Do Deaf People Subvocalize When They Read? (Important Facts) | Iris Reading
Do Deaf People Subvocalize When They Read

Do Deaf People Subvocalize When They Read? (Important Facts)

Do Deaf People Subvocalize When They Read

Subvocalization means sounding out words in the mind as we read them, which is how most people were taught to read. However, the case may be different for deaf people. 

Most deaf people, especially those deaf from birth, don’t subvocalize when they read. They can’t associate sounds with words like hearing people. So instead, they rely on associating words with images or their equivalent in American Sign Language (ASL) to comprehend them. 

Subvocalizing has its uses when learning to read in any language, but as the need to read more material arises, it can become an impediment. This is the opposite for many deaf people, who may find it harder to learn to read but read faster over time. 

Knowing how deaf people read may be helpful if you want to improve your reading speed or teach a deaf person to read. 

In this post, we will examine whether deaf people subvocalize, how they learn to read, and their reading speed. This will make you a more efficient reader and help you understand speed reading techniques better. 

What is subvocalization?

Subvocalization is a method of sounding out words in your mind as you read them. We learned to read by sounding them aloud, but as we grow older, this becomes an internal speech. We use this subconscious habit to give words context and categorize them. 

Many people were introduced to reading by sounding out words. This enables brain activation, so you can pronounce and remember terms. 

Although some still read aloud, you will employ your inner voice over time, even when doing silent reading. 

When reading, the brain decodes words and translates them into thoughts. The decoding aspect is associated with sound. 

So, every time a word appears in a cluster of text, your brain automatically tries to associate it with the sound to decode it. This process is known as subvocalization. 

Research shows that this natural mental activity creates a phonological loop. This phonological loop introduces a pattern to words and helps to access meanings that improve comprehension.  

This has some implications on your reading habit, especially as the number of materials you have to read in adult life increases. Many people even consider subvocalization as a bad habit

Being able to read fast beats reading fluently. But subvocalization or your inner speech will slow your reading speed and waste your time. So, many people work to improve their scanning rates for more flexible reading. 

How do deaf people learn language?

Deaf people learn a language using a variety of methods. There’s no universal method, but many deaf persons learn to understand the people around them by reading body signals, lip reading, and using American Sign Language or Manually Coded English. 

Sign language 

The first official language many deaf people learn is American Sign Language (ASL). Sign language is a visual language that uses symbols and images to convey meaning. Deaf people are taught to use this highly-developed language to communicate. 

Contrary to what some may say, ASL and English have significant differences. The sentence structure and the meaning of some terms differ. 

The visual language most similar to English is Manually Coded English (MCE). While most of its rules are derived from ASL, it follows the rules and meanings of English. 

However, deaf persons also learn in many other ways before officially learning ASL. Some of the most common methods are:

Auditory/ Oral

Most deaf people have some hearing left, commonly known as “residual hearing.” So, they can maximize this hearing by using building blocks such as cochlear implants and hearing aids. 

Building blocks allow deaf people to learn a language by listening, lip reading, and speaking. These are usually very difficult, but deaf people with access to a speech pathologist can learn after a period of audio training and speech speaking. 

Cued speech

A person who can’t hear can learn language by looking at people’s mouths and expressions when they talk. You likely use other senses when talking, so they may read natural body cues and pick up words when you spell them with your fingers. 

This is challenging, but it works when learning a first language. 

How do deaf people learn how to read?

Deaf people learn to read by chaining. Chaining involves associating images and signs with words. Instead of having silent speech like hearing people, teachers point at words and do the sign or point at its image to help a deaf student assign the sign or image to that word. 

This process is significantly slower than subvocalizing. They also use picture books and letter cards to aid reading comprehension. 

Understanding ASL before learning to read can make the process smoother for deaf kids. For example, deaf people who sign in MCE often find reading easier since it directly translates into English. 

Yet, there are some challenges involved. For example, subvocalization aids cognition and reading comprehension for new readers, and since deaf people do not subvocalize, it might be harder and take longer for them to learn how to read. 

Still, deaf people can quickly improve their memory function with a memory course. Our maximizing memory course can help anyone improve their memory with practical techniques.

Is it harder for deaf people to learn how to read?

Research shows it is harder for deaf people to learn how to read than for hearing people. They usually start as slow readers because they are unable to subvocalize. Deciphering by images or signs is significantly harder because sign language differs from English. 

Subvocalizing is a fast and efficient way to learn to read. It’s the only mental activity that creates a form of brain activation of speech and reading. 

Since hearing people can engage in this natural process, they often pick up reading faster. Besides, there’s a hundred percent match between what they speak and read. 

In contrast, deaf persons use images instead of speech sounds. This is harder and can be initially limited. While they can rely on signs, evidence shows that there can be a disconnect between ASL and written English. 

For example, English has one word for ‘right’ regardless of context, but ASL has different signs for different contexts in which right is used. 

On the other hand, ASL has similar signs for paper and movies, which use two utterly different letter clusters and sound patterns in English. 

Also, ASL codes sentences in subject + verb + object format, but English can sometimes get pretty dynamic with structure. 

Since deaf people use their inner signs when reading, there can be a conflict of meanings, making reading more complex and slower. 

However, there are still some similarities between ASL and English that make it easier for those who already understand signing to read than one who doesn’t. 

Do deaf people use subvocalization when reading?

Deaf people can’t sound out words to attach meaning to them, so they don’t subvocalize. They do not have inner sounds that they ascribe to words and therefore do not fixate. 

The closest they have is inner signs. Many deaf people associate signs and images with words instead. 

Subvocalization is a habit that only people with hearing can have. Since deaf people have no idea what words sound like, they can’t fixate on pronouncing those words in their minds as they read. 

However, if a deaf person was once capable of hearing, they may read by combining subvocalization and sign language. 

But because skilled deaf people don’t subvocalize, they also make highly efficient readers. Subvocalizing slows reading down. If you constantly subvocalize, you’ll often fixate on words and reread them multiple times. 

Deaf people don’t have this problem. They usually don’t reread words and move their gaze over texts differently. 

As a hearing person, when you focus on a text, you only get a clear and detailed vision of a small region, and the peripheral will appear blurred. This is called foveal vision.

When this happens, your ears can become sharper to pick up environmental cues. Your attention gets reduced, and you’ll only be able to pick up one to three words at once. This slows down your reading. 

But for deaf people, their hearing doesn’t kick in. Their peripheral stays sharp, which enables them to pick up several words at once and skip through texts faster. 

What do deaf people hear when reading?

Deaf people don’t hear anything when reading. Instead, they may see images and signs. Since they are deaf, they can’t map sounds with words and fixate on them. With practice, this makes them faster readers. 

On the other hand, partially deaf people may hear sounds when reading if they are taught to read with the subvocalization technique. 

This makes their learning process the same as hearing people’s, so they may grow with the same habit and hear sounds when reading. 

Can deaf people practice speed reading?

Deaf people can become speed readers. Once they master reading, they become some of the fastest readers and can improve this with speed reading techniques. 

Subvocalization is a major factor that hinders hearing people from being able to read fast. If you fixate on words, you’ll get distracted and have to reread words and sentences. Deaf people already have an advantage in this respect. 

In addition, they can also use speed reading tools like AccelaReader. 

AccelaReader is a free smart reading tool you can copy texts into to practice reading faster. You can set the number of words that appear on the screen at a time and the speed level you want. This creates room to practice reading more efficiently. 

Takeaway: Deaf people can also master speed reading

Deaf people do not subvocalize. They read with ASL and visualize images and signs. While this makes reading significantly harder for them at first, they get better with practice, and many skilled deaf people soon become faster and more efficient readers than hearing people.  

They learn a language using a combination of auditory, bilingual, visual, and cue methods, which all translate into making their vision wider and reading more seamless. 

Beyond this, everyone gets better with practice and learning the right reading techniques. You can always use speed reading tools and take courses to improve your reading efficiency. 

At Iris Reading, we offer a speed reading foundational course. This comprehensive course is excellent for improving your reading speed, and it helps you become better in your academic or professional life.

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