Learning how to stop subvocalization, or at least to reduce it, maybe the number one key to reading faster.
While you may never fully be able to stop subvocalizing 100% of the time, minimizing it by any amount can help with speed.
To stop subvocalizing, you must first understand what it is and exactly why it slows your reading.
- What is Subvocalization?
- When is Subvocalization a Good Thing?
- When is Subvocalization a Bad Thing?
- 7 Ways to Stop Subvocalization
What is Subvocalization?
Subvocalization is saying the words in your mind as you are reading.
This is a common habit among most readers but is perhaps the main reason people read slower than they would like to.
Subvocalizing while reading isn’t always a bad thing, and before you mark it down as the ultimate enemy of your reading speed, let’s look at why it can be useful!
When is Subvocalization a Good Thing?
You were most likely taught subvocalization as a kid to help you learn how to read.
You were taught to read aloud so your teachers could listen to how you pronounce words. Then if you struggled with a word, they would either correct you or have you “sound it out.”
The reason for this is that saying words aloud can help with comprehension. Truly the only real problem with reading aloud is that it may slow your reading speed.
Obviously, comprehension takes a higher priority over the speed, but speed does become more necessary after your understanding of the words increases.
The issue seems to be that “out-loud” reading eventually turns into the practice of sounding the words out in your head or saying them in your mind while you read.
It could have been an effort to save the embarrassment of misreading a word aloud or just continuing the learned habit silently. Whatever it was, the truth is that most of us still subvocalize.
Throughout our life, we will always learn new words, and subvocalization can continue to help us and keep our vocabulary growing.
Another benefit of saying the words in your mind while you read is that it can help with memorization.
Remember, while the goal of increasing speed can be to stop subvocalization, the ability to eliminate the habit entirely may not be possible, and not what you actually want.
This being said, when you are trying to boost your reading speed, you can still significantly reduce how often you do it.
When is Subvocalization a Bad Thing?
The real truth is that subvocalization is not always necessary when reading, or even when learning to read.
This is because a big part of getting better at reading is just memorization, and by seeing the combination of letters or numbers, you can gather a meaning.
This thought can be confusing but may make more sense if you think about something like street signs with words.
For example, how often do you think you read the word “stop” on a stop sign and subvocalize the word?
Also, if you come to a large number while reading, you most likely won’t take the time to subvocalize it, as it could take a while.
We can still understand words just fine, most of the time, without the subvocalization.
As you grow older and feel better about your reading comprehension, you can start trying to minimize your subvocalization.
And if you are now reading this, it only makes sense you probably know how to read well enough to give it a try.
When you are on the quest to truly improve your reading speed, reducing subvocalization should be the first thing you focus on.
It’s important to note when learning how to speed read that you may have a little more trouble with comprehension.
However, with a little practice and patience, you should be able to improve both your speed and comprehension.
7 Ways to Stop Subvocalization
1. Use Your Hand or a Pen to Guide Your Eyes While Reading
Having some sort of guide for your eyes can help your mind focus on guiding rather than on saying words in your mind as you read.
This helps with your focus and speed, and when you speed up your reading, it naturally makes subvocalization harder.
Using a guide is an excellent tool for increasing your reading speed all around.
2. Listen to Music While You Read
This is the ultimate go-to move for really any task in which you need help with your focus and concentration.
Putting some music on while you read can help your subconscious narrow in on the beat rather than on saying the words in your mind.
The choice of music can be crucial, as some tunes can be too distracting. Also, you might want to avoid songs that make you think of a bad relationship or a sad memory.
If you are the dancing type, you also might want to avoid anything that might tempt you to stop your reading and do a little jig.
When you find the right music, this method to reduce subvocalization is a solid one.
3. Chew Gum While Reading
Chewing on some gum is a great idea, especially if you not only subvocalize but also mouth the words as you read them.
Distracting your mouth with some gum can help your focus while battling that desire to say words in your head.
It will be harder for your mouth and lips to form words subconsciously without you noticing.
A bonus: if you choose a sugar-free gum or whitening gum, you are helping your teeth at the same time you improve your reading skills.
4. Count Aloud When You Read
Trying to count aloud while you read can be used as an exercise to help stop your subvocalization.
If you haven’t tried this before, it may sound like it would become a confusing nightmare. However, it is a simple technique that works quite well.
You have to put it into practice to understand it. If you just start counting aloud like “1, 2, 3, 4,” you will find it near impossible to subvocalize the words your reading.
While reading your words aloud may slow you, a mindless repetitive counting may be just what you need.
You don’t have to do it every time you read but rather use it as a speed reading exercise when you need it.
5. Use a Mantra to Distract the Mind
As you learn to identify when you are subvocalizing, you can start to battle this with a mantra of your choice. A mantra is just a phrase or saying that you can repeat to help with focus or meditation.
As you feel you are saying the words in your mind or just losing focus, you can have a phrase you repeat to bring you back to focus like “I am going to read this faster.”
However, a mantra may not be the best option in public, as people will most definitely think you are a crazy person.
You can try to whisper or just do it your way when in the comfort of your own home.
6. Use a Speed Reading App
There are several good speed reading apps that can help you read faster and help you narrow your focus.
One of the better applications focusing on reducing subvocalization is Spreeder. This is designed specifically for reading material on the computer as you have to be able to copy and paste the content into the app on the website.
It allows you to set criteria like the reading speed and how many words you want it to show you at a time. Then when you start it, it will show you one word at a time, or groups of words, and flash them at the pace of reading you set.
This can be a great way to force yourself to automatically reduce subvocalization as you have to to keep up with the flashing words.
7. Keep Track of Your Reading Speed
As mentioned before, when you force yourself to read at a faster pace, you will naturally eliminate subvocalization. To do this, you should not just test your reading speed once, but do it often.
This can provide motivation when you see your progress, and help you know what goals you can set to keep your pace challenged.
Calculating your reading speed can be done quickly and easily, but just remember to be as honest with yourself as possible so you can truly grow.
If your goal is to read faster, these tips will definitely put you on the right track.
These ideas can help by forcing you to break your naturally built habit of subvocalization.
As you have learned, subvocalization is not always bad, but it is not always necessary either.
While you won’t likely stop subvocalizing completely, reducing the frequency is a great way to get started on your speed reading journey.