Subvocalization – something that might be slowing you down as you read these words…

Subvocalization is when, as you read, you speak the words in your head.

Up until this week, I had no idea that Subvocalization existed beyond starting to learn a language. I thought that it was a part of proficiency in a language that you could read the words without ‘saying’ them in your head. Similarly, others who do subvocalize (at least those who were in the same room I was when I heard about it) had no idea you could read without subvocalization! It’s amazing that such a used feature of our selves is so poorly identified by everyone, let alone understood by any kind of science.

I have a few pretty unscientific thoughts. One, it seems to me that I read faster because of it, and anecdotal evidence suggests this, but academic literature seems to say it doesn’t matter and there is a lot of debate. I wish that there was more research on this topic! Two, it seems essential to learn this if it does make you read faster, as this Forbes post suggests (albeit hyperbolic-ly)

If you think about our lives, we read probably 2 hours a day of blog posts, books, emails, etc. If you include work reading as well, it is probably most of the day that I am looking at and reading text. the range of comprehension reading is around 100-300 words/minute. So that’s the difference between 12,000 and 36,000 words! 24,000 words a day is 1/4th of The Hobbit- you could easily read the equivalent in words of The Hobbit once every week if you could increase your reading speed to the top of this range.

Note that this is not “Speed Reading”. Honestly I think that is useless- you miss out on every nuance and detail, and lose the point of most of the words the author wrote! The words are (usually) not there to take up space, but instead to flesh out the ideas with tricky cases, nuance, detail, emotion, and everything else human.

Which brings me to the one thing I don’t like about trying to read quickly- you do lose out on some of the interesting stuff, even when reading at regular comprehension rates. As it is, I feel like I forget most of what I read very quickly after I read it, and that sometimes I’m just a text-processing robot that might as well read those executive recaps at the end of business books. (To be fair, business books often really only contain those bullet points interspersed with anecdotal evidence that the bullet points are not all crap, so it’s probably beneficial to read just the basic theory the author is trying to get across!) It might be better to slow down and enjoy life a little more than we let ourselves, and this includes reading.

In any case, now you know subvocalization is a thing, and can choose for yourself!

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