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How to Stop Subvocalizing: The Ultimate Guide

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    When you read, have you ever noticed that you say each word in your head? If so, then you’re not alone. Most people do this.

    In fact, there’s even a name for it: Subvocalization. While this may be a common reading habit, it isn’t always a good one. That’s because subvocalizing slows down your reading speed.

    Accordingly, many avid readers are interested in how to stop subvocalizing. This is especially true in the case of a person who wants to become a speed reader. For them, learning how to stop subvocalizing becomes something of a quest.

    "I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

    Nonetheless, evidence suggests that this habit isn’t as bad as some people believe. It actually may help with reading comprehension, particularly when new or complex words are encountered.

    This indicates that there may be value in being a situational subvocalizer. That is, you’re aware of the habit, and you don’t use it when it’s not needed, but can turn it on when you do need it.

    Let’s take an in-depth look at this habit, which also may be called silent speech or auditory reassurance. By doing so, you can understand to what extent you rely on it. You’ll also pick up some valuable tips regarding how to stop subvocalizing.

    What Is Subvocalization?

    How to Stop Subvocalizing

    Silent or internal speech actually is a natural part of the reading process. When you read, your mind “says” the word to you, and experts believe that it may help with comprehension and retention.

    What many people don’t realize is that this silent speech is accompanied by tiny movements of the larynx and speech muscles. The person who is reading normally cannot detect that these movements are occurring.

    Internal speech while reading is common and even normal. Still, people who would like to read faster remain interested in how to stop subvocalizing.

    Eliminating Subvocalization Isn't Realistic

    When people first become interested in how to stop subvocalizing, they think it will mean the total elimination of subvocalization from their reading.

    However, the results of numerous studies indicate that eliminating auditory reassurance is impossible. It simply is too ingrained in the mind.

    Much of this goes back to the way reading is taught. Parents and teachers read aloud to babies, toddlers and small children. Later, those children are encouraged to read aloud and then read independently and silently. They are reminded to sound out the word in their heads as they go.

    These activities firmly cement subvocalization into the brain, making the effort to completely get rid of auditory reassurance an impossible task.

    Nonetheless, it is possible to minimize the amount of silent speech in which your brain engages while you read. Doing so may mean that you’re able to read with greater speed while still comprehending what your eyes are seeing.

    Subvocalization Can Be a Good Thing

    You’re interested in how to stop subvocalizing, but now know that this isn’t possible in a total sense. Instead, your goal should be to minimize subvocalization while you read.


    While you’re reading that novel, you’re reading for pure pleasure and enjoyment. Would anything necessarily be gained by speed reading your way through that work?

    Probably not, and you may even lose the illusion of being immersed in the world of the novel.

    Now, consider that you’re reading a technical manual, scientific paper, textbook or other non-fiction work. The subject matter is relatively well-known to you. How much help is subvocalization?

    Not much, as a general rule. You might be able to read this information much more quickly if you were able to minimize the amount of auditory reassurance that you’re using.

    Still, you don’t want to eliminate this silent speech. When you encounter a totally unfamiliar word or concept, then subvocalization makes a reappearance, helping you to comprehend and retain what you’re reading.

    How to Stop Subvocalizing

    When it comes to learning how to stop subvocalizing, it is first necessary to ascertain to what degree you engage in this habit.

    Researchers have identified three levels of subvocalization. At the first of these, the reader physically moves their lips while reading.

    This habit is common among young children who are learning to read, and there are natural reasons for it. Adults read aloud to children, and then encourage the child to read aloud and to sound out words. To a kid, this may mean actually speaking the words.

    As they practice and become more adept, most kids abandon this habit. However, adults who rarely read, have a learning disorder like dyslexia or received poor reading training as a child may still be plagued by the need to move their lips while reading.

    To break this habit, people are encouraged to become more aware of it. This means doing things like putting your fingers on your mouth as you read, clenching a wooden spoon between your teeth as you read or holding water in your mouth. Other people have resorted to lightly trapping their tongue between their teeth.

    All of these techniques spark greater awareness of movement in the lips and tongue while reading. Practicing them frequently will eventually break this habit.

    At the second stage of subvocalization, the reader is adept enough not to move their lips. However, there may be actual movement of the larynx and speech muscles that is perceptible to an observer.

    This is contrary to the larynx and speech muscle movement that comes with the third level of subvocalization. Movement of these muscles at this level is only detectable by scientific or medical machines.

    Readers at the second level may want to lightly press a hand to their throat as they read to increase awareness of this habit. Regular practice of this technique may lead to progression to the third level of subvocaliation.

    How to Stop Subvocalizing at the Third Level

    Most readers naturally attain this level of subvocalization prior to adulthood. By now, it is a practice that is thoroughly embedded in your brain.

    However, if you are interested in speeding up your reading in certain situations, then you may want to know how to stop subvocalizing.

    The most frequently recommended technique for accomplishing this is to use your finger or a pen as a pointer on the page. Use this “pointer” to drag your eyes along each line of text.

    Move the pointer along the text at your natural and comfortable reading speed. Gradually speed up the movement of your pointer, and force your eyes to keep up with it.

    This will feel awkward and unnatural at first, so keep in mind that you will have to practice this technique to get its full value.

    The beauty of this practice is that you will soon discover that it isn’t necessary for your mind to “say” every word in your head. Your eyes recognize words and concepts without this echo. In fact, as subvocalization begins to take a backseat, you may find that you can read faster without sacrificing comprehension.

    Remember to drag your eyes with the pointer at a greater speed than your eyes would normally travel as you read. The more you practice this skill, the easier it will become.

    Distraction Can Be a Key for How to Stop Vocalizing

    Alternatively, or in conjunction with using a pointer, you may try to distract the voice in your head by giving it something else to do. Many speed readers simply count “one, two, three,” as they read each line of text.

    Essentially, the voice in their head says “one” at the first part of the line, “two” at the middle of the line and “three” at the end of the line.

    While their eyes are absorbing the words on the page, their inner voice is occupied elsewhere, freeing them up to read at greater speed.

    Other readers prefer to distract their inner voice with music. Classical is the genre of choice with this exercise thanks to its lack of lyrics. Let some soft music play in the background as you read, and you may discover that your subvocalization habit is subdued.

    Read Faster to Read More

    With this exploration of how to stop subvocalization, we’ve learned that entirely eliminating this habit isn’t possible nor is it even truly desirable.

    Still, there are situations in which minimizing your subvocalization habit can yield big advantages. When you are reading non-fiction, especially if it is relatively familiar subject matter, you can read and retain information much faster if you use techniques to limit how much subvocalization your mind does.

    Still, this inner speech while reading is a valuable technique when you want to immerse yourself in a fictional world or when it’s necessary to take a deep dive into unfamiliar non-fiction words or concepts.

    The more aware you are of subvocalization, the less you will subconsciously rely on it, freeing you to read faster while maintaining comprehension.

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