How To Reduce Subvocalization (Explained!)
Are you aware that you read the title of this blog post twice? First, you READ it, and then you said the same thing in your head?
Reading and speaking the exact words in our heads is called subvocalization. It is an in-built technique that enables us to “hear” what we read. Although a natural process, it is often regarded as a bummer because it makes us read more slowly. Several speed reading programs help overcome this habit, but studies show that its complete elimination is impossible.
This article will give you some tips on reducing subvocalization to help you read fast without saying the words in your head. Are you ready to do that? If yes, we can’t wait for you to read it without rereading it in your mind. Pun intended!
Also a bonus offer for you at the end.
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 typical, it is one of the main reasons people read slowly and have trouble improving their reading speed.
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.
Subvocalization and reading speed
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.
The effects of subvocalization on speech
Human beings can be classified into two categories regarding their subvocalization techniques.
- Low vocalizers
- High vocalizers
When we subconsciously or silently speak the words in our mind, our speech box or larynx undergoes a degree of movement. Some of us move our speech box muscles more than others.
Low vocalizers speak the words loudly in their head, but their larynxes don’t move as much. On the other hand, high vocalizers can move their muscles more rigorously while keeping the voice in their head suppressed.
Is subvocalization good or bad?
If you ask us, we’d say subvocalization depends on your task. It might slow down your reading efficiency, but it helps you understand the words better and clarify things.
Subvocalization will make comprehending words easy for you. Suppose you’re reading a test paper. If you don’t subvocalize it, it will be hard for you to grasp the context.
Did you know that you subvocalize at the same speed you speak out loud? You could read much faster just by looking at the words if you suppress subvocalization. That is why some people think that subvocalization slows your reading speed by making you spend too much time thinking where analyzing each word is not important.
7 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 read 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 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 number 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.
6. Scan And Read
If you want to reduce subvocalization, we suggest scanning the vocabulary, important names, facts and figures, and valuable information from the text. It might be difficult for you initially, but once you make it a habit of reading like this, it will increase your reading speed and reduce subvocalization.
For example, take this sentence: Alex goes on a tour to turkey with friends (9 words)
The most critical words in this sentence are: Alex tour turkey friends (4 words)
Scanning to find the most important words will decrease your time to assess the whole sentence. You will only read important text, thus eventually increasing speed in less time.
7. Use A Pointer
Another tried and tested technique is to use a pointer or your hand to guide your eyes. When you use a pointer or your finger for reading, it helps focus on a single word at a time. And if you move the pointer quickly, you will be able to read large chunks of text in less time while still staying focused.
Many speed-reading programs exaggerate what is possible by falsely claiming that you can eliminate subvocalization. Your goal should be to reduce it, not get rid of it entirely. The seven tips mentioned above will help you reduce the habit of subvocalization to start reading at the speed of thought.
So do you want to be the next Sonic of reading? If yes, then we have a special offer for you. Iris Reading’s Speed Reading course helps you reduce the habit of subvocalization and lets you read faster.
So what are you waiting for? Get your hands now on our Speed Reading Foundation Course and see for yourself. We are offering a FREE mini-class, too!
After completing the course, ask yourself, can you read at the speed of light? You’ll have your answers.
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.