What is subvocalization?

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Subvocalization refers to silent reading, but the subject is a bit more complex than that. Here’s what you need to know about subvocalizing.

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What is subvocalization?

If you’re interested in speed reading, you’ve probably already heard of subvocalization. This is an aspect of reading often mentioned when it comes to speed reading techniques. You’ve likely heard of it as a negative factor, which might be true, but only to a certain extent.

This article will explain what subvocalization is and outline its pros and cons. By the end, you might find the subject more complex and interesting than it seems at first glance.

Subvocalization—Term meaning

When you subvocalize, you’re engaged in silent reading. At the same time, you vocalize words internally. This represents a connection between speech and reading that comes naturally to the majority of people.

In essence, subvocalization employs your inner voice, allowing you to imagine how the text sounds. The process happens without engaging your vocal cords. Of course, subvocalization isn’t exclusive to the English language—it’s a common trait in readers worldwide, from New York to Tokyo.

Is subvocalization good for reading?

As mentioned, subvocalization is often mentioned in the context of productivity and speed-reading courses. In those cases, subvocalization is brought up as a negative factor that slows down reading. However, subvocalizing has several positive aspects, too.

Firstly, subvocal speech while reading is a natural process. It bridges the gap between the symbols on a page and the actual language. While internal speech doesn’t produce sound, it still activates the parts of the brain and muscles responsible for speaking. As a result, it becomes easier to keep each line of text in short-term memory.

Research done by NASA has shown that subtle larynx movements can be detected in most readers even if they aren’t aware of it. In other words, this is an active tendency that doesn’t rely on conscious effort.

Next, the use of subvocalization helps with memorizing and general reading comprehension. This is particularly helpful for language learners, but is useful for other readers, as well. The positives may come from the way we learn and understand language in that our first contact with a language comes from comprehending the sound of the word, not deciphering its written form.

The sound dimension of language is extremely strong. It plays a major role in reading even with deaf people and interpreting sign language.

According to Graham Hitch, subvocalization creates a so-called phonological loop, which boosts cognition and the reader’s overall understanding of the text. Research done by R.P. Carver hasn’t shown any significant downsides of subvocalizing.

Silent speech definitely isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can be quite beneficial in various situations. Yet, a common critique of subvocalization still stands: It can reflect negatively on reading speed. For that reason, there are certain techniques that can help readers stop subvocalizing to improve their reading rate.

How to stop subvocalization for faster reading

Despite the advantages of subvocalization, its greatest con is hindering reading speed. If you want to read faster, you can employ several methods to stop subvocalizing. Without the internal word-for-word reading, you may be able to get through text in less time.

The first thing to understand is that it’s impossible to remove subvocalization entirely. The best you can hope for is to minimize it and reduce the number of words you pronounce internally. With that in mind, here are several tips to bring your subvocalization down.

Keep your inner voice busy

One of the easiest techniques for stopping subvocalization is to simply not allow your inner voice the possibility of subvocalizing. This is a reading habit that will take practice.

To do that, you can start repeating a simple phrase in your mind, or even counting. At first, this practice may prove distracting, as your auditory imagery won’t match what the eye movement is picking up from the page. But, as with many things, practice makes perfect.

Pretty soon, you’ll notice your words per minute, or wpm wpm, increasing and the distraction becoming smaller.

Master your eye movement

Although reading a text may seem smooth, our eyes actually don’t move in an orderly fashion. Instead, they jump all over the page. According to Keith Rayner, an expert on eye movement, creating some discipline around where our eyes are pointing and how they move can increase reading speed.

You can discipline your eye movement with a simple technique: When you read, drag your finger along the lines. Your eyes will stay fixated on the finger movement and won’t fly around the page. You can take this technique a step further and cover everything on the page except the line you’re reading at any given moment

Take advantage of speed reading apps

Certain apps can help you stop subvocalizing through particular methods. The most common method is when an app will flash one word at a time on your screen and continue doing so at regular intervals. Note that reading with the help of this software isn’t the best for comprehension—you may go over an entire Wikipedia article this way and not remember much afterwards. However, the method may be very useful as speed-reading training.

Don’t use subvocalization—Listen to text directly with Speechify

One of the easiest ways to avoid subvocalization is to not read the text at all. Instead, you can listen to any text you want using Speechify.

Speechify is a text to speech, or TTS, tool that can read any text aloud, from scanned documents to web pages. You can choose the desired narrator voice and increase reading speeds up to nine times. And if you listen and read simultaneously, your comprehension and memorization may improve, as well.

You can try Speechify for free today at www.speechify.com.

FAQ

How do you explain subvocalization?

The easiest way to explain subvocalisation is that it’s reading to yourself, but silently. It’s essentially like reading aloud, but you’re not actually saying words. Instead, you’re thinking them.

Is it possible to read without subvocalization?

You can read without subvocalization. However, the technique doesn’t come naturally for most people and may take a long time to master. If you want to read in complete silence, you’ll need to employ a challenging process of long-term practice.

What are the benefits of not subvocalizing?

The greatest benefit of removing subvocalization from your reading process is that you may be able to read faster. On the other hand, not subvocalizing won’t necessarily improve your focus or retention.

How does subvocalization affect a reader?

Subvocalization can have a positive impact on memory and retention. In other words, reading while subvocalizing may help you remember what you’re reading.

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