According to Merriam-Webster, subvocalization, a term first used in 1925, is defined as “the act or process of inaudibly articulating speech with the speech organs.” When used in the context of reading, subvocalization refers to the habit of reading along with the printed text using your “inner voice” to form the words instead of silently processing and comprehending the words on the page simply from the visual information.
Subvocalization undoubtedly arises from the way we’re initially instructed in how to read, primarily using phonics. We learn to associate the shape of a letter with the sound(s) that letter makes, and we demonstrate our proficiency by reading out loud to our fellow students and teacher. When, in third grade, we transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” we’re told to read silently. And while we no longer pronounce the words we read out loud, we internalize the sounds by employing our inner voice — hearing is believing that we understand what we see.
This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, except the average person speaks only between 200-250 words per minute (WPM); that puts our silent reading speed under the same limitation.
Still, there are people who read 500 WPM and even higher, with good comprehension — how is this possible since they can’t subvocalize every word? That’s just the point: you don’t have to subvocalize every word to understand the text you’re reading. Your brain primarily needs the visual information your eyes supply to comprehend what’s been written. Auditory input is nice, but it’s not an essential part of reading fluently and with comprehension.
That said, there are some instances where subvocalizing is actually a helpful habit. For example, if you’re reading a textbook with a lot of new and difficult terms, the auditory stimulus of “hearing” the words helps your brain build on the visual information to decode the terms successfully.
AceReader is a reading efficiency program that fosters better silent reading by helping you learn new strategies to maximize your visual perception and brain processing. Those alone can have you reading above the 500 WPM level with 75% or greater comprehension of the material. However, we also understand that as you move up the complexity level, you may want or need to employ some measure of subvocalization to aid learning of new words and ideas, and that’s fine. As long as you don’t rely on the inner voice to provide all your comprehension, you can be an effective reader.
We’d love to hear from our readers about your experiences with subvocalization, specifically how and when you use it, and when you don’t. Leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.