31. How fast do you read English?
(with online WPM tests and timer)

      It may be interesting for you to find out how fast you read English compared to a native speaker, or to other native speakers if you are one yourself. There are some online tests designed to give you an idea of how fast you read when reading silently. We are not that interested right now in silent reading, but you may want to take the test out of curiosity or for fun. Reading speed is measured in words per minute or WPM. The tests are offered by sites trying to sell speed reading courses, but note that we are not recommending such courses; we are just borrowing their reading tests. The texts are fairly difficult, even for a native speaker, so if English is a foreign language for you, you should not expect to be up to anywhere near native speaker speed – some students have expressed great frustration over this! But you don't need to. Do this mainly for fun. And keep in mind that native English speakers vary greatly in their reading speed, according to education level, purpose and difficulty of the reading, personality, how much they practice, and established reading habits – the same as Chinese speakers do.

     To do the silent reading test, go to one of the following sites, read and follow the instructions (e.g. click the timer button), and start reading the passage. When you hear the beep, stop, click on the stop button if necessary, and determine your WPM speed.

     The URLs:



      Once you've had fun with the silent reading test, you can move on to the part we're more concerned with in this unit: your rate of reading English aloud. This will certainly be different than your rate of speaking English in casual conversation, but it is a useful exercise and reference for you, and will give you an idea about the rates of spoken language. First look up any words in the text you don't know, and make sure you understand the entire passage. Then follow the instructions on the site as you did for the silent reading test, but this time read the passage aloud. When you hear the beep, stop, and determine your WPM speed. You may try the test again if you are not satisfied with your results.

     Keep in mind that when reading aloud, faster is not necessarily better, in any language. Reading too fast may make your reading hard to follow, and may make your listener tense and uncomfortable. You are also more likely to stumble on words when trying to read too fast. And you can't express emotion in a natural, comfortable way if you are in too much of a hurry. Clarity is more important than speed. On the other hand, if you read too slowly you will seem to be lacking in energy, and you will soon make your listener, and maybe even yourself, lose interest. The optimum rate is somewhere between the two extremes. Ann Utterback, in her Broadcast Voice Handbook (p. 144), considers a 'normal delivery' rate to be about 150 to 175 WPM. Listening to good actors, or seasoned radio or TV announcers, will give you an idea of what a good reading pace should be.

     You might want to try the test again with a text you pick yourself, at the level of difficulty you think about right for you, or on subject matter that interests you more. First you will need a timer, if you don't already have one. There's a nifty little timer from Atma Software called 1Time, which you can download to your computer from the following site for free, if you like:


     Next, choose a text about one page long in digital form (try Page by Page Books for literary texts, NPR or the BBC for news stories, or Englishzone.com [link 2] for a variety of graded texts) and paste it into a Word file. Set the timer for one minute. Then read the passage at what feels and sounds like a good tempo. When the timer beeps, stop reading immediately. Mark the portion of the passage you finished with your mouse, then use Word's Tools → Word Count function to get a word count.

     Here is another test passage with the number of words marked on every line; this also requires a timer. The passage has some good hints for better and faster reading that may interest you.


     You may like to test your WPM rate reading Chinese (or whatever other language you speak) silently and then aloud by this same method. Keep in mind that the word count for Chinese may be a bit more than twice that of a comparable WPM reading rate for English (this is a rough, impressionistic estimate based on my personal experience in translating Chinese and English) if individual characters are counted, as is the case with the word count function under Word.

     Reading and speaking at an appropriate rate of speed is one of the factors that contribute to sounding like a native English speaker. But in this unit we have only considered absolute speeds. What is even more important is the length and speed of the segments, syllables and pauses relative to each other, or the rhythm of speech. We will discuss this further in another unit. But before that, we will look at some other issues that concern relative rate of speech. The first is schwa elision. How many syllables are there in the words family and chocolate? Find out why we ask this question on the next page!

Next: Schwa elision in English

on to next page        back        index I      index II        home