Speed Reading Tips: 5 Ways to Minimize Subvocalization

Speed Reading Tips: 5 Ways to Minimize Subvocalization

SubvocalizationSubvocalization (also known as auditory reassurance) is a very common habit among readers. It involves saying words in your head while reading and it’s one of the main reasons why people read slowly and have trouble improving their reading speed.

Many speed-reading programs tend to exaggerate and will falsely claim that the key to speed reading is to eliminate the habit of subvocalization. However, study after study shows that eliminating this habit completely is not possible.

In this article, we will discuss how you can minimize subvocalization – not eliminate it. Minimizing subvocalization will help you boost your reading speed, and it will also help you improve your comprehension.

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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.

When you were initially taught to read, you were told to read out loud. Once you were fluent enough, your teacher probably told you to start saying the words in your head. This is how the habit of subvocalization usually originates. Most people continue reading this way for the rest of their lives. But if you want to start reading faster, you need to minimize this habit.

You don’t need to say every word in your head to be able to understand what you are reading. When you were younger, it was absolutely necessary to say each and every single word, but now you can extract the meaning of words by simply seeing them. You don’t need to pronounce them, out loud or in your head, to get that same understanding.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Think about when you are driving. When you see a stop sign, do you actually vocalize the word “STOP” in your head? You may have done so right now while reading the words in the sentence, but when you see a stop sign while driving you’re unlikely to say the word. You see it and recognize that it’s a stop sign automatically.

If you’re like most readers, you probably subvocalize all or most of the words in your head. But you don’t always vocalize everything you read. Here’s another example of this: if you were reading and came across the year “1977”, you probably wouldn’t vocalize in your head “Nineteen Seventy-Seven.” You would be more likely to understand the year by just seeing the number. Or if you saw the number “3,472,382,977”, you probably wouldn’t vocalize the words “three billion, four hundred seventy-two million, three hundred eighty-two thousand, nine hundred and seventy-seven.” That’s a mouthful. For a number like that, you see it and know it’s a big one. The understanding comes quickly. You don’t subvocalize it. If you did, you’d be staring at that number for a while without making progress through the sentence.


It Isn’t About Words, It’s About Ideas

Reading isn’t even about words but rather about extracting ideas, absorbing information, and getting details. Words by themselves don’t mean much unless they’re surrounded by other words. When you read the words “New York City”, do you even think of it as three words? If you’re like most people, you would equate those three words (New York City) to a city. NYC would mean the same thing, right?

ideasMany of the words we see are simply there for grammatical purposes (the, a, an). They don’t provide you with the same kind of meaning as words like “university”. We have to minimize subvocalization in order to boost our reading speed. Why do we have to do this? Because subvocalization limits how fast we can really read.

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.


Reading Speed = Talking Speed for Most People

The average reading speed is about 150-250 words per minute (wpm). And the average talking speed is exactly the same. Because 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. Unless you do disclaimers at the end of commercials, it’s difficult to talk over 300 words per minute. So subvocalization must be minimized because 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 minimize it. For example, let’s say you’re reading some text that said, “The boy jumped over the fence.” To minimize subvocalization, you might just say in your head, “Boy jumped fence,” 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. This is how you minimize subvocalization.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of words in sentences and paragraphs that are not essential to the meaning of that paragraph. We are reading for ideas, not words.


How Subvocalization Can Sometimes Be Useful

Saying words in your head can sometimes be helpful. For example, when you are reading material that has technical terminology or vocabulary that you are not familiar. In situations like this, saying words in your head, or even out loud, can be a useful way to improve and expand your vocabulary.

Here’s another way subvocalization can be useful. If you have to memorize something word for word, subvocalizing the words or saying the words out loud would be helpful. How do you think actors and actresses remember their lines? Reading out loud can help you memorize something word for word, but when you noramlly read, you very rarely need to know something word for word. Most of the time you are reading to extract information, ideas and details.

To boost your reading speed, you need to minimize subvocalization by saying only a few words per line. If you say every word, you’ll be limited to your talking speed.

How do you know if you are changing this habit? If you start reading over 300 words per minute, you are probably not saying every word in your head (because you can’t talk that fast). If you are going over 400 words a minute you are definitely making progress and probably just saying some of the words in your head.


5 Ways To Minimize 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 minimize subvocalization. Using your hand to guide your eyes will also help you grab groups of words while reading, helping you avoid another common reading habit, fixation.

2. Distract Yourself

To minimize subvocalization, try distracting yourself from saying words in your head. How should you distract yourself? There are a couple of ways to do it. One way is try 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 fixating 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 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

This will not only help you minimize subvocalization, but listening to music 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 it is going to throw off your concentration. You may also want to avoid listening to songs that remind you of other things (your high school sweetheart, a fight scene from a movie or anything else that might further distract you).

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 the AccelaReader RSVP Application

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. 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.

I recommend setting a speed of at least 300 words per minute. Anything higher than 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.


Conclusion

As I mentioned earlier, many speed-reading programs tend to exaggerate what is possible by falsely claiming that you can eliminate subvocalization. Your goal should be to minimize this habit, not eliminate it. The five tips mentioned above will help you minimize the habit of subvocalization so you can start reading at the speed of thought.

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Paul Nowak

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.


Comments

  • Kevin Gøhler
    Reply

    Thanks!! I was already reading at least twice as fast, when I reached the end of this article..! I never knew this was possible! I thought speed reading would diminish the amount of information that I would pick up, but not at all. Thanks!

    • Paul Nowak

      Hi Kevin, happy to hear you’re reading faster! -Paul

  • Taha Dhyaadain
    Reply

    I’m new to this silent reading phenomenon and it’s scary to not hear anything at all.
    But I keep holding my breath? Is that normal?

    • Aleks Ander

      Hi Taha, it’s not necessary to hold your breath. The idea behind subvocalization is that you DO NOT need to say all of the words in your head while reading because you’re reading for ideas, not words. When you get caught up in the details, you lose sight of the big picture. While you’re reading, your eyes will still see all of the words… you’re just not saying all of them in your head. Think about it, if you’re saying all of the words in your head while reading, doesn’t that mean you’ll only be able to read as fast as you can talk? But your thinking speed is a lot faster than your talking speed. There’s some required eye-training that helps with minimizing subvocalization, and our Speed Reading Foundation Course covers specific drills and exercises that you can practice in your own reading material. Make sure you check out the video tutorials.

  • Ran Xi
    Reply

    Hi Paul, I took the speed reading course on Lynda and came up with the question, ‘how can I avoid subvocalization’? Also, subvocalization sometimes seems a good way of repetition, which helps to enhance your memory and comprehension? If so, will consciously avoiding subvocalization compromise our understanding? I’m testing that myself. And I think the method by counting 123 in your head is pretty awesome. I wish it could be put on Lynda as well since it’s extremely important.

    • Paul Nowak

      Hi Ran! Yes, subvocalization can be a good way to get some repetition in and is helpful for words you don’t encounter as often. So it can help build your vocabulary in this manner. We’ll work with the team at Lynda to update that particular course to include the information. -Paul

    • Sagar Patil

      I second it !!

    • Sagar Patil

      I second you Ran Xi !

  • Glak
    Reply

    The best content on this issue I’ve ever found in the Web; The article is accessible, short, clear and precise on a more tangible complexity, of both of the problem and the solution approaches.

    I could rapidly experiment and see why I was reading so slowly (somewhere around 150-200 wpm). Now thanks to this new set of understanding, I’m confident I can improve progressively. Thank you.

  • Rakoon
    Reply

    Thank you for the one two three method I will start practicing right away, I have started realizing it’s difficult early on but after reading a few blogs my speed developed a little! May be I’ll keep doing this for the next 30 days and measure my growth. Thank you Paul.

  • Abdulla Shoshaa
    Reply

    Great article. thank you for sharing this information.

  • John Carter
    Reply

    I was taught to vocalize every word I read in my head. I din’t know there was a explanation for it and a name for it. I knew it made me read very slow. Plus it was like I was trying to memorize every word to have comprehension. I felt like I was getting no where. Reading this article has given me direction and hope to improve my reading and understanding. Definitely it will increase my reading ability and speed. I am 66 years old and just going back to school for the first time since I graduated at 18 years old. Thanks.

  • Ran Montgomery
    Reply

    Please clarify a point for me. I was taught, probably incorrectly, that subvocalization meant moving the oro-laryngeal muscles while reading. From the info here it seems this is not true. Does the term also include keeping the speech muscles totally relaxed and still hearing the words pronounced in the conscious mind? Thanks.

    • Abby S

      The book ‘Purposeful Reading in College’ by James McCallister advises against moving your mouth along with the words on the page. It slows down the speed of your reading to the speed you can move your mouth.

      Hope that helps.
      -Abby

    • Abby Smith

      Also, from experience I can tell you that I don’t move my mouth while I read, but I can still hear many of the words in my mind.

  • Tadiwanashe A Sampindi
    Reply

    hi Paul! i was truly in darkness…only if i didnt come across your information i wouldnt be the very speed reader i am right now.thanks alot

  • Faraz Amjad
    Reply

    What a great article! seriously, it has a potential to change the way I read. Shout out to the writer!

    A million thanks.

  • Abby S
    Reply

    I think reading faster than my normal speed was the best speed-building technique I ever adopted. I am now able to read at 400+ wpm. That said, I would tend to disagree with the other advice, namely listening to music and using one’s finger to read along. For me, sound of any kind is distracting, so music is right out. The finger thing too was just a distraction. Maybe I’m a purist, or my reading speed is already fast enough that I don’t feel compelled to pick up new habits, but to me the best advice is 1) minimize distractions (and get interested in the subject if at all possible) and 2) read at a faster speed than is initially comfortable.

  • Douglas
    Reply

    What an excellent way to miss the rhythm and flow of language, and discard all appreciation of its beauty. Thanks for this advice.

    • Alek Sanders

      Minimizing subvocalization requires you to challenge your thinking. Sometimes you need to step outside your comfort zone in order to change old habits and maximize your reading efficiency. Thanks for reading!

  • (47190)8
    Reply

    Yeah I remember I actually used to read faster and faster using sub- vocalization

    It helps actually to correct your reading. I found recently to use awareness of the text lines. I know that it is subvocalization that is distracting but so is anything. All the things you hear and say can be distracting. That is why autocorrect exists in such a matter to remove subvocalization and I am actually: have used, the accessibility features on my iOS device to speak (electronically) aloud the article. Context matters; a key matter mentioned, in how you give it [to reading] while reading and learning. Ah, while typing I was just understanding context to keep continuation of the language of each word. In another word, the vocalization of the real word aloud does matter when entering and reentering context. These access functions on iOS settings holds true my attention.

  • Aidin Eftekhari
    Reply

    In appreciation of your great work Paul, I’ve found the article relatively practical and I highly recommend it to others.

  • Akhilraj
    Reply

    Thank you. It is very informative and has cleared all my doubts about reading. I was totally confused whether to follow mind-reading or subvocalization. Now all my doubts regarding the same have been cleared. Once again thank you.

  • Mahanthesh
    Reply

    Great job sir
    Never thought such training exist
    You enlighten me