When to stop sub-vocalizing?

I find great use in reading aloud as I learn. And the habit continues in my head when I don’t read aloud. It seems to help me in the following ways:

  • gives me some practice at pronouncing words
  • assuming I’m pronouncing correctly, maybe it makes it easier to listen and hear the same words later
  • helps me to force the English words out of my mind by filling mind with the target language (Spanish)
  • adds further checks that I’m understanding by requiring that I “feel” the sentence
  • it’s just more fun than silent reading with no sub vocalization

But at some point, maybe years from now, I’ll want to read things quickly and efficiently without staging a full theater drama in my mind.

Will it be hard to ween myself off the inner voices? Is there a good strategy to follow? Curious what other people have experienced and learned.

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Great question…

Here’s what I’ve experienced. Over the last year-ish, I’ve significantly stopped subvocalization while reading French.

Naturally, I can read much quicker this way. However… the side effect seems to be that my pronunciation has worsened.

Since I don’t live in the culture, there aren’t the self-correcting elements of conversation. And with French, being such a non-phonetic language with numerous cognates with English, it’s always easy for English to sneak its influences into my mind.

An example here for me is in English’s handling of weak syllables. I tend to make the corresponding syllables weak in French for multi-syllable cognates especially. Maybe in the gray zone between subvocalization and inner silence, I’ve let my brain slide in English’s frame of reference for my brain doing very poorly “annunciated” inner subvocalization.

Another thing that I wonder if inner silence has negatively impacted my accent on is liaisons, when you slide the (otherwise silent) ending letter(s) of one word onto the next. In French, liaisons can be obligatory, optional, and not permissible depending upon various rules and exceptions. Here too, I think reading with inner silence has not helped.

To counter this, I’m now doing a couple things. I’m doing pronunciation focused sessions on iTalki, where I read aloud and the teacher simply corrects pronunciation as I go.

Second, I’m slowing down and vocalizing and subvocalizing more as I read.

Spanish is much more phonetic though.

Anyhow, just thought I’d offer you one point of view.

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Very interesting. Was it hard for you to drop the sub-vocalization habit?

Your experience seems to point towards a strategy of waiting longer before dropping sub-vocalization.

Another strategy might be to spend some time in both modes. Maybe using aloud speech and sub-vocalizing with fiction or dialogue, and quiet reading otherwise.

I’m sure there are many ways to climb to the top of the mountain, but I like thinking about these optimizations. And maybe some of them save months or years of learning time.

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Correct me if I’m wrong but we subvocalize all the time, with our native language as well. This has nothing to do with language learning, I guess. This has to do with our inner speech, and how our mind process the reading and comprehension system.

As far as I know, the only reason for not subvocalizing is mentioned by the advocates of speed reading. They seem to say that by subvocalizing we slow down our reading, compared to look at the words and sentences faster without the subvocalization.

Unless we have different ideas on this concept, subvocalizing is something we do all the time with all languages, and not doing it has nothing to do with language learning but with reading in a completely different way.

However, I’ve never really had much success with not subvocalizing. I prefer to slow down and absorb better the concepts when I read, rather than try to speed read and just having the perception of the topics here and there, similar to scanning the pages. Quality vs quantity is what I prefer.

Imho.

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In English, the “quiet” mode is the default way for me. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% not sub-vocalizing, particularly when there is character dialogue. And thinking about how I’m reading tends to yank me out of the “quiet” mode. But that quiet mode is definitely there and distinct from the sub-vocalizing mode for me.

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The “quiet” mode has been the default for me since about my late 30s when I took up “speed reading.”

I find it too easy to get sucked into the quiet mode in French too. It’s been to the peril of my pronunciation.

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I found the solution by pure chance. Buying a magnifying glass was a game changer for me. Small font size used in books is the main issue for regression, subvocalization, tirednes of eyes and all. With large text font size my reading speed improves with that subvocalization is gone. The whole reading experience has become better for me. I always wear this magnifying glass over my optics. Give this solution a try and see if this solves your problem.

Hardly 9 euros investment but man it made a huge difference to my reading experience no more subvocalization.

Temu is a Chinese based online shopping platform and it ships products to Germany and all. This is where I purchased my magnifying glass.

Magnifying Glass

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Good for you that you say you cannot subvocalize, however, I don’t think it is actually possible, and maintain the same level of comprehension.
There is a difference between our perception, and reality.

In any case, I don’t think it has nothing to do with language learning, but more with brain structures. And I’m not sure it can be trained for everybody, as we have different physical brains, in the same way we have different bodies.

That said, it is nevertheless a possible fascinating topic. Unfortunately, besides claims, we still have a lot to understand about it, and we need more data to see if there is a real interest in dedicating time and effort to exploit it for learning and comprehension purposes.

Just to add something to it:

Source:

How to minimize subvocalization

extract:

Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop subvocalization completely, despite what some speed-reading programs claim. We can, instead, avoid and minimize it to increase reading proficiency and become all-around better narrators. Here are some practical ways you can improve your reading ability to avoid this common challenge.

Source:

Extract:

Typically, subvocalizing is an inherent part of reading and understanding a word. Micro-muscle tests suggest that full and permanent elimination of subvocalizing is impossible. This may originate in the way people learn to read by associating the sight of words with their spoken sounds. Sound associations for words are indelibly imprinted on the nervous system—even of deaf people, since they will have associated the word with the mechanism for causing the sound or a sign in a particular [sign language].

Extract:

At the slower [reading rates] (100–300 words per minute), subvocalizing may improve comprehension. Subvocalizing or actual vocalizing can indeed be of great help when one wants to learn a passage verbatim. This is because the person is repeating the information in an auditory way, as well as seeing the piece on the paper.

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Personally, I have no issues with not subvocalizing. My issue is the other way, I need to subvocalize when reading French much more so.

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So, if I’m correct, and just to be clear, you are reading now what I’m writing without inner speech, your mind is completely empty, totally silent, and you can read everything I write right now with your mind totally empty.

Your mind is totally empty in the same way a person that is a super expert in meditation is able to empty it.

Basically your eyes are scanning the text without any inner voice. Your eyes probably can “scroll” through all letters without any inner chattering, not even a word chattering.

This apply to every type of writing, it doesn’t matter the complexity. You can read right now everything I write without any inner speech. Even if it is mathematics, psychology, history, numbers, everything written. And you understand everything that it is written, regardless if they are sentences or longer paragraphs.

You can do this at any time, even if you read a small piece of paper, a book, an articles; and at work, at home, even if you are tired. You can go on for hours per day reading in this mode, that appears to be your default mode in your native language.

Am I correct?

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No. It’s not zen experientially. For me, it’s not the brain being “empty,” it’s just [mostly] silent.

It’s that for much of what I read I go directly from “written words” → “meaning,” without having to go from “written words” → “their sounds” → “meaning.” Perhaps learning Japanese as a non-phonetic language as helped me. Kanji/Chinese characters are directly linked with symbolic and ideographic representations of the meanings, with only loose, temporal associations with the pronunciations. This is why advanced Mandarin and Cantonese speakers can read each others’ newspapers fine but not fully converse.

On what it’s like experientially, have you ever heard anyone trying to speak, such as with a brain injury… where they’re articulating every few words and mumbling in between and you’re doing your best to piece it together? For me, the inner monologue is a bit like that. Few syllables have sounds. Rarely is it “without any inner chattering” though.

While I’m not an expert on it, I think the most foundational aspect of it concerns numbers. When I read numbers, they rarely have sounds and, in fact, it can be hard for me to subvocalize them.

Another related topic concerns the voices of authors. Often when I read a book written by a living author, I go and find him or her on Youtube or elsewhere. I listen to their voice. I watch their mannerisms. When I do subvocalize, it helps me listen to the author’s voice in the subvocalization rather than my own. It helps me wrestle with not just the ideas, but the author’s ideas, in a more human context.

Anyhow, I used to be a prolific [English] reader, consuming a 300 or 400 page fairly technical book every week for a few decades. Somewhere, and with some intentionality, I lost the need to subvocalize. It’s just that for me, it came with some side effects. For instance, it’s now much harder for me to proofread what I write.

I’ve never really researched what the experiences are like for others. It’s just that words can now be with or without sounds. For me, it’s analogous to breathing. Autonomically, I seem to now read without much sound. Consciously, I can subvocalize with my own voice or the voice of the author. My brain picks one or the other and goes back and forth depending upon the nature of interest in the content.

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I hear you, I do the same with voices of authors if I know them, or other people. My brain matches their voices, or create different voices for females, males and so on.

Yes, this is more in line with the data shown in the second articles I linked. It seems more an intermittent experience.

I understand what you are saying with Japanese/Chinese types of languages. More like visual languages. But it is difficult to apply it to our types of languages that are more linear; unless there is some sort of natural predisposition to do it.

There are pros and cons in this type of reading, it seems to be more a natural ability of the brain, some people pick up this modality much easier then others.

Nevertheless it is a fascinating topic, but I wished there were more data about it. Something that could specify if there is a real value in learning this type of reading skill.

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you are reading now what I’m writing without inner speech, your mind is completely empty, totally silent, and you can read everything I write right now with your mind totally empty.

Just as another data point for you…

It’s not total mental silence for me. But the more I push my eyes to go over the paragraphs quickly, the quieter it gets.

Another way of thinking about it is that if your eyes and mind have a large enough intake of words over a duration of time, it becomes impossible for you to sub-vocalize them all. I don’t know what exactly that limit is, but I’m assuming it takes some milliseconds for your brain to form discrete phonemes as the whole thing is based on electrons and neurochemicals.

But I don’t think you ever meant that all the phonemes in text would be sub-vocalized. Just some. And now that you’ve made me think about it and listen to my thoughts, I can say I wouldn’t claim its possible for me to avoid all sub-vocalization. We are both saying, “just some”, I think.

The only thing I claim beyond that is there is an ability to do a lot less sub-vocalization if I set my mind to it. And I’m not speaking for anyone besides myself. And I won’t be able to prove it with data of any kind. I’m just telling you, one truthseeker to another, that is my experience.

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@ErikH2000 yes, this is definitely more accurate. Thanks for sharing.

It’s true that if I move my eyes quicker, the subvocalization reduces. But what’s difficult to understand if it’s worth to train this skill.

When I read, I do it for comprehension. Actually, I’m going more and more into a different direction. I read slower to increase comprehension. Quality vs quantity.

In the past, I got trapped in reading a lot, tons of books, articles, and so on. Nowadays I realised that it wasn’t worth it, that’s better to focus on our intuition on dedicating time on what’s really important for us in that moment, and let go all the rest of the noise.

And maybe it might be valuable to spend some time to create a system to remember what we read for a long time.

I’m actually reducing also the “scanning” habits, especially when learning languages. Focusing more on what we read is beneficial for many different reasons, and it is less taxing for the mind in the long run.

When I slow down, I can focus on the spelling, on the style, on the real meaning of the words, and so on. I can go deeper into the concepts, etc.

Even worse right now that I’m switching on focusing on writing. That’s a total different beast to tackle.

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I think there’s a parallel with the sensation of taste and the consumption of food.

You enjoy the dish more if you actually taste what you eat.

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Personally if I’m not sub-vocalizing I’m basically skimming. If the content is really easy I guess I could just skim it and not read it. If you’re a speed reading type I think I would just do it “naturally” and go ahead and read without sub vocalizing if it feels ok. And then sub-vocalize for the parts where need it or just want to. (you can see how I view this as skimming lol).

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This is very close to my own experience. I either sub-vocalize, or I skim. The only foreign language I’m good enough at to skim is English; but then I’m not trying to learn English when I’m skimming :smiley:

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I wasn’t really sure about skimming and scanning, so here’s a definition:

Skimming is reading rapidly in order to get a general overview of the material.

Scanning is reading rapidly in order to find specific facts .

While skimming tells you what general information is within a section, scanning helps you locate a particular fact.

I personally reduced to do both unless they are really necessary. I have noticed that they drain quite a lot of mental energy, or reduce the capacity to deeper focus during the day. There is much more frenesy in the body during these activities, it keeps the system engaged into a flight/fight mode, or dopamine depletion cycle, that it is detrimental in the long run. Unfortunately, it’s been my default modus operandi for a long time!

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I tried speed reading and yeah, I was doing like 500 words per minute, at 80% comprehension, but there was always the nagging thought that I wasn’t actually reading when I was doing so; eventually I stopped. I also noticed that while I had 80% comprehension, whatever I read at that speed would fade from my memory quickly.

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Interesting consideration, and I agree that I probably had the same feeling a long time ago, when I was training for speed reading.
Probably, the problem I had, and eventually I still have, it is that everything seems to be based more anecdotally rather than with specific data or knowledge. Even from the people that were teaching those techniques.
There are too many cognitive dissonances to just believe on what people say rather than based on real efficacy and measurable results.

This makes it difficult to keep training and training without real objective results. The more the complexity of the text, the more the opinions change. At the end of the day, if I want to read a less difficult test, like a romance, there is no point in speed reading as it’s better to slow read and enjoy the “experience” of reading, visualising, creating voices and imaginary.

I agree also with forgetting quickly, which is not fun and not useful at all. Without considering the amount of energy spent in basically forgetting most of it. It is probably related with our western background frenesy.

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