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Reading in the narrower sense means taking in written, linguistically formulated thoughts . Reading a text is a heuristic , cognitive process determined by practice and knowledge of the reader .

Girl reading painting by Georgios Jakobides , 1882

Reading in the figurative sense of human perception means making the right selection: observing the right parts of the field of vision in order to recognize the whole as efficiently as possible (principle pars pro toto ). Someone who can read is called an alphabet, the opposite is illiterate . The lack of literacy anchored in a culture is called illiteracy .

Definition and meaning of reading

Reading in a narrower sense describes the visual or tactile conversion of characters into spoken language : letters , spoken syllables, words , sentences and entire text sections . Reading is also used when dealing with non-linear texts, e.g. B. maps , technical drawings , timetables, graphs, circuit diagrams , sheet music and mathematical formulas are used. In a broader sense, it is understood to mean the reconstruction of the meaningful content coded in the text and the construction of a mental representation of this content in a so-called situation or mental model. (see also text interpretation )

Reading can be used as a shortened form for reading aloud. A professor reads “about” a topic when giving a lecture . In a figurative sense, the interpretation of traces of all kinds is called "reading", e.g. As when " trails read" when you "in a face reading" to get out of facial expressions to infer the mood of a person, or if golfers or petanque poker players "the Green" or "the ground" show, so bumps in looking for the lawn.

Regardless of whether someone reads individual letters, texts, maps, technical drawings, tracks or facial expressions, reading always means “a selection of the details to be observed”. It is therefore important that when reading, you look at the places where the “information you are looking for at the moment” can be found.

In computer science , the reproduction of data from a data carrier is referred to as (read) out, (from an input device ) also as read-in. In contrast to human reading, however, data is always treated in the same way - regardless of its content. They are only copied, not evaluated when "reading".

Word origin

Reading is now considered a loan meaning from Latin: The Latin legere (“collect”, “select”, “read”) can be found in the German foreign and borrowed words reading , lecturer and legend . ( to read is essentially related to “guess”, “guess”).

The basic meaning is found in numerous compound words such glean (pick up from the ground), read (after quality characteristics choose [s. O well.]), Handpicked (by individual assessment chosen) and exquisite (high quality). Even the vintage as a careful harvest of grapes goes back to - generally, the reader , d. H. Harvesting (suitable) fruits. Likewise, a well-read person describes someone who is well versed in literature or an educated person.

The view that it was originally a matter of picking up fortune telling sticks (see letters , runes ) is scientifically controversial.

Time that a German (age and gender dependent) spends daily reading (in minutes); w = female, m = male

Cultural meaning

Reading is considered (alongside writing and arithmetic) the most important cultural skill ( cultural technique ); it is part of communication . In order to find your way around, you have to be able to read and understand place-name signs and signposts, warning signs and the lettering of traffic signs. Package leaflets for drugs or operating instructions for devices already make higher demands. Information - such as can be found in books or on the Internet - requires good reading skills.

Reading was seen, especially in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, where reading was usually aloud, as a form of therapy, especially during convalescence.

An important part of reading is reflection , i.e. rethinking what has been read. In philosophy and religion, for example, it is not only the directly imparted knowledge that is important, but above all the knowledge that the reader gains by thinking about what has been read. The narrative literature ( entertainment literature , fiction ) allows the reader to put himself in the shoes of other times and people and thus gain second-hand experience.

The diagram opposite shows the importance of the different text media according to the age and gender of the readers.


The history of the development of reading is inextricably linked with the history of the development of writing . According to Todd, writing and reading are closely related to Primogeniture : Both are techniques for passing on values. However, reading was made much easier by the alphabet fonts. According to David Riesman , reading contributes to the fact that people, shaped by the constraints of tradition, are guided more strongly by reason and inner reflection ( inner-direction ). He also works longer, more persistently and more focused than before. However, since the Second World War the pressure in the direction of other-directedness has increased again in the USA .


Simulation: How an inexperienced reader can read a text at 160 words per minute .

Reading is studied in cognitive psychology , psycholinguistics, and brain research. The visual perception and the associated cognitive processing are examined.

"The following statements apply to alphabet fonts and syllabary fonts such as B. Japanese Kana and with the exception of spelling also for symbolic fonts such as Chinese . "

The simulation roughly shows how and how quickly the individual eye fixations follow each other if no steps back are necessary for understanding the text in order to correct any reading errors that may occur. The blurred text corresponds to the peripheral perception .

Good readers can capture around five to six words at a time with a single fixation. Advanced readers capture word clusters in which - similar to reading sheet music  - words from the lines above and below are also captured. Experienced fast readers can read a complete paragraph with a single fixation by including the peripheral field of vision.

Visual word recognition

Reading a face: eyes, nose and mouth area are fixed, d. H. detected with foveal perception; see also under eye movement registration

Visual perception occurs through fixations . During a fixation, the gaze is directed to a fixation point for about 0.3 seconds . Then he jumps in a quick, jerky movement ( reading saccades [9] ) to another point of fixation. In the fixation phases, high-resolution visual detail images are recorded over the fovea of the eye , during the saccades no perception is possible. The impression of seeing is maintained by the peripheral field of vision and the visual impressions already stored.

The fixations serve to compare inner images with reality. In this respect, the perception differs from a computer input. An experienced person needs fewer fixations to recognize something than an inexperienced person. The number of fixations per second fluctuates only slightly and cannot be deliberately influenced significantly.

A distinction is made in the visual field between the foveal (up to 2 degrees viewing angle) and peripheral (approx. 2 degrees to over 90 degrees), according to their distance from the fovea , the center of sharpest vision on the retina. These are two overlapping systems that differ in their function:

  • The foveal system delivers three to four high-resolution partial images per second.
  • The peripheral system delivers up to 90 compressed total images per second.

For an average reader, the center of sharpest vision on the retina points, depending on the font size, from the fixation point approx. One to three letters towards and one to three letters towards the reading direction. Recognizing words depends on how well they are known (visual vocabulary). The fewer fixations per word are required for word recognition, the faster you can read a text (silently).

The number of possible eye fixations can vary only slightly between three and four per second. With a fixation per word, the reading speed is 180 to 240 words per minute .

The average third grader reads about 100 words per minute. Adults who are inexperienced readers and do not need reading for work cannot get over this speed either. The average reading speed is around 150 words per minute . Quiet reading therefore only becomes exciting when the reading speed is at least reached or even exceeded. Only about 50 percent of sixth year students take this important hurdle.

The eye movements when reading differ significantly from eye movements that are not used to grasp text.

Eye movements and reading speed

Average reading speed measured by age using different tests: Taylor and Landerl's data contain texts adapted to age, the other tests used the same text for all age groups.

People read a text by jumping along the reading direction over the writing to individual parts of words or words. During a fixation lasting on average 250 to 350 ms , partial perceptions are compared with stored data ( visual word recognition ).

If a word is incomprehensible or unknown, the spelling method or phoning is often used , which slows down the reading process. If one does not find meaning in what has been read so far, regressions often occur (returns to parts of the text that have already been read).

The number and type of eye movements are u. a. depending on:

  • Reading competence , difficulty of the text, interest in content.
  • Fatigue or distraction from outside influences.

Emotional touching from the reading content can cause eye movements to stop temporarily.

Eye movements vary roughly in the following ways:

  • The more difficult a text and / or the smaller the visual vocabulary of the reader, the shorter the gaze leaps (reading saccades).
  • The fixation phases are also slightly longer - but only within the range of around 250 to 450  ms .
  • Regressions are becoming more common. Regressions indicate that the text is too difficult or awkward for the reader in question.

Experienced readers are able to read over 250 words per minute. Fast readers create over 1000 words per minute.

So when reading, not every single word is fixed. On the other hand, long and rare words require several fixations for correct word recognition, depending on the existing visual vocabulary . In which cases the predictability of the next words from the grammatical structure or the context of meaning of what has been read so far plays a role depends on the reading experience and the text. In any case, linguistic experience, vocabulary and reading experience are of great importance because, with increasing practice, frequent words can also be recognized from the blurring of peripheral perception.

Types of text reading

To read a text in a spoken language, aural language competence is a prerequisite. This includes general knowledge and vocabulary . Both must correspond to the text to be read.

The types of text reading described below are a prerequisite for a good reader and complement each other.


  • When spelling alphabetic scripts, the letters must be recognized individually and their phonetic value assigned (phoning).
  • The sequence of these letters is assigned and pronounced a word that is known aurally .
  • Spelling is typical for novice readers who already know and can distinguish the letters.
  • Particular difficulties in spelling arise where the phonetic values ​​of the letters do not match the pronunciation of the whole word - e.g. B. with twilight or umlauts.
  • Even experienced readers spell when an unknown foreign-language word occurs in the text. So spelling is part of reading skills.
  • In the case of unfamiliar fonts or old manuscripts, spelling must also be used. When reading current letters, not spelling can even lead to errors.
  • Spelling is a very slow process: it takes around two seconds to spell a word of seven to eight letters. The spelling speed is therefore a maximum of 30 words per minute. "Spelling is at least five times slower than reading fluently."

Recognize words

As a good reader you can understand what is meant by this sentence, even if not a single word is spelled correctly.

With increasing practice, words can be correctly assigned, even if only part of the letters is fixed .

  • Over time, very common short words - such as is , or , and - are no longer directly looked at.
  • Only the beginning and end of the somewhat longer and more frequent words are checked.

In this way, the reader reaches a reading speed of 120 to 150 words per minute. Just recognizing words and reading a text aloud does not guarantee the understanding of the text.

Capture meaning at the sentence level

In order to capture the meaning of an individual sentence, the duration of the capture must not exceed the storage capacity of the short-term memory , which lasts around two seconds . This means that the difficulty of grasping meaning depends on the reading speed and the length of the sentence - always provided that most of the words used are known to the reader.

In order to be able to read and understand sections of text with sentences averaging eight words in length, the reading speed must be four words per second; this corresponds to 240 words per minute.

If the reading speed is below 240 words per minute, the beginning of the sentence has already been forgotten. The sentence then has to be partially reread, whereby the reading speed is greatly reduced.

Capture meaning on a thematic level

  • By grasping the connection between parts of sentences and comments in brackets (the understanding of what “we are talking about”), one learns to understand word meanings and complex sentences from the context .
  • The reading speed can be increased further because the content is compressed.
  • If the text is already known, the reading speed can be increased even further.
  • Cross-reading (diagonal) or cursory reading is used when you want to skip part of the text without losing the context.

Reading functions: information search, entertainment and education

Reading is also used to search for information in the form of looking up information collections such as timetables, encyclopedias or tables. The point here is to find a specific item as quickly as possible. Depending on the type of text, different search strategies are used.

Reading of fictional texts in particular serves entertainment by stimulating the imagination.

Motivation to read

The motivation to read is understood as the degree of desire to read. A distinction is made between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Theoretical concepts of motivation to read examine the reasons a person reads. Reading motivation is considered a necessary condition for building reading skills.

Reading disorders


Dyslexia (poor / incorrect reproduction / speech) is understood to mean problems with reading and understanding words or texts when the person concerned has normal vision and hearing.


Dyslexia (weak reading and spelling) is a massive and long-lasting disorder of the acquisition of the written language (written language).

See also

  • Book market research (reader research)
  • Electronic paper - display techniques that attempt to recreate the appearance of ink or paint on paper.
  • Easy to read - a term for texts that are easy to understand for people with learning difficulties.
  • reading
  • Legibility - in addition to legibility, the structure of the content and the structure of texts, this is one of several criteria for text comprehensibility.
  • Reading promotion - measures aimed at imparting reading skills, interest in and enjoyment of reading to a target group, especially children and young people.
  • Reading society - outside of the state, church and corporate social order, they were the most widespread form of organization in the enlightened 18th and early 19th centuries.
  • Reading circle - a form of subscription in which a selection of magazines is not bought but rather borrowed or rented for a certain period of time.
  • Phonological awareness
  • Keyword (linguistics)
  • Written language acquisition - learn to read.
  • Reading Foundation - a foundation to promote reading pleasure and literacy.


  • Mortimer Adler , Charles Van Doren : How to Read a Book. 3. Edition. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main 2008, ISBN 3-86150-784-6 .
  • Andreas Bulling, Jamie A. Ward, Hans Gellersen, Gerhard Tröster: Pervasive Computing . In: Robust Recognition of Reading Activity in Transit Using Wearable Electrooculography . Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg 2008, ISBN 3-540-79575-8 , pp. 19-37 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-540-79576-6_2 .
  • Stanislas Dehaene : Reading - The greatest invention of mankind and what happens in our minds. Translated by Helmut Reuter, A. Knaus, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-8135-0383-8 .
  • Bodo Franzmann (Hrsg.) Among others: Handbook reading. Saur, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-598-11327-7 .
  • Hans-Werner Hunziker : In the eye of the reader, foveal and peripheral perception - from spelling to reading pleasure . Transmedia, Zurich 2006, ISBN 3-7266-0068-X .
  • Christian Klicpera, Barbara Gasteiger-Klicpera: Psychology of reading and writing difficulties. Development, causes, promotion . Psychologie-Verlag-Union, Beltz 1995, ISBN 3-621-27271-2 .
  • Norbert Kühne : Language and reading promotion. In: Katrin Zimmermann-Kogel: Practical book social pedagogy. Volume 2, Troisdorf 2006, ISBN 3-427-75410-3 , pp. 68-93.
  • Alberto Manguel : A History of Reading. Volk und Welt, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-353-01101-3 .
  • Christian Peirick: Rational Reading Techniques - Read Faster - Keep More . 4th edition. KH Bock Verlag, Honnef 2013, ISBN 978-3-86796-086-1 .
  • Karin Richter, Monika Plath: Reading motivation in primary school. Empirical findings and models for teaching . Juventa, Weinheim 2005, ISBN 3-7799-1356-9 .
  • Maryanne Wolf: The reading brain - How humans came to read - and what it does in our heads. Spectrum, Heidelberg 2009, ISBN 978-3-8274-2122-7 .
  • Erwin Miedtke: "Learn to read / learn to live" - ​​in digital culture as a special task of public libraries for children and young people. In: bit-online. Volume 3, 2009, p. 318.
  • Udo Gößwald (ed.): The magic of reading. Museum Neukölln, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-944141-19-0 .
  • Jesper Svenbro : La parole et le marbre. Aux origines de la poétique grecque. Lund 1976.
  • Jesper Svenbro: Phrasikleia. An anthropology of reading in ancient Greece. Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1993, ISBN 0-8014-9752-3 ( excerpt from Google Books ).

See also:

Web links

Commons : Reading  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikiquote: Reading  - Quotes
Wiktionary: read  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. This usage is seldom, since "the" alphabet is usually meant.
  2. Compare also spoken language vs. Written language .
  3. and originally these as far away as possible, so read off!
  4. to read
  5. a b c Hans-Werner Hunziker: In the eye of the reader, foveal and peripheral perception - from spelling to reading pleasure . Transmedia, Zurich 2006. ISBN 3-7266-0068-X
  6. ^ Ferdinand Peter Moog: Medicine and Poetry (antiquity). In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , pp. 920-929; here: p. 927 f. ( Literature as therapy ).
  7. Emmanuel Todd: Sad Modern Age. Munich 2018, p. 158 ff.
  8. ^ David Riesman: The lonely crowd. 1950.
  9. Dr. med. Heike Schuhmacher Mistakes have to be seen!
  10. ^ Andreas Bulling, Jamie A. Ward, Hans Gellersen, Gerhard Tröster: Pervasive Computing . In: Robust Recognition of Reading Activity in Transit Using Wearable Electrooculography . Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg 2008, ISBN 3-540-79575-8 , pp. 19-37 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-540-79576-6_2 .
  11. ^ Stanford E. Taylor: Eye Movements in Reading - Facts and Fallacies . tape 2 , no. 4 . Educational Developmental Laboratories, Huntington 1963, pp. 187-202 .
  12. ^ Karin Landerl: Reading speed test (national and international) . In: G. Haider, B. Lang (Eds.): PISA PLUS 2000 . Studien Verlag, Innsbruck 2001, p. 119-130 .
  13. Sarah Junge: The promotion of reading motivation in elementary school, 2009, p. 4
  14. Ursula Maria Stalde: Reading desire in risk groups - group-specific causal relationships, 2013, p. 39
  15. Senta Pfaff-Rüdige: Lesemotivation und Lesestrategien, 2011, p. 101
  16. Senta Pfaff-Rüdige: Lesemotivation und Lesestrategien, 2011, p. 19
  17. Juliane Dube: Requirements for acquiring and maintaining reading motivation, 2009, p. 2