“Hearing voices no one else can hear isn’t a good sign, even in the wizarding world.”

~J. K. Rowling

“Get along with the voices inside of my head
You’re trying to save me
Stop holding your breath
And you think I’m crazy”

~ Eminem featuring Rihanna – The Monster

When reading, virtually everyone hears a voice inside their head saying the words as they’re read. You’re not going crazy! This process is called ‘sub-vocalisation’. Many Speed Reading teachers will tell you that in order to speed up, sub-vocalisation must be eliminated. This is an almost impossible task, leading to frustration and despondency.

The good news is that in reality it is not necessary to eliminate sub-vocalisation. Tony Buzan says, “The proper approach to this problem is to accept that, while sub-vocalisation always persists, it can be pushed further and further back into the semi-conscious. In other words, while never being able to eliminate the habit completely, you can become less dependent upon it. This means that you need not worry when you occasionally realise that you are sub-vocalising, because it is a universal habit.”

Eminem performs during The Concert for Valor in Washington, D.C. Nov. 11, 2014. DoD News photo by EJ Hersom

You can ‘get along with the voices inside of your head!’

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the fastest speaker in the world, Sean Shannon from Canada, is able to talk at 655 words per minute. To put this into context he is able to deliver Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” soliloquy in 23.8 seconds.

Speech is limited by the physical movement or the tongue, mouth and vocal chords so you can think far faster than you can speak. Tony again, “In addition sub-vocalisation is not, by definition, a slow, plodding process. It is quite possible for your brain to sub-vocalise as many as 2000 words per minute.”

One of the really great aspects of being conscious of sub-vocalisation is that you can manipulate it to your advantage. Experiment varying the volume, like the control knob on your stereo (or slider on iTunes). Try turning the volume down a little so that you can still hear the words but more softly at the back of your mind. When you read something important turn the volume right up so you are shouting out the words in your head. This makes them really stand out in your memory.

If you have met the author or heard them speak, it is interesting to imagine him or her reading their book. This is more engaging and you will recognise their turn of phrase and intonation. This can greatly improve your enjoyment and understanding of a book. Think of Alan Bennett, for example, reading one of his monologues in his distinctive Yorkshire accent.

When correctly managed, sub-vocalisation can assist, comprehension, retention and enjoyment without impacting on speed. A key Speed Reading technique is to take in groups of words. This is possible whilst being semi-conscious of their sound so whilst you do not  totally eliminate sub-vocalisation you can become less aware if it.

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