Marc Slater Interview on Speed Reading

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Introduction

Marc_SlaterMarc Slater is an entrepreneur, a computer programmer, and the CEO of eReflect, which makes several well-respected software packages to help students improve their study skills. Marc's team has developed software to improve students' vocabulary, spelling, typing, and reading. This interview focuses on eReflect's reading software, 7SpeedReading.

We have asked William Dembski, who has a longstanding interest in speed reading, to conduct this interview on behalf of TheBestSchools.org. In the interest of full disclosure, we note that eReflect.com did provide TheBestSchools.org with examination copies of its speed reading software. But TheBestSchools.org is not receiving any commissions on sales of this product generated through this interview.
 

Marc Slater Interview

William Dembski for TheBestSchools.org

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Interview w/ Marc Slater on Speed Reading
Marc, thanks so much for being willing to do this interview for TheBestSchools.org. TheBestSchools.org recently interviewed Ben Carson at a Carson Scholars Fund banquet in Pittsburgh, and when asked about the key to his becoming a world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Carson said it was his mother's insistence that he turn off the television and read two books a week. Indeed, one of the prime initiatives of the Carson Scholars Funds is to set up reading rooms at schools throughout the country.

So, at TheBestSchools.org, we are all for doing anything we can to help our visitors enhance their reading skills. That said, we also want to avoid inflated promises that leave our visitors disappointed. Speed reading, if it can truly increase reading speed without diminishing comprehension, would be great. In this interview, we want to focus not just on your speed reading product (7SpeedReading), but also on the prospects and pitfalls of speed reading as such.

But first, tell us about yourself. Where are you from? What were your early days like? Describe your education and life experiences, especially as they prepared you for your work at eReflect.com.

Marc Slater

Sydney Opera HouseThank you very much for giving me this opportunity to talk with TheBestSchools.org. I live in Canberra, Australia, and grew up in Sydney. I spent four years at university studying software engineering and was awarded a scholarship to continue in that field pursuing a PhD, but I decided that I'd rather apply my skills in the field of business. Although working on self-improvement and continuing education software development is my main focus, I'm always looking for ways to learn new things myself. I've studied marketing and communication, and done research in the field of psychology. Everything that I've learned has allowed me to find new ways of helping other people learn.

William Dembski

Please describe what led you to start eReflect.com. How long has the company been in existence and where is it based? Give us a brief synopsis of your products for helping enhance people's study skills. How many copies of these software products have you sold to date? What will the market bear? What additional products are in the works?

Marc Slater

I started eReflect eight years ago out of a desire to help other people succeed in life and in business, and out of a belief that technology can provide one of the most effective ways of leading people towards that success. I was actually interested in vocabulary building at the time. I was looking for good software programs on the topic, but there was nothing decent available, so I decided to build something myself. After an intense period of targeted study of computer-based education models and teaching structures, I started to synthesize everything I had learned about software engineering, communication tools, and my own experience with self-paced learning into a new kind of vocabulary improvement software. This is also the core approach that we still use today at eReflect: software that provides the key training users need through personalized instruction and a supportive, easy-to-use interface.

ReaderAll of our software products are based on scientifically proven principles of learning methodologies, and we are constantly reviewing new research related to online education, as well as making sure that our product uses the best and most effective aspects of modern technology. Right now, we offer software that helps people improve their speed reading abilities, expand their English vocabulary, and master the complexities of English spelling. All of these products focus on various aspects of literacy, and can be used separately or together. We also provide an award-winning software system that teaches people how to touch-type, so that they can use those literacy skills effectively in the modern business environment.

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English literacy & strong keyboard skills are required to enter the global workforce…

We've got tens of thousands of customers in more than a hundred countries, and our customer base is constantly growing as more and more people work towards joining the global workforce, which almost always requires good English literacy skills, as well as the ability to use a computer keyboard quickly and accurately. We are continuing to make improvements to our products to keep up with changes in technology and the needs of our clients.

William Dembski

Please give us some details about the 7SpeedReading program. How, in broad strokes, does it work (what's the “7” for)? What distinguishes it from other speed reading programs? What are some of the success stories of your speed reading program? Statisticians talk about a file-drawer effect, which refers to putting in a file drawer results that are inconvenient. What are some of the stories in your file drawer? Is the 7SpeedReading program being updated and improved to reduce the amount in your file drawer? What are some of the improvements that the program has seen over time?

Marc Slater

The “7” in 7SpeedReading originally referred to the seven distinct learning strategies incorporated into the first release of the software. Although we have evolved significantly from that approach, we have kept the name. One of the main reasons why the program continues to beat the competition and receive top ratings from reviewers as well as our customers is the fact that it provides individualized instruction and support. Most software systems use a “one size fits all” approach that doesn't allow for a lot of flexibility; they give the same exercises and texts to every user, which means that many people can't keep up, many others get bored because the exercises are too easy, and no one gets exactly what they need. By providing each user with their own immediate feedback, video instruction, personalized tracking tools, and the ability to upload new texts for practice material, we can guarantee that every person who uses 7SpeedReading will be able to focus on what they need to learn at that time.

We let our customers write our success stories through their own individual achievements. Every person who uses our software to meet and exceed their own speed reading goals to reach their targets in business and personal success is a testimony to the effectiveness and value of the software and our approach to continuing education and continuous improvement.

Money-Back GuaranteeWe provide a very “brave” money-back guarantee. That is, if you actually use the software for two weeks and you don't improve, we will give you a refund plus an additional $50 dollars. So people who have requested that $50 could be considered to be in our “file drawer,” and we review their feedback to see if there is anything we can use to further improve the product. However, I'm delighted to say that even with tens of thousands of customers we get on average fewer than one such request per month, which we are of course happy to honor.

William Dembski

Talk to us about the role of technology in assisting with speed reading. When I took the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course in 1975, the course emphasized the importance of sweeping one's hand across the page to guide and speed up one's eye movements. It seems that the 7SpeedReading course is doing much more sophisticated things in not just guiding the eye, but also speeding up perception (thereby retraining the brain). Presumably speed reading can still be learned without technology, but how much does the technology you have developed make the attainment of high reading speeds more efficient?

Marc Slater

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Speed reading: Just moving your eyes quickly across the page doesn't address comprehension…

You're absolutely correct in saying that technology isn't required to learn speed reading, and you've also identified the main problem with not using technology: the fact that simply increasing the rate at which the eyes move across the page doesn't address the underlying issues that affect both speed and comprehension. The technological tools we have today allow for greater precision in every aspect of training a person to speed read, and also create the best environment for targeting and overcoming unconscious habits that are slowing that person down. The reason 7SpeedReading is so efficient in eliminating bad habits and fostering good ones is the way we structure a wide range of exercises while also linking the results of those exercises to further instruction. This means that the user gets immediate feedback on their speed and comprehension as they learn. The system also uses that information to adjust the exercises as the user goes through the lessons, so that they can continue a steady pace of improvement, rather than getting frustrated by lessons that are too advanced or too simple for their current skill level.

William Dembski

When I took the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course, it claimed to boost people's reading speeds ten-fold. So an average reader reading 200 words a minute would go up to 2,000 words a minute. Frankly, the Evelyn Wood course was a disappointment to me. My comprehension went way down and I found using my hand to speed up my eyes annoying. In the end, I reverted back to my old habits and the course made no difference to my reading. By contrast, your program claims to triple people's reading speeds. This sounds more realistic, but is it truly realistic? Can you really take 200-word-a-minute readers and bring them up to 600 words a minute? That's pretty much reading one line a second in an average book.

Marc Slater

Evelyn WoodMany of the speed reading principles that Evelyn and Doug Wood were promoting in the 1960s are still useful today---and if the Woods had been given access to the technological tools we enjoy 50 years later, you probably wouldn't have gotten so frustrated trying to apply those principles to improve your reading speed.

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❝A ten-fold increase in reading speed is not realistic.❞—Marc Slater on Speed Reading

I agree that a ten-fold increase in reading speed is not realistic. In my opinion, any company that claims to help you achieve such results should be viewed with suspicion. We prefer to make more modest and realistic claims, and back them up with a strong guarantee.

As far as the actual speed measurement goes, yes, you can triple your reading speed by using the 7SpeedReading system if you are currently reading at an average or below-average speed. On the other hand, if you already read with good speed, you might not see a three-fold increase in your current reading rate---but you will see an improvement in your comprehension skills as well as your ability to retain and recall the information you read. Remember, slow reading speed also happens when you have to re-read text because you don't remember what you read. If you can read a page of text in one minute but have to read that same page three or four times before you remember what that text is saying, you're not truly speed reading.

William Dembski

Talk to us about reading speeds for different types of materials. I recall, as a mathematician, being lucky sometimes to get through a single page of a highly technical proof in an hour. Reading applies to everything from pulp fiction to serious literature to fact-dense nonfiction to highly technical how-to manuals and more. How do speeds vary with type of reading material?

Marc Slater

Reading speed differs depending on the level of information processing you need to do. Reading for entertainment is done at one level; reading to learn specific facts is done at another level entirely. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking more time to read a dense or highly technical document and making sure that you understand the underlying concepts, or that you clearly understand the instructions and/or details. As I said before, when you look at reading speed from a global perspective, reading a page of text in five minutes and completely absorbing what that text says is still faster than reading it in one minute, but then having to re-read it five more times to get that same level of understanding.

That being said, part of the instruction we provide in the 7SpeedReading system is how to locate, process, and remember key information in a text passage, and that will help anyone increase the speed at which they read even the most advanced documents. And when it's time to relax and read for fun, the training will help people to simply read more of what they enjoy---more of the latest books by their favorite authors, more of the magazines they subscribe to, more of the best-sellers their friends have been talking about.

William Dembski

What do you say to someone who suggests that speed reading is essentially skimming, finding the high points, and thus skipping over lots of low priority material. If you will, speed reading is knowing what not to read. What do you say in response?

Marc Slater

It's true.

See? All of the information you needed as an answer to that question took two words to communicate. That is part of the way that speed reading works, and in a sense it's the most important part. There are several ways that people can eliminate the time that reading “filler” words takes, leaving just the important information at the surface for the conscious mind to process and commit to memory. On the other hand, speed reading is also about the mechanics of reading itself, which includes the way the eyes move, and the physical capacity of the person's vision to encompass as much text as possible while still keeping the eye-brain connection active. 7SpeedReading ensures that the user gets trained and educated in all areas relating to reading, both physical and purely mental, so that they know how to keep their eyes healthy, their mind focused, and their reading rate flexible enough to handle any type of text.

William Dembski

One figure who looms large in the speed reading world is Howard Berg. What do you make of him? The Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course touted reading speeds of 2,000 words a minute, but Howard Berg increases this by an order of magnitude. Indeed, he claims to be reading at 25,000 words a minute or more, and further claims that he can teach his students to attain such speeds. If an average page of a book has about 400 words, that means Berg is reading at faster than a page a second. Is this plausible? Yet to watch him on television, he appears to read books at such mind-boggling speeds and answer questions accurately about them. Does he really read this fast and have his students attained such speeds? If so, why go with 7SpeedReading's measly 600 words a minute when you could be reading at Howard Berg's 25,000 words a minute? I'm being facetious, of course, but you get the point. What's the reality in all this?

Marc Slater

Usain BoltThroughout history there have been people who have shown an ability to do amazing mental feats, like memorizing all of the cards in a deck in random order, or being able to instantly say what day of the week it was on any date in the past, or calculating large sums that most people could only do with a calculator. However, teaching other people to do the same is a different matter. Many people can run quickly for short distances, but how many people are at the level of Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt? If Usain Bolt were to open up a school for sprinters, would he suddenly be providing the sports world with thousands of people who can also break world records?

At eReflect, we provide the tools that people need to achieve their maximum potential, and that maximum will be different for every person. If you have the ability to learn to read at thousands of words a minute---and the time to devote to getting your reading speed to that level---then 7SpeedReading will help you do that. The program will provide you with exercises that are always pushing your limits higher, and we don't put an upper limit on speed. Twitter Icon Tweet this!
❝Speed is nothing without comprehension.❞—Marc Slater on Speed Reading
If you want to set a goal of 2,000 words per minute, the system will accept that goal and do everything it can to help you reach it. Like anything, physical reading speed is a matter of practice, and the more practice time you put in, the faster you'll read. But keep in mind that speed is nothing without comprehension.

What's the reality in all this? The reality is what you make it. We're not here to prove whether someone can read all the works of Shakespeare in an hour and then recite monologues from those plays. We're here to help people make the most of their physical and mental abilities in the pursuit of their maximum reading speed and reading comprehension rates.

William Dembski

Ralph Norman HaberAs an undergrad psychology major, I was fascinated with human potential and human cognitive attainment. One of my professors was Ralph Norman Haber, a world-class perceptual psychologist who did a lot of varied and interesting research. One of his studies was on eidetikers, people with photographic memories. As I recall, he found that only children truly have such memories. He also examined speed reading. His conclusion was that although a small percentage of people have phenomenal speed reading abilities, the vast majority don't, and when they finish taking a speed reading course, they revert to their old habits and former speeds. So my question for you is this: How effective is your course at permanently changing people's reading habits for the better?

Marc Slater

Haber is correct about eidetic memory, and that underscores what I said above. However, “phenomenal” is a relative term---to someone who starts out at a very low reading level, simply reaching the average reading speed of 150-250 words per minute is a phenomenal personal achievement. We are proud and gratified when our 7SpeedReading software helps people overcome the bad habits that are slowing them down so that they can use their reading skills to reach their personal and professional goals.

It's also true that many people who use standard speed reading courses fail to maintain their reading levels after the course is completed. Part of this is due to the fact that most speed reading courses don't offer individualized instruction, so the user isn't clued in to what aspects of reading are truly slowing them down. With 7SpeedReading, each user can focus on working through and past their individual issues, with the system providing them exercises and activities to help them eliminate those problems entirely. Because each user can devote as much time as necessary to their own specific reading-related difficulties, they're able to use the system to their best benefit, instead of relying on a canned set of lessons that rush them through those issues without resolving them.

William Dembski

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. How big is your staff at eReflect.com, and how many of them have gone through the 7SpeedReading program? Are those who have taken it prepared to sing its praises? More generally, do your employees believe in your products because of their positive first-hand experiences with them? Please elaborate.

Marc Slater

We have 15 full-time staff and many more part-timers and contractors. Most of our staff have been through the entire program and are happy with the results. But whether they've benefited from the software themselves, or seen the feedback from our worldwide client base, everyone involved in developing 7SpeedReading and our other educational software products is confident in, and committed to, the excellence of our systems and our customer service goals.

William Dembski

Talk to us about subvocalization---people sounding out words in their minds as they are reading silently. Is it really possible to extinguish subvocalization, so that meaning is extracted from texts purely visually? I, personally, have never been able to extinguish subvocalization entirely. To the degree that subvocalization can be eliminated, I can see it as greatly facilitating increased reading speeds. But can it be done, and how can it be done? Also, would you agree that there are cases when it shouldn't be done. For instance, does one really want to read poetry without subvocalizing?

Marc Slater

Subvocalization is definitely a problem many people have, and yes, it's possible to eliminate it, or at least to “turn down the volume” of that inner voice so that it's no longer a distraction. One way of doing this is to learn the methods of processing words as a group, rather than one by one. You can't pronounce five words at once, so once you train your eyes and mind to take in words in groups, you'll be shutting down your ability to “pronounce” those words in your head. By focusing on this technique, you'll learn to get past the habit of subvocalization.

As we talked about before, the way you read and the speed you use depends on what you're reading. If you want to appreciate the beauty of a poem, try reading it out loud. That way you won't be confusing the issue by using that inner voice you've been trying to shut down. Some people find that they remember information better when they hear it, so information-dense text can also be read out loud to help in memorization.

William Dembski

How does your speed reading program work with dyslexics? If readers can eliminate subvocalization and extract information from texts purely visually, it seems that dyslexics might see a big boost in their reading ability because dyslexia, at least in some forms, seems to result from the brain failing to properly process certain auditory stimuli. These are deep and troubled waters about which I know just enough to be dangerous, but given your long experience with helping people to read better, I wonder what your experience with dyslexics has been, and especially if and how your program has been able to benefit them.

Marc Slater

7SpeedReading is designed to help everyday people increase their reading speed. It is not designed or marketed as a therapeutic tool to help people with disabilities.

William Dembski

St. AugustineI'd like now to step back and ask whether we should be wanting to do speed reading at all. If you go back to antiquity (ancient Rome and before), most reading was done out loud. Indeed, there's a striking place in Augustine's Confessions where Augustine marvels at Ambrose of Milan for reading a text silently rather than out loud. Books in the ancient world were rare, and when they were read, they were often read out loud so that others could profit from the reading. Now, if you're reading out loud at a reasonable pace, you're reading about 140 words a minute, or 8,400 words an hour. You can actually get through quite a bit of material at that rate, if you are diligent at reading. Indeed, at an hour a day for 10 years you can get through the entire 37,000 pages of The Great Books of the Western World. It seems, then, that for most people it's not speed so much as the discipline of consistent reading that's the issue. Your reaction?

Marc Slater

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❝The more people are able to read, the better.❞—Marc Slater on Speed Reading
If everyone had unlimited time to read as much as possible, that would be wonderful. However, many people struggle with even finding an extra hour a day to devote to reading. I strongly believe that the more people are able to read, the better. Children who have access to books at home, who get the support they need to learn to love books and reading, do markedly better at school and in life in general. Reading provides education and entertainment; it's a way to connect to the wisdom of the past and the new knowledge unfolding in the future. One of our basic goals in speed reading instruction is to help people read faster just so that they can get as much reading as possible done in whatever time they have. With faster reading and better comprehension, people will be able to get the most out of their reading, and they'll enjoy it more, which leads to more consistent reading as well.

As far as reading out loud, we encourage parents, teachers, and older children to read out loud to younger kids to help them develop their reading skills and foster a habit of reading. The earlier children start to read, and to read correctly and well, the more likely they'll be to continue good reading habits into adulthood.

William Dembski

School of AthensLet's talk a bit about comprehension of difficult material. In the late 1990s, I was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, whose undergraduate curriculum focused on the “Great Books” (as cited in the last question). I taught an undergraduate philosophy course in which we were to read, in their entirety, Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (there were a few other texts, but these two covered most of the semester). It became clear to me in teaching these two texts that students by and large were not gaining anything like a rigorous understanding of them. I then had a conversation with one of my colleagues, who noted that in the same course that I had taught, he only covered one book in Aristotle's Ethics. Since the Nicomachean Ethics consists of ten books, this was just one tenth of the entire text. This colleague would thus have spent around five weeks on essentially 30 or so pages. He stressed that students in his class read the text line by line and discussed it in depth. I'm not sure he was even then entirely satisfied with their comprehension, but he felt this was far superior to having students read the entire Ethics and get virtually nothing out of it. This colleague's example is not unique. Philosophy seminars have been known to go line by line through certain challenging texts. So my question is this: What good is speed reading for comprehending truly difficult material? What allowances, if any, does your speed reading program make for tackling material that seems not to allow for rapid comprehension? To turn the question around, are there materials for which speed reading works well (romance novels?) and others for which it doesn't?

Marc Slater

There are always going to be different reading rates depending on three factors: the person doing the reading, the text they're reading, and the reason they're reading that text. A work of philosophy that needs to be discussed, reflected on, mulled over, analyzed, and applied to theoretical or real-world situations will obviously require more time than a romance novel, but not necessarily in the area of reading speed. Someone who is a skilled speed reader will be able to read that text and absorb it, internalizing the concepts and using them as a basis for further discussion, without necessarily having to re-read the text line by line.

William Dembski

Assuming that 7SpeedReader fulfills its promise of a three-fold increase in reading speed, and assuming that this can be achieved without a loss of comprehension, it's easy to see how your program would be of value to a particularly slow reader. However, one wonders if 7SpeedReading would have the same appeal to an already-rapid reader. In other words, should we expect the same rate of improvement for one who begins at the 600 wpm rate? Should this individual achieve a reading rate of 1800 wpm? Or does the rate of return decrease inversely to one's reading speed from the outset?

Marc Slater

Again, I'll go back to the comprehension question here. Someone who already has the ability to focus their eyes and mind in an optimal way to maximize their actual physical reading speed can still work on improving their comprehension skills, which will continue to increase their global reading speed. And as I mentioned before, it's always possible to continue to set higher text-processing speed goals.

William Dembski

Let's try a variant of the last question, this time the contrast being between the skilled and unskilled reader. Let's imagine an unskilled reader who has a very limited vocabulary, and thus should be referring to the dictionary constantly to know what the words mean that he or she is reading. Let's also imagine this same unskilled reader as having to engage in considerable cognitive strain to extract meaning from the page. Assume dyslexia is not the problem. It's just that the unskilled reader has spent very little time reading, and thus may even have to sound out words slowly to get the sense of a text. Now contrast this to a skilled reader who has a good vocabulary as well as extensive background knowledge of how the world works, can thus readily understand the context for a piece of writing, and reads material smoothly even if not particularly rapidly. Presumably, these two readers would profit differently from your course. But how so? It seems to me that the unskilled reader might need to attain a certain basic level of reading proficiency before he or she could even begin to profit from your course, whereas the skilled reader, by taking your course and adding some helpful new habits, would be more inclined to profit from it. Please comment.

Marc Slater

Child Reading a BookThe mechanics of reading are essentially the same, no matter the skill level, except in the case of an actual learning disability such as dyslexia, as you noted. Just as 7SpeedReading allows readers to set nearly unlimited upper bounds to their reading goals, it also allows users to work at very low speeds and targets, if that's where they need to start. The program is designed for readers starting at the 4th grade level, but can be used by anyone, even if their first language is not English. Comprehension is going to be more difficult when the user doesn't have a good grasp of English vocabulary, but there are still things that user can learn about effective reading practices by going through the exercises and activities. In addition, since each user can upload text to be used in those exercises and activities, they can practice with text that is at their own reading comprehension level until they build up the vocabulary needed to go through the texts provided at the 4th grade level.

William Dembski

Your work at eReflect.com focuses on teaching students particular skills that will help them become better students. But better students at what and for what? Do you have a vision for education as a whole? Here in the U.S., public education leaves much to be desired, and it seems can be greatly improved. What do you see as the goal of education and what do you most want to see happen to it (in a good way)?

Marc Slater

eReflect's goal is to help every person reach and exceed their own personal goals, and to help them maximize their own personal potential. In a nutshell, that is---or should be---the goal of education in general. One of our latest projects is to help schools incorporate literacy-supporting programs like 7SpeedReading into the classroom, so that as many children as possible can develop the skills they need to reach that potential. It would be wonderful if every child had the tools, training, and personal support they deserve during their school years. We believe that technology has the answers to some of the issues facing schools these days, and are working with educators nationwide to overcome those difficulties so that students everywhere are prepared for a better future.

William Dembski

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts about speed reading and education-related topics with us. What are your plans for the near future? Where would you like to be five years from now? Ten years from now? If there's one thought you could leave with our readers, what would that be?

Marc Slater

Thank you for having me. You have asked some very intelligent questions and it's been a pleasure to answer them. We have lots of exciting projects in progress. We are releasing a range of new products in the test preparation market and all our products will be available on mobile devices this year. We are also in the process of completing massive upgrades to our existing products.

In five and ten years from now, we would like to have helped a hundred thousand and a million people respectively. Our goal in the long term is to be the world leader in self-development technology.

A final thought: Keep improving, keep learning, and keep reading!

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