Eliminating Subvocalization When Reading

Subvocalization is the process of hearing words as you read them.

It’s when you subconsciously engage your listening and speaking skills in the process of reading. Speed Reading is one of the most often discussed aspects of reading that must be eliminated. If you can successfully eliminate subvocalization from your reading, you can double your reading speed.

All subvocalization is is the act of pronouncing each individual word in your head as you read along the page. You may not do it out-loud, and you may not be moving your mouth when you do it, which makes it difficult to diagnose. The dialog is usually internal, but you can often hear yourself, or a narrator reading the text inside your mind. Most readers who have not taken a speed reading course will subvocalize naturally, so it is typically best to assume you’re doing it, even if you don’t notice it.

You speak and can hear only around 120 words per minute if you are used to hearing people in the US speak. In other countries, it’s slightly faster, though it’s rarely above 140 words per minute. If you look at the average reading rate chart we put together a few years ago, you’ll notice that if you were to read only as quickly as you speak, that many third grade children would surpass your reading level.

Why do we all subvocalize when we read?

Well, that’s actually a very easy question to answer – we were taught to do it. When you first started learning how to read, whether it was training from your teachers or your parents, they certainly had you start by reading the words out loud. It allowed them to monitor your progress with vocabulary. And ensure that you were actually reading the books instead of just saying you were. At that time it was necessary.

But now it isn’t necessary. If you’re an adult, and you know how to read, you can safely eliminate subvocalization when reading without fear of having any kinds of penalty to your reading speed. In fact, it will increase dramatically.

For many people eliminating subvocalization is actually quite simple. Once they realize they are doing it, many people become cognizant of their behavior and simply stop. For others, it requires a little more training.

The best technique I’ve ever seen for this was introduced to me by one of the Evelyn Wood Speed Reader trainers. This guy said that if you simply focus on breaking the rhythm of reading, you can altogether avoid subvocalization. The trick, according to them, is to repeat a simple nursery rhyme in you mind as you read. They also noted that saying “AEIOU” softly to yourself is a good technique. Your auditory skills will be tricked into following along with the sound rather than what you see as you read.

Sometimes, simply reading more material will be beneficial.

Texts in the same genre will use the same language and jargon, sometimes it’s simply a matter of practice makes perfect. This is especially true in reading business or scientific material where you are constantly learning new words and terminology. As you become more familiar with it, you will see that you become better at flying through difficult passages.

The more vocabulary you know, the better off you’ll be in terms of how fast you can read. This is because word recognition is one of the primary reasons that you need to use subvocalization. Remember how grade school teachers used to tell you to “sound it out?” That’s what you’re literally doing with subvocalization, and getting rid of this skill may initially hurt your ability to recognize longer words quickly. It is through training and building your vocabulary that you’ll be able to fly through each passage.

For adults, it can be difficult to find a vocabulary book that is both relevant and challenging enough to use for everyone, so it’s probably best to visit your local Barnes and Noble to browse the shelves before buying, but if you want a decent general guidebook, we like Essential Words for the GRE, which is a test prep guide for a difficult post-bachelor’s degree test.

Remember, speed reading isn’t something you can learn overnight – if it was, everyone would do it. You need to practice daily. We would recommend picking up a piece of speed reading software and using that to learn the skills. Once you learn it, you’ll thank me.