Does Everyone Have Subvocalization?
Many people have subvocalization, but not everyone experiences this phenomenon.
Research has found that subvocalization happens because of our speech organs. They mimic the movements of talking while we are reading silently. This makes us hear our own words in our heads.
Subvocalization has been theorized to improve comprehension and reinforce learning. However, it can also hinder your reading speed. But there’s an easy fix for that.
If you want to learn more about subvocalization and increase your reading speed, this article is for you.
We will tell you all about subvocalization. And we will give you tips on improving your reading speed despite subvocalization.
Let’s get started!
What is subvocalization?
Subvocalization is the phenomenon where you hear words in your head when you are reading something.
This is often called silent speech and is associated with silent reading. As you silently read the actual words, you hear the words in your head.
This inner voice is a natural process that occurs in many people. This is especially true when they are reading unfamiliar words.
Silent speech can help you imagine how the text sounds, thus creating auditory imagery. Many people claim that this makes for a more immersive reading experience. And this process is wider than the English language.
You hear all the words in your head, even if you speak or read in another language.
What causes subvocalization?
This process takes place using your speech organs. Research has shown that muscle memory is connected to inner speech.
Silent reading triggers the same muscles used in producing speech when we read aloud. Therefore, even when we don’t read aloud, the sensory input induces the same mental processing and makes us hear our words.
The muscles involved in speech articulation move during silent reading to evoke the word’s sound. This gives us the auditory reassurance that we are reading that word.
However, these movements are too small to be detected. You wouldn’t notice them even while reading this article while subvocalizing it.
NASA scientists used sensors to transcribe whatever a subject read. These sensors were attached to the throat of their subject. This allowed the scientists to record movement in the throat region during silent reading.
This shows the significant involvement of speech organs in subvocalization.
Researchers now believe that subvocalization is used to improve our reading comprehension. They believe it is similar to how muscle memory works. When we perform different tasks repeatedly, our muscles learn to do that more efficiently. Similarly, when our muscles move while reading, they learn to “read better.”
This means that the more times we encounter a certain word, the quicker our brain processes it. That’s because we are getting the auditory imagery in addition to seeing those words. Thus, hearing voices helps us retain information better.
If you want to experience subvocalization, try reading the following sentence. It’s the best example to help you understand the phenomenon.
“The Boston Public Library opened in 1852, founded the American tradition of free public libraries open to all citizens.”
While reading the sentence above, you might have noticed a small pause after “Library” and “1852”. That’s the breath units. They divide the information into different segments for the average reader who subvocalizes.
It’s a natural process as the inner voice reads the different segments separately.
There are two different kinds of subvocalization: voluntary and involuntary subvocalization.
This is the more common type of subvocalization. It’s a reading habit that makes people hear different words as they read them.
Their mental activity that causes the subvocalization isn’t conscious. They don’t do it on purpose. It comes naturally to them. However, some people complain that it tends to reduce their reading speed.
This is the more uncommon kind of subvocalization. Usually, people employ it to hear individual words when they want to pay closer attention to the text at hand.
It’s often employed to read unfamiliar words.
How common is subvocalization?
There’s no exact answer for its prevalence. But research suggests that it’s likely very common.
Most people subvocalize by default while reading silently. Even deaf people subvocalize most words while they read.
They do this through tiny movements in their fingers that seem involuntary. That’s their equivalent of “hearing” in sign language during silent reading.
It’s further backed by the fact that most people’s reading speed is usually similar to their talking speed. That’s because their vocal cords get involved when they read while subvocalizing. Thus, they can only read as fast as their vocal cords allow.
Hence, the average reading speed of about 200-250 words per minute (WPM) is similar to the average speaking speed of 200-240 WPM.
This further corroborates the fact that if you eliminate subvocalization, you can read faster. Therefore, some people looking to improve their reading speed tend to minimize subvocalization.
This helps them in improving their reading ability.
Is subvocalization normal?
Subvocalization is completely normal, and many people use it for reading material. The inner voice you hear is your speech organs working together with your eyes to produce sound.
Subvocalization is considered one of the pieces of Baddeley’s working memory model. This was a proposal by English scientists in 1974. In this theory, they claim that subvocalization is part of a phenomenon called the phonological loop.
The phonological loop theory is based on the movement during subvocalization. The theory suggests that considerable movement during subvocalization helps to commit things to our short-term memory.
However, subvocalization might be holding you back if you want to increase your reading speed. If you don’t retain the information you read without subvocalization, try improving your memory.
There’s a great online course that can help you in maximizing memory.
Scientists are discovering more about our brains each day. Therefore, they are still learning new things about subvocalization.
They recently found that subvocalization activates multiple regions of our brain. One of the most significant areas was the Broca’s region. Brain activation in this region is associated with speaking.
Therefore, all of this suggests that our inner voice is connected to our voice itself. However, we still need more evidence before we can form mechanistic associations. This is especially true for its role in our short-term memory.
Is subvocalization a bad thing?
It’s okay to subvocalize. However, it can slow down your reading speed. But you can easily fix that with a few speed-reading techniques. Or you can learn to minimize subvocalization.
So far, the evidence suggests that subvocalization is a completely natural process. It plays an important role in our working memory.
Some scientists even think that not being able to subvocalize might have hindered our reading ability.
It’s generally believed that subvocalization is a useful trick. It helps us in comprehension and retain information in our short-term memory.
Therefore, it can be useful for learning new concepts and ideas because it reinforces learning.
However, it can certainly affect your reading speed. Most readers who subvocalize have reading speeds limited to their speaking speed.
Let’s talk a little more about that.
Does subvocalization affect your comprehension or reading speed?
Subvocalization improves reading comprehension by helping us commit things to our short-term memory. However, it reduces our reading speed and limits it to our talking speed.
Despite its uses for learning new things, subvocalization is often considered a “bad habit” among the speed reading community.
Many scientists now agree that subvocalization can become a limiting factor in determining your reading speed. Therefore, people who want to read faster are encouraged to reduce subvocalization.
Stephen K Reed says the following about reducing subvocalization in his book:
“Although subvocalizing can help us remember what we read, it limits how fast we can read. We could read faster if we didn’t translate printed words into speech-based code.”
If we didn’t spend our brain’s resources on hearing the things we are reading, it would free up our brain. As a result, reading itself will be the only mental activity. Hence, we can read faster.
However, there has yet to be a consensus on whether minimizing subvocalization will increase our reading speed. It’s still being debated.
But minimizing subvocalization is only one piece of the puzzle regarding speed reading.
There are many things you can do to improve your reading skills. This will help you read faster. However, you must do more than minimize subvocalization and expect to become a significantly faster reader.
You need to learn several different techniques and use them in conjunction. This will help you comprehend many words or entire lines more efficiently. In turn, you will read faster.
But can you practice speed reading without minimizing subvocalization? That’s an important question, and we will talk a little more about that.
Can you become a speed reader despite subvocalization?
You can improve your reading skills without having to minimize subvocalization. There are some easy speed reading techniques that you can use.
If you are reading this article, you are probably wondering, “how can I learn to read faster?” And if you stop subvocalizing, it will help. However, it’s more complicated.
Currently, we don’t know if we can avoid subvocalization altogether. Besides, the fact that subvocalization helps retain things in our short-term memory makes it very useful.
Therefore, you should focus on something other than trying to avoid subvocalization. Instead, you can use other techniques to help you gradually increase your reading speed.
Take a speed reading course
The first thing you should do is take a speed reading course. Most slow readers often need to learn some of the most basic reading techniques. A speed reading course will catch you up to speed with those – no pun intended.
Subvocalization helps you with comprehension. However, when trying to speed read, it’s not your eye movement speed that’s the problem. It’s your limitation in being able to comprehend what you are reading.
Therefore, when you stop subvocalizing, you will have a harder time retaining the information in a single line. Instead, you would give the text a quick scan without retaining anything.
But it would help if you didn’t hold unrealistic expectations like being able to read more than 500 words per minute. That’s rather unlikely because it’s quite literally limited by biology itself.
Research has suggested that it’s unheard of that someone can read more than 500 WPM. This is twice the speed of an average reader and about 4-5 times that of a slow reader.
However, 500 WPM is the upper limit of your eye’s comprehension.
Your eyes can’t notice any difference above a 90 Hz refresh rate. Therefore, a 90 Hz and 144 Hz screen look the same to your eyes. Likewise, trying to read anything above 500 WPM would saturate your mental capacity.
Therefore, even if you can move your eyes faster, you won’t be able to comprehend or retain the information.
Hence, don’t fall for courses that promise you the ability to read thousands of words per minute. That’s simply not happening.
However, here’s a great speed reading tool if you want something that works.
Focus on a single line
You have to stop your eyeballs from jumping to different page sections. To do this:
- Use an opaque object like paper.
- Place it underneath the line that you are reading.
- Keep moving it down as you read to reveal new lines.
When reading, people tend to see all the words at once. Therefore, their eyeballs keep jumping between different words. As a result, they need help to focus on what they are reading.
Hence, they can’t retain it, and it requires re-reading. This reduces their reading speed.
But if you cover the text underneath the line you are reading with a page, you will stay focused on it. As a result, your eyes can closely follow the words on the line that you are currently reading.
As you finish one line, shift the paper slightly to reveal the next line. Keep doing it smoothly to prevent it from hindering your reading.
As you keep practicing this, you will get faster at reading and moving the page. You can quickly scan the line you are currently reading and move to the next one to do the same.
This is an especially useful trick for people who are easily distracted while reading.
Use a pointer
Using a pointer can help you improve both speed and comprehension. Therefore, you can improve your reading speed without sacrificing comprehension by reducing subvocalization.
It’s one of the easiest techniques for speed reading. You just put your finger underneath the one word that you are reading. And you move your finger along the line as you read.
Your finger acts like a pointer. It helps fixate your eyeballs on the one word your mind is currently comprehending. This prevents you from getting distracted.
Moreover, you can even trick your brain into reading faster if you move your finger faster. That’s because your brain is now entirely focused on individual words highlighted by your finger.
As you read along the line, it easily comprehends those words and retains the information. Hence, if you move your finger faster, it will be tricked into reading faster.
But it’s easy to lose track of your finger. You will need to train your eyes to go along with your finger. At the start, both of them will be out of sync. Sometimes your eyes will move faster, and sometimes your finger will move faster.
However, it would help if you got both of them synchronized. Otherwise, you will keep getting distracted. Try practicing moving your eyes with your finger. Start slow, and don’t push yourself too hard.
Gradually increase the movement speed of your finger as you go along.
You can’t master speed reading using this trickery very easily. However, practice allows you to fool your brain to your advantage. And you will read whole lines with a few swipes of your finger.
Set the mood
People often read slowly because they get distracted. And it’s not always their eye movement that’s to blame.
Try to create a relaxing environment to help your brain focus on the reading. This will help you in maximizing your productivity and improve your reading speed.
Sometimes, the stimuli in our environment can be very distracting. Noise from the outside smells, or even the temperature, can offset your brain activation.
It would help if you created an environment that fosters reading. Try to dilute the noise with some classical music. It can help to create a soothing environment for the brain.
You can light up a scented candle for the smells. And for the temperature, you can use air conditioning.
Reading something you like will help your brain make the most of its comprehension skills. And because you won’t get distracted, using your finger as a pointer will further enhance your reading speed.
Your environment also determines your general productivity. And if you feel unproductive, you won’t be motivated to practice reading faster.
If you need help with productivity, check out these resources. They can help you in boosting your productivity and stay motivated.
Time yourself while you read
Record the time it takes for you to read a certain number of words and understand them. This will allow you to set a threshold that you need to surpass to read faster.
Reading faster is much more like a marathon than a sprint. You don’t just need to be able to read the text faster, but also understand and retain it.
One of the best ways you can train yourself to do that is by timing yourself. Use a stopwatch to see how long it takes to read a certain number of words.
For instance, you can read 100 words in 30 seconds. Make sure you are retaining and understanding the information too.
Now, for the next 100 words, try to read and understand them in less than 30 seconds. This will increase your reading speed.
This is a gradual process, and it works the same way as increasing your running speed would.
However, it’s the easiest one to practice. But make sure you don’t practice it on the same words repeatedly. Always choose a new portion of the text.
That’s because you would already be familiar with the text you have read. This means that your brain would be able to process it much faster. This would give you the illusion that you are reading faster than your actual reading speed.
Therefore, you must keep practicing it on new, unique reading material.
Enrich your vocabulary
Most people struggle with reading speed because they sometimes don’t know the meaning of the words they are reading. Therefore, they get thrown off their pace when they encounter unfamiliar words.
Improving your vocabulary will help you understand all the words as you read them. This would make your reading experience seamless and less turbulent. Therefore, your reading speed would increase significantly.
Learning new words also helps your brain guess the next possible words when reading something. For instance, predict the next word in this sentence as you read it.
You could already tell that after “predict,” it would likely be “the” or “what.” And then, after that, it would be about the words or the tips.
It builds on the phenomenon of phenomic restoration. That happens when our brain fills in the “missing sounds” of an incomplete word we already know.
Similarly, our brain fills in the next words when we read a text. It anticipates them. As a result, we can comprehend them much more effortlessly when we read them.
Thus, easier comprehension leads to a faster reading speed. And it’s coupled with the fact that we don’t get thrown off our pace because we know the meaning of many of the words we read.
Hence, our reading speed increases significantly with a better vocabulary. Here are some fun ways to increase your vocabulary if you are interested.
Slow readers often tend to re-read things. They don’t understand or retain the information when they first read it. That’s why they need to go back and re-read it. This significantly increases the time it takes them to read something.
Re-reading is a very counterproductive reading habit. Make sure you are focused the first time you read something.
This would help ensure that you retain the information as you read. Hence, you won’t need to re-read it.
Try not to think about other tasks while you are reading. Concentrate on the words before you and let everything else seep away.
It’s like trying to practice meditation but with some text in front of you.
Takeaway: Speed reading techniques can you improve your reading speed despite subvocalization
Not everyone experiences subvocalization, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many people hear their voices while reading, and scientists believe it helps our comprehension.
However, subvocalization can hinder people who want to speed read. It limits our reading speed to our talking speed. Therefore, most people can only read about 200 WPM, the same as their talking speed.
Moreover, no evidence eliminating subvocalization will help to improve your reading speed. Since it helps with learning, it’s best to keep using it.
Instead, you can learn to read faster using simple reading techniques. They are easy to practice, and you will eventually master them.
If you are looking for some more resources on reading faster, you should check out Iris Reading! We are trusted by institutes like NASA and Harvard and offer the most effective speed-reading training in the industry.