What’s the secret behind a group of 70- to 80-year-olds with no prior baseball experience suddenly hitting fastballs clocking 150 kph at a batting center?
A student who learned the secret suddenly became more proficient at English, while it also helped a businessman improve his concentration at work.
Others even say it has made them more talkative and sociable.
These are just a few of the results cited in surveys of trainees in speed reading, a technique that has existed for decades but has recently had a resurgence in popularity as a method to stimulate the brain.
An increasing number of speed reading books, including titles such as “How to Read 10 Times Faster,” hit bookstores this year, as speed reading instructors said more people have shown interest in the technique, which in the past was sometimes considered dubious.
The trend was largely down to Mayumi Kure, a speed reading consultant and a woman who showed on numerous TV shows she could hit a 150-kph fastball thanks to speed reading training.
Kure was unique in the way she linked speed reading and sports, saying the ability to speed read helps people develop better mechanics in sports, as it boosts higher activation in the brain and achieve faster cognition.
“Until now, I think the focus of speed reading was just on how to read faster,” said Kure, director of the Brain Training Consultant Association.
Seibu Lions outfielder Tomoaki Sato as well as downhill mountain bike racer Hiroka Nakagawa have received lessons from her.
“Other effects of speed reading have been somewhat ignored. It didn’t have to be in the form of hitting a 150-kph pitch, but I wanted to show in visible and understandable form the effect of speed reading,” Kure said.
She said she puts more emphasis on the ripple effect of speed reading, rather than trying to make students achieve a certain numerical goal as some speed reading schools have done previously.
“It doesn’t matter if the student came to read two times or 10 times faster. The focus is on what he or she has achieved through the training,” Kure said.
Kure and other speed reading instructors said the technique, or “sokudoku” in Japanese, gives people more time to spare as it allows them to process more information in a shorter amount of time.
As a result, businesspeople said they had become more confident at work and students said they were studying better, according to surveys by speed reading schools.
Typical speed reading, as opposed to conventional reading, where the reader processes the text in the mind character by character, makes the reader take in a group of words in one glance and move on to the next group, thus processing a large number of words in a short duration.
The technique, which uses methods such as eye exercises and special textbooks, puts a reader at full concentration level, which in turn eliminates wasteful movements in reading and makes the process more coherent and efficient.
“A lot of times a normal reader tends to read back and forth and makes unnecessary and wasteful eye movements that slow down reading speed,” said Ichiro Ando, an instructor at the Speed Reading Seminar.
“I try to eliminate any wasteful movements and allow the reader to take in information in an efficient manner,” he said. “I also try to rush my students when they read, as a sense of urgency increases their concentration.”
Speed reading instructors also claim that acquiring the technique is a powerful tool in surviving modern society, which is overloaded with information as characterized by smart phones, electronic book readers and microblogging site Twitter.
Masahiro Kurita, a renowned instructor in the field of speed reading with over 20 years of experience in training, said, “The demand for speed reading is increasing and will increase as we live in a society full of information, where different information tools are at hand.
“I think many people feel anxiety that they are not keeping up with the change and at the same time are hoping to adapt to such a society,” said Kurita, director of the Super Reading System Research Institute. He is also a physician and a professor at Gunma Paz College Graduate School.
According to Kurita, participants who graduated from his beginners’ class came to read 10 times faster on average than their original speed, 50 times faster in the intermediate class and 70 times faster on average in the advanced class.
“People nowadays need to decide for themselves what information is right or wrong and also must make sure they get high-quality information, as some information on the Internet is worthless,” Kurita said, adding that his method of speed reading would help to understand “the truth.”
Speed Reading Seminar’s Ando added, “Society is changing, but our brains have not developed accordingly . . . there is a growing need for speed reading.”
Skeptics wonder, however, whether speed reading can be achieved by anybody or whether it is not a mere technique of reading by skipping that leaves the reader with no deep understanding of was read.
“Learning to speed read is not a special technique,” Ando said. “If you train diligently like in muscle training, anybody can acquire it. It’s about making your brain accustomed to reading at higher speed.
“After each lesson, I count the number of words a student read per minute but also test whether the student really understood what was read by asking for the contents to be written down.”
Kurita of the SRS Institute added that Japanese is the language most suited to speed reading.
“It is an easily discernible language,” he said. “The mix of Chinese characters and hiragana makes a contrasting pattern that makes it easy for the peripheral vision field to catch the text.”