What is subvocalization? (And 5 easy strategies to help you with it!)

What is subvocalization? (And 5 easy strategies to help you with it!)

In this short article, you are going to learn what subvocalization is and, more importantly, when to do it and when to avoid it.

If you have read any research on speed reading, you would have come across the term ‘subvocalization’. What it means is you mentally ‘mouthing’ or ‘saying’ the words in your mind, while reading. 

Most speed reading experts will encourage you to try and eliminate subvocalisation all together from your reading. The reason? Because it slows down your reading speed. The assumption being, that faster reading is the primary goal. This is not true. 


(A quick side note:)

The worst thing you can do with regards to your reading speed is to move at one pace. Whether fast or slow.


The real art of speed reading is learning to VARY your pace which is dependant on a number of factors. One example is the technical difficulty of your subject matter. Another example is the level of your previous understanding or experience of the concepts shared. Because of this, learning to overcome subvocalisation would be useful in some instances. In other cases, it would be useful to use it.


Don’t focus on words. Focus on ideas instead.

4 tips to help you overcome subvocalisation:

1.Use a pointer, such as your finger or a pen. 


Move this along the line of words as you read. Your brain will keep up with your pen or finger and somehow trick your brain into focusing on this instead of saying the words in your head.

2. Try and be on the look out for key concepts as you read. (To reduce the temptation to use subvocalization.)


(And let THIS be the focus, NOT thinking about the words out loud in your brain.)This will also trick your brain into focusing on the information you are trying to process. This will also increase your levels of engagement.

3. Perform a 1 minute “mental prep” before reading.



This will help improve your concentration and focus. It will also help your brain isolate key concepts and process information faster. It will also give the extra mental energy to reduce the need to say the words out loud.

4. Listen to light classical music while studying. 



Baroque music can help your brain shift into an “alpha state of concentration,” increasing your ability to focus. (And focus on the key concepts at hand.)

5. Move faster than what you feel is comfortable. (To help you eradicate  subvocalization.)


This will help in your pursuit of identifying key concepts. It will also reduce the need to say concepts out loud.

Your brain will enjoy the challenge. This will also help you focus on the key ideas instead of the words. 


Overcoming subvocalisation is useful in the EARLIER stages of learning new information. This allows you to get a good idea of the overall framework of a section of work. 

Here are 4 situations when subvocalization should be embraced: 

  1. When reading the finer, more intricate detail of your subject matter.

  2. When reading technically challenging material.


  3. Key concepts of high importance. Such as legal documents. (Subvocalization is an asset here.)

  4. When trying to teach yourself what you have learnt to gauge your understanding of the subject matter.

4.5: When reading love letters or important messages from your spouse, children, family members or friends. 

Do you struggle with subvocalization? What are your tips? Leave your comments below and subscribe for more brain boosting tips!

About Daren Denholm

Daren Denholm went from nearly failing University to becoming the Highest Ranked Competitor at the World Memory Championships from Africa and the Southern Hemisphere for 6 years in a row! (2006 – 2011) He was also the only person in the world to compete in ALL 6 World Memory Championships during this time.