Speed Reading Tips: 9 Ways to Minimize Subvocalization
Speed Reading Tips: 5 Ways to Minimize Subvocalization

Speed Reading Tips: 9 Ways to Minimize Subvocalization


Subvocalization (also known as auditory reassurance) is a widespread habit among readers. It involves saying words in your head while reading, and it’s one of the main reasons 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.

What subvocalization is and why it happens

Subvocalization is “saying” the words you are reading as you read them. This happens when we are trying to associate the sounds of the words with the actual words while reading.

It is something that happens to everyone. It helps our mind access the meanings of the words that are often associated with how they sound. This is used to comprehend what we are reading and store the read words in our short-term memory.

The addition of the read text to our short-term memory reduces our cognitive burden and helps us remain relatively stress-free.

Are You Hearing Voices in Your Head…While Reading?

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.

However, there are situations when you read without saying words in your head. For example, think about when you’re driving. When you see a stop sign, do you actually subvocalize 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 automatically recognize that it’s a stop sign.

If you’re like most readers, you probably subvocalize all or most of the words in your head. But you don’t always subvocalize everything you read.

Here’s another example of this: if you were reading and came across the year “1977,” you probably wouldn’t say 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 subvocalize 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? Most people would equate those three words (New York City) to a city. NYC would mean the same thing, right?

Many of the words we see are simply there for grammatical purposes (the, a, an). They don’t provide you with the same 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 each word in your head, doesn’t that mean that you can only read as fast as you can talk? If you’re saying every word in your head, your limit will 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).

If your reading speed exceeds your talking speed, that’s a good thing to notice. We don’t want to be limited to our talking speed.

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 aren’t actually skipping them. Your eyes still see all the 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.

Subvocalization and Comprehension

Saying words over in your head when reading something can decrease your reading speed. It adds an extra step that can hinder comprehension. 

Comprehension requires us to be adept at understanding the words as we read them. However, most non-natives need to say the words in their head and “hear” them before they can start to make sense of them.

When you are saying words in your head, you focus on “hearing” them instead of understanding them. As a result, you often need to re-read the text to understand it; this could significantly cut down your reading comprehension speed. 

Although subvocalization can be helpful at times (and we will talk more about that), it is best to avoid it to increase your reading speed. 

How Subvocalization Can Sometimes Be Useful

Reading Technical terminology 

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 with. 

In situations like this, saying words in your head, or even aloud, can be a helpful way to improve and expand your vocabulary.

Memorizing things word-for-word

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 normally read, you rarely need to know something word for word. Most of the time, you are reading to extract information, ideas, and details.

Keeping track of your reading speed

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 this habit is changing? 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.

9 Ways to Minimize Subvocalization

1. Use Your Hand or a Pointer 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 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 chewing or sucking on something.

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

Listening to music will not only help you minimize subvocalization but also 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 improve your concentration and 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. Any speed above 300 wpm will help you avoid subvocalizing all the words. The faster you go, the fewer 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 more attention when you read a little faster. Again, the more you practice pushing yourself faster, the faster you will get.

6. Scan Before Reading

We tend to subvocalize when we run into unfamiliar words. A quick scan, however, can fix that by making sure we don’t get caught off guard by them. 

A very easy way to quickly scan the text you are about to read is the “S Technique.” Use your finger to trace an “S” shape across the entire page, going from line to line, left to right, and then right to left on the line below it, and so on. While you are doing that, follow the tip of your finger. 

With this scan, you will be able to identify unfamiliar words and phrases, allowing you to subvocalize them already. Subsequently, whenever you encounter one while reading the text, you will not focus too much on it. This would save precious seconds that will add up to a good few minutes on your reading speed. 

7. Occupy Your Mouth

When your mouth is occupied, it is less likely to be able to use the tongue and your lips to form different words. Thus, you would be far less likely to be able to go on reciting the words with your mouth as you’re reading them. 

To do this, you can try several different methods: 

  • chewing on a gum
  • bitting down on a pencil
  • sucking on a hard candy.

8. Discipline Your Eyes

Naturally, we tend to use our eyes in a back-and-forth fashion to repeatedly focus on a single word while reading it. This paves the way for subvocalization to occur by allotting more time to each word. By training our eyes to move smoothly in a single line, we can curb this window for subvocalization. 

An easy fix for this problem would be for you to keep gently sliding your finger underneath the text at a constant pace. This will force your eyes to stick to the pointer (your fingertip). 

You can, of course, start slow and gradually increase the intensity of your finger-reading speed. Since your eyes can no longer spend too much time on a word, your mind will automatically refrain from subvocalizing.

9. Create a “Reading Window Slit”

After you have completely mastered reading the text using your fingertip, you can try something even more sophisticated. When you are using the tip of your finger, you are still only reading a word at a single point in time.

Cut a slit into a piece of stiff carton. The carton needs to have the same dimensions as the page, while the window you cut should show at least one line of text. You can now try reading entire lines of text, or even more, at once, without subvocalization. 

Move this slit gradually down the text and make sure that your eyes are fixated on the window. This way, you will be able to easily read whole lines without having to subvocalize them first.


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 nine tips mentioned above will help you minimize the habit of subvocalization so you can start reading at the speed of thought.

More Resources:

Paul Nowak

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.

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  • Madhvansh Choksi

    BRO! You’re AMAZING! Thank You So Much for this information. It’s really helpful.

  • Mahesh

    Thank you very much. Unlimited worth to me.


    Haven’t tried it for long but the one two three tip really to helps a lot ! I really feel like am understanding what I am reading, yet at the same time I am not subvocalising the words. I guess after some time I will be able to drop the one two three. Really great tip !

  • Benson

    Thank you very much for the information,

    Subvocalization has been a big challenge to me and a great hinderance of reading faster. After going through this blog my speed has been enhanced.

    Thanks a lot

    • Alek Sander

      Thanks for the compliment!


    Thank you so much…..I really appreciate your information and now I will try with better effort by your ideas.

  • jeff the boi

    I subvocalize and read literally 20 times as fast as I talk. And I can say around 250-300 wpm. So how does that work?

    • Alek Sander

      The goal is not to eliminate subvocalization. Subvocalization comes in handy sometimes because it helps you to commit new information to your memory (new vocabulary, new concepts, new subjects, etc.). Even though you may be saying some of the words in your head while reading, you don’t necessarily have to say all of them in your head to understand the context of the sentence. Your eyes still see those words and you know what they mean – Keep in mind that we are not reading for words… We are reading for ideas. If you learn to minimize subvocalization, your reading speed will increase and you’ll be surprised at what you’re actually capable of. This Speed Reading Mastery Course includes a dedicated lesson on reducing subvocalization and there are a number of other techniques that will help you increase your reading speed without sacrificing comprehension.

  • Brian

    I never comment on these random websites, but the “1,2,3” technique literally just changed my life! I am not kidding, I was literally able to read at least 1.5x as fast in an instant! Holy crap! Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Christophe

      Seriously, I never comment too. But this 1,2,3 really helped a lot. Also just forcing yourself to picking only a few words a sentence and maybe guiding your finger really fast can help. But whenever I feel like something is complicated, I’d rather look at it for a couple more moments. Speed-reading saves time but the real trick is to use the extra time in a good way. Something social, educational/professional, or something to keep you healthy! Have a good day all!

  • Abraham C. Henry

    I Like speed reading.

  • Abraham C. Henry

    I want to be a faster speed reader.


  • Brian

    I am intrigued. Can you please cite evidence/articles that support your claims?

    • Alek Sander

      Minimizing subvocalization is fundamental to speed reading and becomes more fluid / effortless with repetition, consistency and discipline. Experimenting for yourself is always the best proof, but we have plenty of articles related to this skill-set on our blog. The in-person classes and more comprehensive online courses we developed cover speed reading and memory techniques that are reinforced through drills and exercises (facilitated by the instructor) and everyone measures their reading speed a few times throughout to keep track of their progress.

  • Charlie E

    Most excellent – informative, well written, great content, easy to read, all around terrific document.

  • Ashish Kumar

    Wow… I am really hopeful it will help in in my new year resolution of reading a lot of good books and enriching my knowledge about the world.
    Ok now one thing is crystal clear it will take me lot of time to minimize my subvocalization, not that am a complete failure but on contrary i find it hard to maintain my focus for too long and eventually have to slow down and re read just to thoroughly grasp the whole idea of the passage. Well first of all i will try this on those stupid newspaper articles and news that are neither enriching nor entertaining and will gradually move to non fiction that i know and understands later to fiction and finally to classical novels and technical topics that Ii am completely unaware of.

  • Donna

    Am trying all recommendations; thanks for the information.

    I just noticed that if I inhaled deeply and let it out slowly that I was more able to ‘not subvocalize…..any truth to that, do you think?

  • B.A.

    I guess I don’t get the 1,2, 3 thing – it slows me down even more than subvocalization. Do you have another way to explain it?

    • Alek Sander

      The 1-2-3 drill might be a little uncomfortable at first, but it’s a great exercise to practice for controlling your focus and concentration. If you are doing a 3-count in your head while reading, it’s too difficult to subvocalize because you are distracting yourself. Try to find a good beat with your 3-count and practice moving your eyes in a smooth pursuit, line by line – don’t forget to use your finger to guide your eyes (your eyes are naturally attracted to motion). Once you find your focus and get in the zone, you’ll be impressed with what you’re actually capable of. Check out our speed reading and memory courses to sharpen this skill-set! If you enter the promo code SRT5WTMS when prompted at checkout, you’ll get $25 off any online course (or in-person class if you’re located in one of the cities where we have speed reading classes scheduled). Kinda curious how many people will read this far down the blog post to find this deal!

  • Sue

    I AM serious , the counting 123 thing works tremendously and instantly …. I encourage you guys to attempt utilizing this technique……..

    • Alek Sander

      Yes! For some people it’s uncomfortable on the eyes at first, but finding the rhythm with this strategy will help you break down some serious reading barriers because it tackles the 3 old reading habits – fixation, regression, subvocalization. It becomes a lot more fluid and effortless as you continue practicing in your own reading material to reinforce the techniques – repetition, consistency, discipline.

  • dude man

    I can’t believe how well the one, two, three suggestion worked. To my surprise I was able to read the rest of the article just fine while doing it. I can definitely see how this will help improve my reading speed since I wasn’t getting stuck up on long or awkward to pronounce words/word patterns like I often do.

  • L

    What is the website you mentioned that you can set the speed and the number of words to read a text?

    • Alek Sander

      It’s called AccelaReader. The words blink on the screen at the reading speed that you set. You can also set how many words you want blinking at a time. Simply copy the text you want to read and paste it into the text box. Enjoy!

    • TO_Ont

      Personally I have always been a much faster than average reader, I read many many times as fast as I talk, I read constantly for enjoyment and for work and have postgraduate degrees, and I don’t think I have ever in my life read a single word without hearing it in my head. I only recently found out it was theoretically possible, and have never done it. I simply can’t know what a word is or means without hearing it. I still find it very hard to imagine how any person even could, although people have told me they do so I believe them. It sounds like some kind of magic trick, to understand language without there being any language. It also sounds like you’d have to memorise the image of many thousands of words, which sounds very difficult, yet with the added challenge of trying to supress what they sound like.

      In your examples in your text, every time the answer is ‘yes’. Yes, I hear stop every single time I glance at a stop sign, yes I hear 1977, and if it’s a super long string of numbers I might just skip it but then I don’t know process what the number was or have any memory of what it was later.

      I can hypothetically believe that someone could do it your way and still understand what they read, but I find it hard to believe that it would be beneficial not to hear the language, though, considering how quickly you can read as it is. Hearing is so so so fast. Language is not the bottleneck to reading speed!

  • Mkv

    Saying 1 2 3 does’t help at all for me. I don’t understand even a single word when I don’t subvocalize. Is it just me?

    • Alek Sander

      The idea is to distract yourself from saying all of the words in your head while reading (subvocalizing). It’s kind of like muscle memory. When you’re first learning something it might be uncomfortable at first, but once you get into the rhythm you’ll notice that it becomes a lot more fluid and effortless for you. Even though it might seem counterintuitive, you have to challenge your thinking (just like when you’re learning any new skill) and you’ll start noticing what used to be difficult is now automatic. Check out the Iris Speed Reading Mastery Course because there is a dedicated lesson that covers advanced strategies for minimizing Subvocalization and breaking some of the other old reading habits.

  • Hai Tran

    the one two three thing helps

  • Hai Tran

    chewing does not help

  • Michael Lee

    I’ve seen an immediate increase in my screen-reading speed when I started using tactic #2 – distracting yourself by counting 1-2-3. I don’t think this was taught in the in-person class I took with you, so I’m glad I found this article here. I can’t use my hands to pace myself because my monitor is set too far away from my body. By counting 1-2-3 across the screen as I read each line forces me to move me to read faster than I would otherwise be capable of doing if I was reading every word or if my eyes lost focus and started darting around the screen.

  • Mahanthesh

    Great job sir
    Never thought such training exist
    You enlighten me

  • Akhilraj

    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.

  • Aidin Eftekhari

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

  • (47190)8

    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.

  • Douglas

    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!

  • Abby S

    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.

  • Faraz Amjad

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

    A million thanks.

  • Tadiwanashe A Sampindi

    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

  • Ran Montgomery

    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 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.

  • John Carter

    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.

  • Abdulla Shoshaa

    Great article. thank you for sharing this information.

  • Rakoon

    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.

  • Glak

    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.

  • Ran Xi

    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 !

  • Taha Dhyaadain

    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.

  • Kevin Gøhler

    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