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Vocalization and Its Effects on Speed Reading

Reading educators use the term vocalization to describe readers who hear words when they read. Vocalizers are readers who read with their mouths — they say and hear the words as they read. Vocalizing slows your reading down considerably and is a habit you should break if you intend to become a speed reader.

Do you vocalize? Silently read the following nursery rhyme. As you read, note whether you hear the words in spite of your reading them silently:

Hickory dickory dock
The mouse ran up the clock
The clock struck one
The mouse ran down
Hickory dickory dock

I chose this nursery rhyme because it includes several loud, hard consonants (ks and ds) that test your ability to read without hearing the words. Did you hear the ks, ds, and other sounds? If your answer is no, you’re probably not being entirely truthful. Even fast readers vocalize a little bit.

Vocalizing as little as possible is an essential goal of speed reading. Vocalizing hinders your reading for these reasons:

  • It slows down your reading. The average person speaks at 150 to 200 words per minute. If you vocalize all words as you read, you can’t read faster than this rate because you have to read the words at the rate you speak them. By contrast, advanced readers read at 200 to 400 words per minute, and speed readers read above 400 words or more per minute.

  • It affects comprehension. If you move your lips or mimic speech when you read, you engage a part of your mind in speech activities when you really ought to devote it to grasping the author’s ideas.

  • It hinders your ability to comprehend through context clues. For example, the first two words of this sentence make no sense until you read the complete sentence: “Sénéchal, bailli — the knight aspired to one of these positions in the royal administration.” Readers who vocalize are baffled by the first two words of this sentence and are slow to comprehend them, but fast readers who don’t vocalize can read the entire sentence in one or two glances, and they know immediately that the words sénéchal and bailli refer to administrative positions appointed by the king.

  • It causes regression. Regression occurs when you’re unsure of what you read and you move your eyes backward over words and sentences you have read already to confirm their meaning. Vocalizing causes regression because your eyes race ahead of your mouth in the act of reading, and your mouth reads one place while your eyes read another. This gap between what the mouth says and what the eyes see creates confusion and causes you to regress.

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