How to stop subvocalization – What is it? 6 Tips to eliminate it.
You are probably not even aware of the fact that you have a bad reading habit: you subvocalize. Subvocalization can perhaps best be described as that little voice in your head that pronounces words as you read them. In some people this habit is so serious that they actually move their lips and their throat muscles when they read.
Is this a bad thing? It certainly is if you want to learn how to read and learn faster. When you subvocalize your reading speed cannot become faster than that of your speaking speed, which is 150 – 250 words per minute. Read on to learn interesting and effective ways in which to minimize subvocalization and to learn more about the topic in general.
Subvocalization – Overview
The Entire Issue of Subvocalization is Wrapped in Controversy. Nobody denies the existence of this phenomenon but there are wildly differing opinions on whether it is a good or bad thing. So, here is a brief summary of the basic issues:
Formal research of subvocalization dates back as far as 1868 and led to formal experiments in 1899 that concluded that sub-vocalization is the only mental activity that causes the larynx to move. In 1950 another researcher, Edfelt, developed an instrument that could measure the subvocalization during silent reading. After much further research, he concluded, in 1960 that it is not possible to eliminate subvocalization and that it is in fact a very helpful and useful activity that reinforces learning.
Contrary to the conclusions of early research, modern educational experts and researchers (B.A. Levy, B. Klob, L. Curtis and many others) say that subvocalization is indeed a bad habit and that it inhibits learning. They point out that effective reading does not involve the pronunciation of individual words. Instead, learning takes place only when entire sentences and paragraphs are understood in context. Subvocalization is therefore a so called bad reading habit that forces the reader to focus on one word at a time rather than entire concepts expressed in many words.
So, is Subvocalization Good or Bad?
There is general agreement on the fact that sub-vocalization simply cannot be eliminated. What can be done, however, is to minimize it and there are many tips and tricks on achieving this aim. The smaller the number of words being subvocalized, the faster your reading will become and the quicker you will be able to learn.
How To Stop Subvocalization? 6 Tips
1. Occupy Your Inner Voice With Something Else
I have tried this tip for myself and it most certainly works. This is what you do: since you cannot completely eliminate subvocalization, the next best thing is to keep that inner voice busy with other tasks. One simple way is to start counting in your mind the moment you start reading.
If you repeat 1, 2, 3 … over and over again in your mind whilst reading, the inner voice does not have time to focus on the text that you are reading. You may also repeat a phrase, such as “I need to master this material” over and over again. You may find it difficult at first but surprisingly soon you will find that you read faster without finding the repetitive phrase or list distracting.
2. Scan Before Reading
Sub-vocalizing can actually be useful in mastering complex terminology and technical or unfamiliar words. The idea is to quickly scan the text before you actually start reading. One way to perform a very quick scan is to use a finger to draw “S” shapes across and down the page and to force your eyes to follow the tip of your finger.
The purpose of this scan is not to gain insight but to pick up unfamiliar words and terms. When you encounter one, deliberately sub-vocalize it. Ergo, when you start your proper reading you will be less inclined to subvocalize!
3. Discipline Your Eyes (1)
Ask somebody to hold a book in front of them and to read silently while you watch their eyes. You will immediately notice that the eyes of the reader do not move smoothly from left to right. Instead, they move back and forth, often rather jerkily. This means that most words are actually read repeatedly, creating time for subvocalization. You therefore need to train your eyes to move smoothly from left to right at a pre-determined speed.
Solve this problem by sweeping your finger underneath each line of text from left to right and at a steady speed. Now force your eyes to follow the tip of your finger. Start slowly and gradually increase the speed at which you move your finger. Your eyes will not have time to linger on a word and very soon you will find that you sub-vocalize much, much less!
4. Discipline Your Eyes(2)
Once you have mastered smooth eye movement when reading, you may want to set the notch a little bit higher. Using your finger from left to right still means that you read only one word at a time. Learn to read entire lines, or even more than one line at a time by using this tip. Take some stiff carton and cut a window into it. The window should be as wide as your page and as high as a single line of text.
Now move this piece of carton slowly down the page and force your eyes to remain fixed upon the window. Soon you will master reading entire lines at a time without sub-vocalizing. When you are ready, you can even make a new window that will display two lines at a time.
5. Distract Your Other Reading Organs
Sub-vocalizing is not all about that inner little voice. Your ears, tongue, lips and larynx all play a role in the process. If you can distract these organs, you will limit your sub-vocalization. How? Distract your ears by listening to music when reading.
Not loud, rhythmic music but soothing melodies barely registering in the background. Baroque music is the best. Keep the larynx occupied by humming softly along with the music. And the tongue, lips and mouth? Chew gum. You may think this a corny tip but guess what: it works!
6. Use Technology to Stop Subvocalization
There are quite a number of speed reading apps that can help you to stop subvocalization. Almost all of these apps flash text onto the screen one word at a time and at a predetermined speed. There are many critics that condemn this type of app, but there condemnation has to do with its ability to increase comprehension and reading speed.
These apps can actually do a lot to help you to read one word after the next without having either the time or the ability to read a specific word repeatedly or to sub-vocalize it. You might be using it for all the wrong reasons but, hey, it works!
More About Subvocalization
The Role of Subvocalization in Speech
There are two types of subvocalization: low-vocalizers and high-vocalizers. Low vocalizers tend not to use the lips, throat and larynx as much during sub-vocalization. They therefore tend to speak louder when they articulate a word or when they read aloud. There is also some evidence that suggests that constant subvocalization can reinforce bad reading habits such as when silently reading an unfamiliar word and sub-vocalizing it incorrectly. This mistake tends to be repeated when the word is articulated aloud.
Subvocalization and Auditory Imagery
Most of us learns much more efficiently when we employ our powerful visualization abilities. Very experienced readers that have succeeded in minimizing their sub-vocalizing are able to call up visual images of the text that they read rather than repeating the pronunciation in their heads. This certainly is a strong indicator that learning how to minimize sub-vocalization can improve the speed and efficiency of your learning.
Subvocalization and Comprehension
There is absolutely no evidence that subvocalization has any influence on comprehension. It does not help the reader to understand the material or to remember it. However, it does no harm either.
Reading Disabilities and Subvocalization
People that cannot read faster than 100 – 200 words per minute and those suffering from dyslexia are actually encouraged to sub-vocalize. It helps them to concentrate on the text that they are reading and while the subvocalization will not automatically promote comprehension, it will help disabled readers to identify problematic words. They are therefore taught to ask for an explanation of the meaning of a specific word if they are unable to sub-vocalize it.
Subvocalization – Summary
We all sub-vocalize and while there is much we can do to minimize it, it cannot be completely eliminated. The main reason why you will want to minimize your subvocalization is that it slows down your reading speed without providing you with any compensating benefits such as better comprehension. The ability to read faster will allow you to learn quicker and to cover more material in a shorter period of time. It is certainly well worth the effort to try and limit sub-vocalization.
There are many different approaches to stop subvocalization. Do you have some tips? Please share them in the comments below.