Sight Reading Strategies

Sight reading Latin and Greek is a pleasurable activity, if you learn how to do it.  By definition, it is a prima vista reading – i.e., you are reading a text you have never seen before.  What can you do in order to obtain that pleasure?

We all sight-read in English (that’s what you are doing right now), so think about the process.  Can you describe exactly what you do?  It may be hard to do so, just as it is hard to explain how you walk.  Walking, for instance, is not limited to the mere alternation of the position of your legs and feet.  Multiple other muscles are involved, as well as your perceptions and brain.  If any of those malfunctions, you stumble or fall.

Yes, it’s hard to explain how we do what we do well.  Now, I am a fast and shrewd reader of English.  When I sight-read, I kinda chunk the English text (not necessarily in sequential order), crisscrossing the page and looking for future chunks logically related to the one I’ve just read.  I may slow down to appreciate an unexpected turn of phrase.  I also skip over chunks that I’ve rapidly assessed as bla-bla.  My brain is intensely involved, and so are my shoulders, I am told.

Because English is not my native language, perhaps the way I sight-read in English is informative.  So tell me what I am forgetting (I mean, you don’t know what I do, but perhaps you may tell me what you do, so I may become aware of other factors involved in my sight-reading strategies). 

One thing I know for sure – I didn’t always sight-read English.  And I do remember those first steps because they underlie the way I read now.  English is a very tricky language for non-native speakers.

That’s why I love The Ten Basic Rules for Reading Latin – they perfectly describe my beginner’s approach to sight-reading English. True, I learned English after I learned Latin and Greek.  But doesn’t this tell you something about the value of studying Latin and Greek?

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2 thoughts on “Sight Reading Strategies

  1. Let’s check the source again:

    Much of the research regarding expertise involves the studies of how experts and novices differ in solving problems […] [According to one study,] novices sort problems into categories based upon surface features (e.g., keywords in the problem statement or visual configurations of the objects depicted). Experts, however, categorize problems based upon their deep structures (i.e., the main principle used to solve the problem).
    Their findings also suggest that while the schemas of both novices and experts are activated by the same features of a problem statement, the experts’ schemas contain more procedural knowledge which aid in determining which principle to apply, and novices’ schemas contain mostly declarative knowledge which do not aid in determining methods for solution.

  2. Annette – this one is for you:

    An experiment on sight reading using an eye tracker indicates that highly skilled musicians tend to look ahead further in the music, storing and processing the notes until they are played; this is referred to as the eye–hand span.
    Storage of notational information in working memory can be expressed in terms of the amount of information (load) and the time for which it must be held before being played (latency). The relationship between load and latency changes according to tempo, such that t = x/y, where t is the change in tempo, x is the change in load, and y is the change in latency. Some teachers and researchers have proposed that the eye–hand span can be trained to be larger than it would otherwise be under normal conditions, leading to more robust sight-reading ability.
    Sight-reading also depends on familiarity with the musical idiom being performed; this permits the reader to recognize and process frequently occurring patterns of notes as a single unit, rather than individual notes, thus achieving greater efficiency. This phenomenon, which also applies to the reading of language, is referred to as chunking. Errors in sight-reading tend to occur in places where the music contains unexpected or unusual sequences; these defeat the strategy of “reading by expectation” that sight-readers typically employ.

    Any insights, Annette?

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