How To Reduce Subvocalization
Are You Hearing Your Own Voice in Your Head?
If you’re hearing yourself in your head while reading, that is because this is how most people were taught to read; to say the words silently in their head.
This habit is called subvocalization, and although common, it is one of the main reasons why people read slowly and have trouble improving their reading speed.
Think about it this way: If you are saying every word in your head, doesn’t that mean that you can only read as fast as you can talk? If you’re saying every single word in your head, your limit is going to be your talking speed.
The average reading speed is about 150-250 words per minute (wpm), and the average talking speed is exactly the same. Since most people say words in their head while reading (subvocalization), they tend to read at around the same rate as they talk. You can test this out for yourself if you like. Try reading for one minute normally and then try reading out loud for one minute. If you’re like most people, your reading speed and talking speed will be similar (within 50 words higher or lower).
Why do most people read between 150 and 250 wpm and not above 300 wpm? Because it’s hard to talk that fast, so we need to change this habit of subvocalization. You don’t want to get stuck reading as fast as you talk. You’re capable of reading as fast as you can think.
Changing the habit of subvocalization is easier said than done. You can’t just turn this voice in your head off. Instead of eliminating this habit, you want to reduce it. For example, you are reading a sentence that says, “The boy jumped over the fence.” That sentence has a number of words in it. To reduce subvocalization, you might just say in your head, “Boy jumped fence,” which is three words rather than six words in that sentence. Some people think this means skipping words, but you are not actually skipping them. Your eyes still see all the other words. You are simply just saying a few of the words. Keep in mind that there are a lot of words in sentences and paragraphs that are not essential to the meaning of that paragraph.
5 Ways To Reduce Subvocalization
1. Use Your Hand To Guide Your Eyes While Reading
We keep on emphasizing the importance of using your hand to guide your eyes. It’s a central principle to all speed-reading techniques, and it’s something that will help you reduce subvocalization. Try reading with your hand as a guide at a speed over 300 words per minute (wpm). If you’re able to reading over 300 wpm, you’ll find that you won’t be saying all the words in your head because you can’t talk that fast. You might be saying some words, and that’s alright. So long as you aren’t saying each and every single word.
2. Distract Yourself
To further reduce subvocalization, you can try distracting yourself from saying words in your head. How should you distract yourself? One way is trying to chew gum while you read. If you chew gum while reading, it will distract you from saying the words in your head.
You can also distract yourself from saying words by occupying that voice in your head with another voice. Try counting from one to three while you are reading the material (example: “one, two, three” line-by-line). While you are doing this, try to fixate your eyes somewhere at the beginning of the line, somewhere in the middle of the line, and somewhere at the end of the line. While you are looking in those three places, you’ll want to be counting “one, two, three.” By doing this you will also be fixating on three groups of words rather than each and every single word. You can count “one, two, three” out loud (maybe whispering) or in your head. Either way, you’ll distract yourself from saying the actual words you are reading. With some practice, you’ll find it easier to avoid saying all the words in your head as you read.
3. Listen To Music While Reading
Listening to music while you read will not only help you minimize subvocalization, but may also help you concentrate better. However, keep in mind that not all types of music are going to help you concentrate. You want to avoid listening to music with lyrics or anything with a strong beat because this type of music could be distracting while reading.
Listen to something that is instrumental. Classical music usually works best. That will help you to improve your concentration and it will also help you to minimize your habit of subvocalization.
4. Use AccelaReader.com
AccelaReader uses “rapid serial visual presentation” (RSVP) to help you boost your reading speed and minimize subvocalization. The application is simple to use. You simply paste the text you want to read into a textbox and set your reading speed and press play. The words then blink on the screen at the speed that you set. You can also choose how many words you want to blink at a time.
Try setting a speed of at least 300 wpm. Anything higher than 300 wpm that will help you avoid subvocalizing all the words. The faster you go, the less words you will be able to say in your head. With some practice, you’ll find it easier to minimize this habit of subvocalization.
5. Force Yourself To Read Faster Than You Normally Would
Let’s say you normally read 250 wpm. Try going a little faster (maybe 300 or 350 wpm). If you force yourself to go a little faster than you normally read, you’ll minimize the amount of words you say in your head. In addition to minimizing subvocalization, you’ll also improve your focus because you have to pay attention more when you read a little faster. Again, the more you practice pushing yourself faster, the faster you will get.
Many speed-reading programs tend to exaggerate what is possible by falsely claiming that you can eliminate subvocalization. Your goal should be to reduce this habit, not eliminate it. The five tips mentioned above will help you reduce the habit of subvocalization so you can start reading at the speed of thought.
Paul is the founder of Iris Reading, the largest provider of speed-reading courses in North America. His workshops have been taught to thousands of students and professionals throughout the U.S. and Canada.