How to Read Faster by Reducing Subvocalization
One of the most common reading habits among all readers is the habit of subvocalization (saying words in your head as you read).
Subvocalization is a commonly misunderstand concept within speed reading. Some speed-reading programs will incorrectly tell you that subvocalization is something that you need to eliminate completely. However, numerous studies suggest that this is not possible.
Subvocalization is a natural process and doesn’t negatively affect the reading process. However, saying the words in your head does slow you down. If you say every word in your head, that basically means that you will only read as fast as you talk. And there’s a limit to how fast you can talk. The average person talks about 200 wpm and this speed is exactly the same as the average reading speed (200 wpm).
The good news is that your brain is capability of thinking much faster than 200 wpm. Some studies suggest that the brain is capable of thinking up to 1,200 wpm.
Because we know that you can’t get rid of subvocalization completely, we have to try and reduce it instead. The key to reducing subvocalization is to only say some of the words in your head. So if you’re still saying some of the words, that’s fine. But if you say every single word, you’ll be limited by your talking speed. But again, you don’t have to say all the words in your head to understand what you read.
For example, if you were reading the following sentence:
The boy jumped over the fence.
You want to train yourself to only say some of the words in your head. With the sentence above, you might just subvocalize the words:
boy jumped fence
By only saying some of the words, you can still get the full meaning of the sentence.
Now some people incorrectly believe that speed reading involves the skipping of words. This is not the case. Just because you said the words “boy jumped fence” in your head doesn’t mean you skipped the other words. You still see the other words, you just don’t pronounce them in your head.
You also need to watch for negations and conditional clauses. These are words that can completely reverse the meaning of a sentence. Watch for it, not, when, never, none, etc. These words are important to getting the correct understanding of your reading material. Again, you won’t necessarily say those words in your head, but you will train yourself to be on the lookout for them. The moment you see one of these words, it will trigger a red flag for you and you’ll have a better understanding of what you read. If you get used to catching these words, you’ll be able to read faster with a higher level of comprehension.
How to Reduce Subvocalization
- Flashing Words: Applications like AccelaReader flash words at a speed that you set using a process called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP).RSVP Readers like AccelaReader allow you to copy and paste text that you want to read and then set a speed that you would like to read at. The application then blinks the words at the speed that you set. AccelaReader helps you reduce subvocalization by blinking words at a speed that is faster than you are capable of saying them. Try practicing your reading with AccelaReader to help you reduce subvocalization.The best way to practice is by flashing two or three words at a time (you can change this in the “settings” menu). This can be adjusted higher the more you practice.
- Listen to Music While Read: Listening to music can help distract you from saying every word in your head. What type of music is best? Many people find it useful to listen to classical music. The other benefit of music is that many people find it helps them concentrate better. Avoid music with lyrics or songs you may already by familiar with. If you listen to songs you already know while you’re reading, it could remind you of moments in your life, which could potentially distract you while reading. To find music you’re not familiar with, try checking out Pandora.com, an online radio station. Checkout a classical station and listen from there. In addition to improving concentration and reducing subvocalization, you may discover some new songs you really like.
- Force Yourself to Read Faster: One of the best ways to reduce subvocalization is to simply read faster. The faster you go, the harder it will be to say all the words in your head. Another benefit to forcing yourself to read faster can be improved concentration. Just like when you drive a car, you need to concentrate more if you drive faster. But when you’re driving at a really slow speed, you don’t need to concentrate as much. The same goes for reading. Sometimes, the easiest way to concentrate better is to force yourself to pay attention by reading faster.
- Occupying Your Internal Voice with Another Task: Try chewing gum while you read to distract your internal voice from saying the words in your head. Another way to occupy your internal voice is by repeating “a-e-i-o-u-a-e-i-o-u” while reading. This occupies your internal voice and can prevent subvocalization of all the words.
Interested in learning more?
Check out our Online Speed Reading Course
Paul is the founder of Iris Reading, the largest provider of speed-reading and memory courses. His workshops have been taught to thousands of students and professionals worldwide at institutions that include: NASA, Google, HSBC and many Fortune 500 companies.