next, increase your speed for a few moments.
Now, start slowing down.  You can even begin to see some of the words now, right?
Okay.  Choose a page you have not read before.  Time your reading for 2 minutes again.  This time, use this technique.  Then compare your reading speed.  You will be pleasantly surprised!
Congratulations!  Now you can read your homework and have time to play too.  If you find this article helpful, here is one on practicing the English grammar you learned in everyday conversation.
Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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