How to stop subvocalizing? It’s a common question for anyone who wants to read faster will ask.
In this post, we will go over tips that I’ve personally used to help stop subvocalizing as a student and for leisure reading.
Let’s get to it!
Note: If you want to learn how to read more books this year, check out my ultimate guide where I share 33 genuine was to read more!
What Is Subvocalization?
First of all, what is subvocalization anyways?
If you hear a voice inside your head reading “aloud” as you’re reading this text – that’s subvocalization.
You may be familiar with the term because you’ve tried or trying to read faster (speed reading). Subvocalization is a common culprit for why we can’t read as fast. (More on that later).
Later in this post, we’ll touch on the different strategies to stop that little voice in your head from participating in your reading.
With some practice, you’ll be able to essentially glide through your reading without much (or any) loss in comprehension.
Why Does Subvocalization Happen?
This is where I get to nerd out and share my medical background. The science behind subvocalization and why it happens is fascinating.
And if you’re considering skipping this section – I promise you that understand the science will help you stop subvocalizing quicker!
Back in the 1860s, scientists were studying the phenomenon of subvocalization.
They found that while study participants were silently reading, their larynx (where our voice comes from) was making some significant muscle movements
Why do you have muscle movement in your larynx when you’re not even talking?
Scientists believe this is developmental.
Most of us learn to read by speaking the words and letters out loud. Thus it makes sense that the regions in our brain, which comprehends the reading, and our larynx (which helps us talk) remain connected throughout life.
So our brains and voice box are connected for life.
In addition, the region of our brain responsible for comprehending language (Broca’s Area) is near the region of our brain responsible for motor movements (such as talking)
The reason I bring this up is learning how to stop subvocalizing will require you to rewire your brain.
This means you’ll have to make stronger neural connections which don’t involve your motor pathways.
This can only come with practice. Use some of the strategies I lay down for you in the following section and you’ll be on your way to learning how to stop subvocalizing.
Is Subvocalization Bad?
Now before we get into the tips, I want to touch on this idea of subvocalization being bad.
Speed reading gurus will make you believe that subvocalization is useless and only gets in your way.
The typical argument is that we tend to read around 150-250 words per minute (WPM). This is also the speed we naturally talk.
Thus they argue that we’re held back by the inner voice in our head talking out the words. If you can manage to stop subvocalizing then you’ll be able to read faster.
This is true. But let’s quickly touch on one of the many benefits of the subvocalization.
Better Short-Term Memory
There is something known as the phonological loop. It’s essentially our vocalization helping us store what we read into our short-term memory.
This phenomenon is quite dependent on subvocalizing. Thus it’s not surprising why it’s easier to remember what you read if you speak it out loud.
I suspect this pathway and phonological loop is a function of how we’ve learned to read:
- See the word
- Speak the word
- Comprehend the word
- Remember what we read
This is also why saying someone’s name out loud when you meet someone can help you remember their name later in the conversation.
So with that being said, subvocalization is quite useful and plays a primal role in our processing.
How To Stop Subvocalizing?
Now let’s get into why you likely came to this article. You want to learn how to stop subvocalizing and read faster.
Let’s get into some tips which will help you.
Using Irrelevant Distractions:
The whole idea behind learning how to stop subvocalizing is to avoid the natural pathways our brains take when we read.
Thus we can use irrelevant distractions to help.
For example, scientists tested minimizing subvocalization by having readers say a random word such as “cola” continuously while reading a line of text.
They found that the pathways involved in subvocalizing were decreased.
So while you don’t need to say “cola” throughout your reading, you can try any of the following forms of distractions. (Slowiaczek et al. 1980)
- Hum as you read. Humming also uses your voice box in your larynx thus helping you limit the subvocalizing that is happening as you read
- Chew gum. This is again is distracting the muscles in your mouth and throat to minimize subvocalization.
Reading Faster Than Normal:
Remember subvocalization happens at a similar rate to our natural rate of reading. Thus to learn how to stop subvocalizing, try reading at a slightly faster pace.
A good approach is to learn how to read at about 300-350 WPM.
Use a tool such as Accelareader where you can copy and paste your text into. You can then select your reading speed and watch how well you’re still able to comprehend the text.
If you’re reading from a physical book, a simple trick is to grab a pen or your finger as a guide. Then move the guide at a faster rate than you would typically read.
With some practice, you’ll still be able to follow along, minimize your subvocalization, and read faster!
Learning To Read Blocks of Words:
I learned this technique through Tim Ferris’s amazing article on speed reading.
Learn to read blocks of words vs. each word at a time.
To explain this I have a quick example.
Think about the last time you were driving on the highway. How often do you read each and every word on a billboard, traffic sign, or exit?
Your brain tends to cluster 3-4 words at a time and then begins to comprehend the meaning.
There’s very little subvocalization happening here since we can’t say 3-4 words at once.
So next time you’re reading, practice reading 3-4 words at a time.
First, try to have your eyes focus on the middle word. Then let your peripheral vision pick up the words to the left and right of it.
Here’s a quick practice. Try reading the next few sentences by focusing only on the middle of the sentence. Let your eyes do the rest.
My mom is driving
Reading can be fun
Speed reading is possible
I can read faster
You may have found reading 3-4 words at a time to be quite easy. It’s because our brains do it all the time!
So next time you’re reading, use a pen or your finger your focus on every 4th word. This will help you stop subvocalizing and increase your reading speed.
Practice for 5 Minutes Every Day:
I mentioned that we’re essentially rewiring our brains to find a new normal while reading.
So we’re going to have to practice. Thankfully it doesn’t have to take much time each day.
Try just 5-minutes per day of reading an article or book and try the techniques we mentioned above.
Again these include the following:
- Distract yourself by humming, chewing gum, clenching your jaw
- Read faster than normal using a guide (pen or finger)
- Practice reading blocks of words at a time
Try it for just 7-14 days and see how quickly you can stop subvocalizing!
Subvocalization and Comprehension:
Now the one form of resistance I hear often about learning how to stop subvocalizing is whether it affects your comprehension.
Here’s the simple answer – in the beginning, it will.
Remember our brains are currently dependent on subvocalization to help improve our short-term memory.
But with some training, you can improve your retention while reading faster. (Check out this article on how to do that).
Hope you enjoyed this article on how to stop subvocalizing and read faster!
If you enjoyed this article then all I ask in return is a friendly share on social media, email, or your personal blog. Help me improve the reach of this blog and help others enjoy reading again!
Also, check out the following post to help you retain more information while reading faster.
How To Read Faster And Retain Information
Have your own tricks for how you stop subvocalizing? Comment below and share them for others to learn as well!
Thanks for reading!
Now go out and read more…
Cleland, D. L., Davies, W. C and T. C. 1963. Research in Reading. The Reading Teacher
Slowiaczek, M., & Clifton, C. (1980). Subvocalization and reading for meaning. Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 19.5, 573-582.