Speed Reading: Bad Habits 2 - Subvocalization


Subvocalization is a habit that we acquire from childhood. Although subvocalization aids comprehension, subvocalization slows reading. Here are some ideas on what you can do about subvocalization in order to improve your reading speed while maintaining comprehension.

Tip: If you are serious about reducing subvocalization and improving your reading, then Denise and I highly recommend you try the popular speed-reading program, 7 Speed Reading. Click 7 Speed Reading for further information.*

What is subvocalization?

Subvocalization is saying words as you read them during silent reading. Most people “say” the words silently, in their minds. Some people say the words audibly.

What causes subvocalization?

Subvocalization is learned from childhood. When we were children, we learnt to read by associating printed symbols (words) with the way we say and hear those words. When we read to ourselves, even as adults, we continue to say or hear the words, to varying degrees.

Is subvocalization good or bad?

Subvocalization is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Subvocalization is good for:

  • learning
  • memorising
  • comprehending
  • concentrating

But subvocalization is bad for reading fast. If you say each word, then you can never read fast; you will read only as fast as you can speak, which is a slow 150 words per minute or so.

The trick is to reduce unnecessary subvocalization.

How do you reduce unnecessary subvocalization?

To reduce unnecessary subvocalization, you need to change your mindset.

You need to regard reading as a process of thinking the meaning of words rather than of saying the words.

For example, when you see a red traffic light, you do not say “stop”; rather, you automatically associate the red light with its meaning. Only your eyes and brain are involved in knowing the meaning of the red light — you do not need your mouth or ears to understand the red light’s meaning.

If you can find a similar way to think words’ meanings without saying the word, then you can read up to 700 or 800 words per minute without losing comprehension.

What are some specific ways of reducing subvocalization?

First, improve your vocabulary. The best way to reduce subvocalization and to improve reading speed is to improve your ability to comprehend the material. And to improve your ability to comprehend the material, you must have a good vocabulary, so that you know what the symbols on the page mean.

Second, instruct yourself not to say the words as you read. According to at least one study that I have read, simply instructing readers to reduce subvocalization led to significant increases in reading speed.

Third, practise reading fast — even uncomfortably fast at first and at the cost of an initial reduction in comprehension. Gradually, you will develop the "feel" for fast reading and, with practice at fast reading, comprehension will improve too.

To practise fast reading, get yourself a copy of the popular 7 Speed Reading software. This software comes with 4 easy ways of practising fast reading and reducing subvocalization. The exercises for reducing subvocalization, which you can find under the speed reading software's "Power Access", are:

  • Text Flash
  • Text Highlighter
  • Horizontal Text Trainer
  • Text Scroller.

You can set the speed of each of these exercises. Gradually increase the speed at which the text displays.

Fourth, develop exercises that train you to replace the slow "see–say–hear–think" habit of saying words with the faster "see–think" habit of thinking word meanings — in other words, the thinking process involved in the “red traffic light” example. These exercises might include:

  • translation exercises: as you read, replace the author's words with your own synonymous words
  • count aloud as you read: keep saying "13, 14, 15, 16, 13, 14, 15, 16, etc" aloud as you read; keep counting until the counting becomes mechanical
  • hum or sing as you read

Finally, here is a personal tip about reducing subvocalization. When I first tried to reduce my own subvocalization, I said to myself just the first syllable of each word, rather than saying the whole word. This eased me into the new habit of truly silent reading.

*Denise and I recommend only products that we have tried and tested. These include 7 Speed Reading. We have agreed to receive a commission from some sales of 7 Speed Reading software because we are happy to endorse that software.


Last modified on Friday, 27 November 2015 09:46
English Language Skills (Troy)

English Language Skills (Troy)

I have a law degree, I've run an award-winning business, and I am a published author.

My most popular book is Funny English Errors and Insights: Illustrated.

My new book is The Funny Dictionary.

I have a particular interest in vocabulary improvement and speed reading.

Website: www.english-language-skiils.com E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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