It is a means of language acquisition, of communication, and of sharing information and ideas. Effective readers use decoding skills (to translate printed text into the sounds of language), use morpheme, semantics, syntax and context cues to identify the meaning of unknown words, activate prior knowledge (schemata theory), use comprehension, and demonstrate fluency during reading.
Although reading print text is now an important way for the general population to access information, this has not always been the case. With some exceptions, only a small percentage of the population in many countries were considered literate before the Industrial Revolution.
Other methods of teaching and learning to read have developed, and become somewhat controversial :
- Phonics involves teaching reading by associating characters or groups of characters with sounds. Sometimes argued to be in competition with whole language methods.
- Whole language methods involve acquiring words or phrases without attention to the characters or groups of characters that compose them. Sometimes argued to be in competition with phonics methods, and that the whole language approach tends to impair learning how to spell.
Learning to read in a second language, especially in adulthood, may be a different process than learning to read a native language in childhood.
There are cases of very young children learning to read without having been taught.  Such was the case with Truman Capote who reportedly taught himself to read and write at the age of 5. There are accounts of people who taught themselves to read by comparing street signs or Biblical passages to speech, as well as many mentions of Lincoln teaching himself. The novelist Nicholas Delbanco taught himself to read at age six by studying a book about boats during a transatlantic crossing.
There are several types and methods of reading, with differing rates that can be attained for each, for different kinds of material and purposes:
- Subvocalized reading combines sight reading with internal sounding of the words as if spoken. Advocates of speed reading claim it can be a bad habit that slows reading and comprehension. These claims are currently backed only by controversial, sometimes non-existent scientific research.
- Speed reading is a collection of methods for increasing reading speed without an unacceptable reduction in comprehension or retention. It is closely connected to speed learning.
- Proofreading is a kind of reading for the purpose of detecting typographical errors. One can learn to do it rapidly, and professional proofreaders typically acquire the ability to do so at high rates, faster for some kinds of material than for others, while they may largely suspend comprehension while doing so, except when needed to select among several possible words that a suspected typographic error allows.
- Structure-Proposition-Evaluation (SPE) method, popularized by Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book, mainly for non-fiction treatise, in which one reads a writing in three passes: (1) for the structure of the work, which might be represented by an outline; (2) for the logical propositions made, organized into chains of inference; and (3) for evaluation of the merits of the arguments and conclusions. This method involves suspended judgment of the work or its arguments until they are fully understood.
- Survey-Question-Read-Recite-Review (SQ3R) method, often taught in public schools, which involves reading toward being able to teach what is read, and would be appropriate for instructors preparing to teach material without having to refer to notes during the lecture.
- Multiple Intelligences-based methods, which draw upon the reader's diverse ways of thinking and knowing to enrich his or her appreciation of the text. Reading is fundamentally a linguistic activity: one can basically comprehend a text without resorting to other intelligences, such as the visual (e.g., mentally "seeing" characters or events described), auditory (e.g., reading aloud or mentally "hearing" sounds described), or even the logical intelligence (e.g., considering "what if" scenarios or predicting how the text will unfold based on context clues). However, most readers already use several intelligences while reading, and making a habit of doing so in a more disciplined manner -- i.e., constantly, or after every paragraph -- can result in more vivid, memorable experience.
Rates of reading include reading for memorization (under 100 words per minute (wpm)), reading for learning (100–200 wpm), reading for comprehension (200–400 wpm), and skimming (400–700 wpm). Reading for comprehension is the essence of most people’s daily reading. Skimming is sometimes useful for processing larger quantities of text superficially at a much lower level of comprehension (below 50%).
Advice for the appropriate choice of reading rate includes reading flexibly, slowing down when the concepts are closer together or when the material is unfamiliar, and speeding up when the material is familiar and the material is not concept rich. Speed reading courses and books often encourage the reader to continually speed up; comprehension tests lead the reader to believe their comprehension is constantly improving. However, competence in reading involves the understanding that skimming is dangerous as a default habit.
The table to the left shows how reading rate varies with age  , probably regardless of time period (1965 to 2005) and language (English, French German). The values of Taylor are probably higher because he discarded students who failed the comprehension test.
The test of the french psychologist Pierre Lefavrais ("L'alouette", published in 1967) asked for reading out aloud with a penalty for errors and could therefore not be much faster than 150 wpm.
Types of reading tests
- Sight word reading: reading words of increasing difficulty until they become unable to read or understand the words presented to them. Difficulty is manipulated by using words that have more letters or syllables, are less common and have more complicated spelling-sound relationships.
- Nonword reading: reading lists of pronounceable nonsense words out loud. The difficulty is increased by using longer words, and also by using words with more complex spelling or sound sequences.
- Reading comprehension: a passage is presented to the reader, which they must read either silently or out loud. Then a series of questions are presented that test the reader's comprehension of this passage.
- Reading fluency: the rate with which individuals can name words.
- Reading accuracy: the ability to correctly name a word on a page.
Some tests incorporate several of the above components at once. For instance, the Nelson-Denny Reading Test scores readers both on the speed with which they can read a passage, and also their ability to accurately answer questions about this passage.
Studies have shown that American children who learn to read by the third grade are less likely to end up in prison, drop out of school, or take drugs. Adults who read literature on a regular basis are nearly three times as likely to attend a performing arts event, almost four times as likely to visit an art museum, more than two-and-a-half times as likely to do volunteer or charity work, and over one-and-a-half times as likely to participate in sporting activities. Literacy rates in the United States are also more highly correlated to weekly earnings than IQ. A graph showing this relationship is shown here. Reading books is generally regarded as being a relaxing past-time, while at the same time requiring the brain to process text so it can be stimulated. Because of this it is sometimes considered to cause at least a temporary increase in one's mental faculties.
Reading requires more lighting than many other activities. Therefore, the possibility of comfortable reading in cafés, restaurants, buses, at bus stops or in parks greatly varies depending on available lighting and time of day. Starting in the 1950s, many offices and classrooms were over-illuminated. Since about 1990, there has been a movement to create reading environments with appropriate lighting levels (approximately 600 to 800 lux).
- Dina Feitelson (1988). Facts and fads in beginning reading: a cross-language perspective. Norwood, N.J: Ablex Pub. Corp. ISBN 0-89391-507-6.
- Stainthorp, Rhona and Diana Hughes. Learning From Children Who Read at an Early Age, Routledge, 1999.
- Hans-Werner Hunziker, (2006) Im Auge des Lesers foveale und periphere Wahrnehmung: vom Buchstabieren zur Lesefreude ISBN 978-3-7266-0068-6
- Hans-Werner Hunziker, Im Auge des Lesers, foveale und periphere Wahrnehmung: vom Buchstabieren zur Lesefreude, page 117, Transmedia Zurich (2006) ISBN-13: 978-3-7266-0068-6
- Promote Reading: Share Books. Charity Guide. Jamie Littlefield
- Briggs A., Burke P. (2002) MAS 214, Macquarie University, A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the. Internet, Cambridge: Polity Press.
- National Right To Read Foundation
- National Endowment for the Arts (June 2004). "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America" (pdf)
- Littlefield, Jamie (2006). "Promote Reading: Share Books" Retrieved June 20, 2006.
- Shaywitz, S. E. et al.: Evidence that dyslexia may represent the lower tail of a normal distribution of reading ability. The New England Journal of Medicine 326 (1992)145-150.
- Bainbridge, J. and Malicky, G. 2000. Constructing Meaning: Balancing Elementary Language Arts. Toronto: Harcourt.
- Ontario Ministry of Education, 2003. Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading. Toronto: Queen's Printer for Ontario.
- Gipe, J. 2002. Multiple Paths to Literacy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
- Eye movement in language reading
- Eye movement in music reading
- Great Books
- Haskins Laboratories
- International Reading Association
- Radio Reading Service such as 2RPH reads newspapers and magazines for the benefit of people who are unable to read for themselves.
- Readability test
- Reading skills acquisition
- Slow reading
- Speed reading
- Time Reading Program, a book club sponsored by Time from 1961 - 1966
- Vision span
- Word Guessing
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- Free Reading Test
- The ReadSmart System - www.ReadSmarterFaster.com
- Haskins Laboratories: the science of the spoken and written word
- Lehrl, S., & Fischer, B. (1990) Measuring of reading rate
- Paper on word recognition at Microsoft typography site
- Sight Words Exercises
- Magazine Publishers Family Literacy Project
- A better way to learn sight words
- Free reading grade level tests and the MWIA, a test to determine dyslexia
- Children of the Code: The History and Science of Learning to Read and Comprehend
- Childrensbookradio: Popular Podcast and Directory of Children's Literature
- International Reading Association
- Reading Rockets: Reading Comprehension and Language Arts Teaching Strategies