How to Learn Braille in 6 Months: How to Increase Reading Speed

Books on a bookshelf

In this third installment of my series about learning to read braille in six months, we’ll focus on reading speed. As I mentioned in the first post about braille myths, the idea that braille is slow is complete hogwash. Braille reading is seen as slow because people do not put the time and energy into practicing reading and writing. The following strategies will help you to boost your personal reading speed and the rate at which your students read.

1. Start with a basic story or short novel

Once the code is completed, building speed requires consistent dedication and strict adherence to proper techniques. Select an interesting, yet fairly basic, story, short novel, or essay to begin building speed. IF possible, read aloud while a competent braille reader or instructor follows along with you. Aim to read one page per weekday and five pages on the weekends.

Once you build your speed to 20-25 words per minute—which means completing a braille page in 10 minutes or less—you are ready to read without assistance…and that’s the first goal that I set for my students who were just learning to read braille.

Then, increase your page goals to six pages per day and 30 pages on the weekend. When you reach this goal, your speed should steadily increase.

2. Literally focus on moving your hands faster.

Occasionally, I recommend reading the same page three to four times in a row. This will get your hands used to moving faster, as you’ll begin to recognize entire words at a time..

Also, if you pick up words automatically because of the context, then get your hands across the words as quickly as possible without losing your place.

For example, if you read, “Jack and Jill ran up,” then you could probably anticipate the words ”the hill,” and move across them rapidly. Also, anticipate the names of characters and places in a story. Sighted readers do this all the time. Don’t worry that you haven’t seen each sign in a word when you know that it’s Rhett Butler, Scarlett O’Hara, or Atlanta.

3. Use your non-dominant hand only to build speed.

I have consistently pressed the need for two-handed reading throughout this series. What I am suggest here is a technique only to build speed, and I must stress that this is not a long-term solution.

I once had a student who entered my class at the Louisiana Center for the Blind who read 169 words per minute using only his left hand. When I asked him to use the two-handed method, he stated that he couldn’t read with his right hand, for he thought that hand was not sensitive enough to read. When I convinced him to try, he was astounded by the result: he read about 100 words per minute with his right hand from the onset. When he started practicing with both hands, his total speed reached more than 300 words per minute.

His story is not uncommon, for many people think that their dominant hand overpowers the other. It does, to a certain extent, but that’s only a reason to boost the non-dominant hand.

If your right hand is more dominant, then the traditional two-handed method (described in the second part of this series) will work well for you. The reason that this works is you are using the dominant, right hand to read the majority of the line, freeing up your left hand to find the beginning of the next line.

If your left hand proves to be the dominant one, then read the majority of the line with both hands (versus just about half the line), and your speed will improve beyond reading with only one hand at a time.

4. Begin your learning by reading aloud, but then read silently.

At times, reading aloud may help you to better comprehend the story. Once you reach 40-60 words per minute, it might be advantageous to read silently. If you look at the reading habits of print readers, you’ll see that they read aloud at about 120 words per minute, but they read silently over 300 words per minute. After all, we can only speak so quickly and be understood!

5. Don’t get stuck at the 60 words-per-minute plateau.

Over the years, I have observed that many readers get stuck and cannot read faster than 60 words per minute. It takes true dedication and hard work to go beyond that milestone in a novice reader’s career, because that may be fast enough to use braille in the ways for which you have been striving: note-taking, pleasure reading before bed, proofreading, etc.

Do not let this plateau daunt you in your acquisition of a higher reading rate. Focus on reading 10 hours per week, and, all of a sudden, you’ll be reading faster one day!

Never under-estimate what’s possible.

I once had a student who cried during her first few braille lessons. I thought, “Oh my goodness, she will never master the code, since it’s difficult to read wet dots!”

After some counseling, she began to master the code, and after nine months, she read more than 70 words per minute. Later on, outstandingly, she became certified as a braille proofreader and transcriptionist by the Library of Congress. She now makes her living contracting with publishing houses and braille sign manufacturers.

If you want to become a braille reader, it does not come without a price. Finish the manual as quickly as possible and begin reading something interesting as soon as possible.

I once had a student who loved books on business management, and he now runs a large vending facility in the Southwest. I like fiction, but many of my students read many different non-fiction books to build speed. In the end, what the students read mattered less; what mattered was that they were reading braille consistently with the proper technique.

Happy reading!

Image courtesy of DesignBuzz
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Jerry Whittle
Jerry Whittle, a Louisiana native, is instructor emeritus at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston.

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