Vocalization – The Biggest Hurdle in Speed Reading

Very often, when perusing materials relating to improving your speed reading skills, you’ll see comments to the effect that vocalization is the biggest hurdle in speed reading. Moreover, if you do happen to be one of those people who vocalize when you read, you’ll need to overcome this practice if you want to significantly increase your reading speed.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that those of us who vocalize our words when we speed read have not perfected our speed reading skills. Having said that, what is vocalization – and why is it seen as being one of the biggest hurdles in speed reading?

Vocalization explained

“Vocalization”, or subvocalization as it is sometimes also known, is the practice of pronouncing/speaking words out aloud, albeit under your breath or even in your head, as you read materials. The argument goes that this is a common flaw in most people’s reading skills as it is a habit adopted from our formative years, when we were encouraged, by our teachers, peers and parents, to speak-out the words we were reading. The net result of all this is that we place a limit on our ability to speed read if we vocalize the words as we read. This is because part of our brain needed to vocalize the words being read has to be activated.

Vocalization – the cons

The overwhelming reason why vocalization is seen as negative is the fact that it inhibits your ability to speed read – it slows you down! Here, empirical observation seems to suggest that those who vocalize are unable to read more than 300 words per minute – and are likely unable to exceed 250 words per minute. Although reading at a rate of between 250 and 300 words per minute would make you an average reader, speed reading techniques should help you to reach at least 500 words per minute. Furthermore, opponents of vocalization argue that rather than helping a reader to comprehend the text being read, vocalization is a barrier to such comprehension; therefore, vocalization is a hurdle not only to speed reading, but also comprehending what is being read.

Vocalization – the pros

Proponents of vocalization who argue that vocalization is actually a good thing, base their counter-argument on two principles. First, they argue that most people are able to speak faster than they can read. Vocalization, where you speak as you read, therefore enables us to read faster – not slower. Second, vocalization is a process that involves repeating what one has just read. Thus, by repeating something we have just read we are far more likely to be able to retain that information in our brain than would be the case if we merely only read the material. Both of these are strong arguments: they both lead to a logical and persuasive argument that vocalization equals a better understanding of the text that we are reading.

And finally, another argument in favor of vocalization harps back to the very reason why we may vocalize in the first place: because vocalization of text helps us in our skills of verbally pronouncing the word being read.

Nonetheless, there are undoubtedly HUGE flaws with vocalization. One of these is the need to re-read material that we have only just read, which is another commonly cited limitation on one’s ability to speed read.

Vocalization – eliminating this bad habit

No tried and tested method of curing vocalization has come to the forefront of speed reading techniques. Rather, what is often cited is the need to cure the problem through disciplining yourself not to speak out (vocalize) the words that you are reading as you read them. However, if you have been reading for some time, re-training yourself so that you don’t vocalize words can be exhausting and time consuming!

In this regard, one method that has become popular is to read using a marker. The argument goes that if you drag the marker along the page as you read, you are less likely to vocalize your words and more like to be able to read faster. Another method of avoiding vocalization is to readjust the focus of your eyes. Adjusting the focus of your eyes by zooming in on a word and then adjusting your eye focus outwards to see the broader picture of a whole paragraph enables you to read faster as it increases the number of words your eyes can focus on at any one time!