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Killing Subvocalization

By Juppon Gatana in Culture
Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:55:07 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

So for about a year now I've been attempting to significantly increase my reading speed. It's been a very on and off process that hasn't received my full attention because I read at a reasonable pace already. At the same time, however, I am sure that if I find specific practice technique that works, I will use it diligently and often.

My chief problem is subvocalization. For those unfamiliar with the term, subvocalization occurs when readers pronounce internally what they're reading in order to grasp the meaning. For example, as I read this article, I hear the words in my head and from there I am able to understand what's on my monitor. My vocal cords do not move, as I can talk and read at the same time, and still hear the words internally.

The problem with subvocalization is that it greatly slows down the reading process. A subvocalizer has to wait to hear the words for comprehension to kick in, and this unnecessarily delays reading speed. Eliminating subvocalization is a key to faster reading. My goal is to wean myself off it and then gradually increase my speed through practice.

I have tried almost everything to eliminate subvocalization, but I remain unsuccessful. Here is a somewhat comprehensive list of my failed techniques:
  • Counting out loud.
  • Counting internally (through subvocalization).
  • Listening to various types of music.
  • Humming.
  • Making a drawn out noise, both out loud and through subvocalization. (In the latter case I hear both the noise and the words internally.)
I have also tried the often-suggested method of reading so fast that I can't possibly subvocalize all the words, and this has also been unsuccessful. While I am already capable of reading and understanding without subvocalizing every single word, after reading for half an hour to an hour every night faster than I was comfortable with (highly reduced comprehension) I noticed no increase in how fast I could read with normal comprehension. I don't expect a great difference to occur instantly, but I calculated no difference at all, which caused me to conclude the method I was using was unsuccessful.

Additionally, I consulted a number of books on the subject, and found no new exercises that worked.

So this is where k5 comes in. Are there any people here who have successfully increased their ability to understand text without subvocalization? If so, what methods of practice did you use? I am willing to devote time to this and am not looking for a "speed reading in two days" solution. I read a lot for my own edification, I would love to have the option of speeding up and slowing down whenever I want, without a loss in comprehension.

What I'm not interested in is being told that speed reading doesn't exist. I have heard numerous conflicting studies on it, some of which claim that the eye cannot possibly take in every word on a page faster than 900 words per minute. Even if this is true, it doesn't bother me. Reading at 900 wpm would be a fabulous skill to develop. However, I have a few friends who can read at between 1400 and 2000 wpm, and they do so with excellent comprehension (around 80%, which is way better than average), so whether they are technically "skimming" or not does not concern me. Also, I measured my own comprehension against theirs, to confirm for myself that it was a reasonably accurate test. Being able to read that quickly is a skill I would like to develop regardless of the technique.

For the curious:

Calculating your reading speed is a very simple and straightforward process. Just time yourself reading a page of a book at a comfortable pace. Count the number of words in the first five or ten lines, whatever you feel is representative of the page as a whole, and then count the total number of lines in the page. Then use the following formula:

the number of lines in the page divided by
the number of lines used for your word count multiplied by
the number of words in your word count divided by
the number of minutes it took you to read the page

The end result will be your reading speed. Obviously, if you increase the number of lines in which you perform the word count, or the number of pages you read, the accuracy of your calculation will increase as well. One page is usually enough, though.

The average reading speed is often held to be around 265 wpm, though I've heard estimates ranging from 250 to slightly over 300.

Thanks for your help, folks.


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At what speed do you read fiction comfortably?
o 200-300 wpm 9%
o 300-400 wpm 11%
o 400-600 wpm 16%
o 600-800 wpm 7%
o 800-1000 wpm 1%
o 1000-1500 wpm 6%
o 1500 wpm and above 6%
o Don't know 41%

Votes: 95
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by Juppon Gatana

Display: Sort:
Killing Subvocalization | 143 comments (138 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Testament to Reality (4.91 / 12) (#4)
by snowlion on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:29:49 PM EST

My best friend Whit from college was visiting, and we were playing Lunar Silver Star Story ][ together.

What got irritating was going into towns with people to talk to. I would want to read the whole dialog, but Whit would be flipping through it.

After about 15 minutes of this, I shouted, "Gah! Whit! We're playing a game here! We've got to read this stuff!" He replied, "Lion, we are reading it." We started talking about subvocalization- both of us have a background in speed reading. BUT, I felt that it was just an illusion.

I said, "Okay- what did that guy just say. You zipped by it so fast, you may have gotten the idea, but you certainly can't tell me what he said word for word."

So Whit told me, word for word, what the guy we were talking with had just said. We checked it, and Whit was right- he had gotten every single word.

I was speechless. "Daaaaaaaamn..."

So, it's clear to me that it's real.

My thoughts on Speedreading, so far, are thus:

  • It's real.
  • It consists of collecting patterns of words into chunks, much like we collect patterns of letters into words.
  • It consists of "knowing where it's leading", and searching for deviations or variations from standard coarse.
  • Speedreading has variable speed. There are parts that are like a highway, and parts that are like a gravel road, or driving through snow. You don't go the same speed all over the place.
  • Things that require significant amounts of thought still require significant amounts of thought. You can't just speedread through a piece on mathematics, unless you are a skilled mathematician. You can't just speedread through an API doc, unless you are already familiar with the general problem domain.
The last idea may be wrong; People may build meta-knowledge facilities that allow them to quickly build complex knowledge structures in their mind, across subjects. But I have never seen evidence of it.

A good analogy is DDR players- you start playing with a hard time, but over time, you chunk collections of moves in your mind, and can just glance and perform. Speedread like you play DDR.

Map Your Thoughts

I think Whit... (4.16 / 6) (#6)
by jeroenb on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:36:06 PM EST

probably just has the game himself too. He just finished it before visiting you after getting stuck in it a hundred times and reading through everything twenty times to find out how to finish it :)

[ Parent ]
Looks Good to Me (4.50 / 2) (#34)
by Juppon Gatana on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:41:32 PM EST

All of the suppositions you introduce are consistent with what I've read on the subject. I had a similar introduction, in fact, when I lent a book to a friend of mine and he gave it back to me a few hours later. That's when I found out that some people can indeed read much, much faster than others. Your last point is also surely accurate. Speed reading is just a better means of understanding the meaning of sentences and paragraphs. Any thought beyond the literal meaning of the words is going to take just as much work no matter which way you absorb it. And yes, a good speed reader does learn to take in large groups of words and sometimes even sentences at a time, just as I take in usually between one and three words with each glance.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
Speed Reading (none / 0) (#62)
by sakusha on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 11:13:23 PM EST

I think you've misunderstood speed reading, it isn't "just a better means of understanding the meaning of sentences and paragraphs." It's specific training in eye motions, it is more of a mental training for typography than of meaning. I've taken speed reading courses when I was a kid, and it primarily worked on eye motions, using a tachistiscope to display sentences in left/right eye sequences. Soon your eye moves over text more naturally, as it was intended. If you were like me (with undiagnosed farsightedness misdiagnosed as mild dislexia) the eye training was quite successful. Speed reading doesn't spend much time on improving your reading comprehension, that is a relatively separate issue and isn't radically altered by increasing the speed you read at. But getting the brain trained to deal with the textual issues, that's a very worthwhile practice.

[ Parent ]
Parsing versus comprehension: (5.00 / 2) (#91)
by traphicone on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 07:42:47 AM EST

I don't think that Mr. Gatana intended to say reading comprehension in the greater, standardized-test sense of the word, but rather meant comprehension as sentence parsing. There are three to four phases involved in reading language depending on how you look at it. In the first, you simply are recognizing characters, small words, and small phrases. In the second, you are recognizing that the form and ordering of these small units is consistent with what you know of the language, and that they carry some meaning in the way that they are arranged. This process is called parsing. Beyond this point a reader begins to assign actual comprehension of meaning and thought to what he has just read.

I believe that the key to speed reading is not that one is able to grasp the full weight of what he is reading at some insane pace, but rather that he is able to make sense of the words and phrases themselves. Most people see words and small phrases as units of meaning. They see the word "cat," and some concept of what a cat actually is enters their mind. Later the brain can figure out where the cat fits into the picture, but as the word is read the important thing is that the word has its own intrinsic meaning. I believe that speed readers are able to see larger blocks of words at a time and still get some basic meaning out of them before their context becomes entirely evident.

"Generally it's a bad idea to try to correct someone's worldview if you want to remain on good terms with them, no matter how skewed it may be." --Delirium
[ Parent ]

Late Binding (5.00 / 2) (#124)
by snowlion on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 01:45:33 PM EST

I think speed reading is sort of like "Late Binding" in CS.

Late binding is a concept in CS where you "figure things out" at the last possible moment.

For example, if you have an expression "y = (5 + x)/3", you just carry that expression around as a whole until y is actually used, at which point "(5+x)/3" is actually calculated. It's a way of not doing more work than you have to.

So the Speed Reader sees a block of text, and compares it with known blocks of similar text. The reader pulls out deviations from the standard block of text, and leaves the rest sitting in mind waiting for retrieval. A "late binding".

Perhaps not the best analogy...
Map Your Thoughts
[ Parent ]

Oh, wow! (none / 0) (#84)
by seebs on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 04:03:30 AM EST

I have that problem - everyone takes forever to read stuff, so I have to go really slowly, and yeah, video games (Lunar, even!) are examples where it makes a big difference.

Oddly, I *do* subvocalize - I just do it fast.

However, "$2" always slows me down, because I start trying to pronounce the $ but it's pronounced *after* the number.

[ Parent ]

Subvocalization of Spoken-Word Foreign Languages (4.50 / 2) (#5)
by natael on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:32:47 PM EST

On a somewhat related topic, I am curious about people's experiences with subvocalization of foreign languages. After reading this article I realized that when conversing in French I am unable to comprehend what I have heard until I subvocalize an English translation. Is this common? Are there methods similar to the ones Juppon tried for reading that could help me break this habit? Perhaps it is simply a matter of familiarity. It would be interesting to see if there is a connection between the two.

"And now you're apologizing, not for insulting and denigrating people you don't

thinking in a foreign language (4.00 / 1) (#9)
by tps12 on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:46:34 PM EST

From talking to people, I gather that you can start to think in a new language after being immersed in it for a couple years. I think it's probably distinct from the subvocalization issue, because reading without subvocalization attempts to remove the aural processing from the task of reading entirely in favor of optical identification of words. This obviously isn't possible in verbal communication (modulo some Italian dialects).

It is analogous, though, and just as you can easily identify some words (think of logos, for example) without subvocalizing, some words or expressions in foreign languages may lend themselves to easy assimilation. After only a few years of formal education in a couple languages, and essentially no immersion, there are words and phrases that I instinctively "think" in a language other than English. They tend to be things that show up a lot in the foreign language in question and don't have a good direct English translation, e.g., the Japanese douzo  and the Dutch natuurlijk.

[ Parent ]

My curiosity (4.00 / 2) (#27)
by Miniluv on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:55:29 PM EST

I read rather fast, however I normally subvocalize, and achieve speed by learning which words I can safely ignore without learning meaning.

However, I have no power of visualization, so I subvocalize everything, its just how I think. With foreign languages, I'm finding that I can know that I understand something I've just heard in French, but I can't respond without composing in English first. The weird part is that this is the only time I don't think in a stream of English words, and in fact my brain goes effectively silent until I begin a reply, or I start thinking about something else.

"Too much wasabi and you'll be crying like you did at the last ten minutes of The Terminator" - Alton Brown
[ Parent ]

Couple of years (4.00 / 2) (#38)
by DesiredUsername on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:57:24 PM EST

I took Spanish for all 4 years of HS. The first two years were standard, learn a lot of vocab and grammar. The next two, at a different school, were WAY easier as our teacher was a pushover. But during my senior year he tried to get tough with us. He laid down the law: we couldn't talk in class unless it was in Spanish. If we spoke Spanish we could say whatever we wanted, everything else was verboten. After a week of that, I started half-thinking in Spanish by the end of a class period and have to re-familiarize myself with English during my next class.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Same Thing Here (4.50 / 2) (#10)
by Juppon Gatana on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:49:19 PM EST

I used to take French, and had the same issue. I would have to translate each sentence word by word to understand the meaning. I discontinued study midway through high school, however.

I am studying Japanese now (in my fourth year), and find that problem largely absent. I attribute it to two reasons. First, my Japanese is significantly better developed than my French, and I homestayed in Japan for a month, which was actually when I first realized my need for subvocalization disappearing. Second, Japanese sentence structure is not easily transferrable to English, and so subvocalization yields often garbage sentences, e.g. "I store to soon go/will go" (present and future tenses are the same verb construction). This helps discard subvocalization, as it requires a very time consuming, concious effort to translate all the words internally and then assemble a sentence. French is different, as each word can be translated one at a time, and something resembling an English sentence usually occurs.

I have a feeling that the problem will disappear as fluency increases, however. I asked my mom, who speaks French fluently, about this once, and she said she just understands it in the same way she does English, without translation.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
I'm guessing (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by imrdkl on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:51:49 PM EST

that the author of the article is talking about the same thing that you are, indirectly. As an english speaker who's had to learn a new language, I have the same difficulty.

My guess is that the author wants to be able to read a second (or nth) language at a higher speed, and is not referring to his native tongue. I may be wrong, but if I'm not then I've heard that the age of the learner has a lot to do with the eventual reading/speaking/comprehension speed. Kids pick up new languages easier than adults, I mean.

Living among speakers/writers of the language also helps, if that's what you mean by familiarity, but not as much if they also speak your native language well.

[ Parent ]

Practice, I think (4.50 / 2) (#13)
by Pac on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:52:21 PM EST

My most significant experience was with the English language. There was a definite point in time where I stopped repeating/translating the words and started to understand it naturally.

Today, after five or ten minutes speaking in English my brain "switches" from Portuguese to English and I cease to translate completely.

Evolution doesn't take prisoners

[ Parent ]
Subvocalization of Written-Word Foreign Langagues (5.00 / 3) (#45)
by glor on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 08:53:37 PM EST

The right story to tell here is of the elderly seminary professor remarking to his Greek class that only recently had he been able to read in that language without hearing the English translation in his mind's ear. A student in the back said, "That's funny, I've only been reading Greek for a month and I don't hear a translation in my head, either."

Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.
[ Parent ]

Some have it, some don't (none / 0) (#53)
by fluffy grue on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:50:09 PM EST

When I was taking Spanish as an undergrad, I'd always have to subvocalize a translation, so I was always slow to both understand and to answer in dialog. Several of the other students would always tell me, "Just think in Spanish instead of translating." Yeah, easy for them to say...
"Is not a sentence" is not a sentence.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

It's True (none / 0) (#58)
by Juppon Gatana on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 10:19:40 PM EST

Well, this is what I do with Japanese. The problem is that my Japanese language skills are not even remotely close to my English ones, so I am extremely limited. The difference is totally noticeable to me, however, when I'm thinking in Japanese versus when I'm translating into it from English thought. Often when I am pressed for time or nervous I'll revert back to English thinking, but it always then takes me longer to say things in Japanese, and I frequently end up with sentences that I can't translate which cause long, awkward pauses as I try to think of an appropriate manner of paraphrasing. When I am thinking in Japanese, it comes out fluidly and without delay (almost always more grammatically correct than when I translate, too), though my range of responses is limited.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
3 years of Spanish (none / 0) (#79)
by hans on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 01:20:03 AM EST

I took 3 years of Spanish in high school and I still couldn't think in Spanish.  Everything had to be translated into English in my head.  

[ Parent ]
Similar experience... (none / 0) (#108)
by curunir on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 02:16:08 PM EST

I took Spanish for two years in middle school and 3 1/2 years in high school. For the first 5 years, I always subvocalized in English before I understood. Then came my trip to Paraguay where I stayed with a host family and spoke nothing but spanish for 2 months. 6 weeks into that trip, I stopped hearing english in my head and just understood what people were saying. My dreams were also mostly in Spanish. It took about a year before that wore off (once I had returned home and stopped speaking Spanish).

The weird part for me was when I was reading and started subvocalizing in Spanish. It felt really strange to subvocalize in Spanish instead of English (I've never been able to read Spanish without subvocalizing in at least one language).

[ Parent ]
Is that one of those ... (none / 0) (#77)
by jabber on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:54:20 AM EST

"It's all Greek to me" jokes?

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

It's all something (none / 0) (#95)
by glor on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 08:24:38 AM EST

Two Greeks visiting Ireland were watching a rugby match. One said, "This game makes no sense. Do you have any idea what's happening?" The other replied, "Nope. It's all Irish to me."

Disclaimer: I am not the most intelligent kuron.
[ Parent ]

Auto-thought (none / 0) (#69)
by Canar on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:15:18 AM EST

I'm not sure what's up with me, but after taking French (half-heartedly, like all my schooling, but learning for the fun of learning) for a couple years, seriously, on several occasions I was thinking using French and English intertwined. I double-checked myself, and for the sake of thought-speed, I was using the most general vocabulary of the two when specificity wasn't needed, and specific vocabulary when it was. (My specific vocabulary is much better in English than French, so that tended to take precedence.) I (even now on occasion, after not looking at French for two years) was thinking of a and de rather than to and from/of. The odd bit is, I never tried to think in the language. I enjoyed it when I did, because to me it meant that I was learning the language. By that time, my brain read the French words and comprehended them automatically, without requiring English translation first. The comprehension was incomplete and spotty until I actually did the mental translation, but it helped me translate nonetheless.

[ Parent ]
AOL (none / 0) (#121)
by Piquan on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 05:59:14 AM EST

I do the same thing, with Spanish and German. I'll randomly stick "estoy" (transient to-be) in a sentence in my head.

I used to never subvocalize. I realized I was missing out on verse, so I taught myself to. It was really annoying at first. These days I can't avoid it. I read more slowly, and it's quite annoying.

[ Parent ]

My experience (none / 0) (#76)
by jabber on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:46:34 AM EST

As I commented on another post, I am bilingual. Polish is my original, and now less used, other language.

I subvocalize in the language in which I will be conveying the thought. When I read in Polish, I subvocalize in Polish. When in English, in English. Same with writing.

When I was younger, and just learning English, I would think exclusively in Polish. This slowed down my ability to functionally use English, just as you point out.

There was nothing I consciously did to make the transition into being "fully, functionally bilingual".

At some point, I just began to dream in English.

After that, the two languages just became fluid. Now I can translate from one to the other on the fly - quite literally listen to Polish and repeat the same in English, and vice-versa, in real-time.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

songs and poems (none / 0) (#105)
by loudici on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 01:08:13 PM EST

a good method to stop translating is to learn songs and poems in the language you are studying. these are uses of the language where the meaning of what you say and the way you say it are so deeply linked that translation is very difficult or impossible. you can read or listen to them and still translate but when it comes to learning them your brain will figure out that the translation messes up the link between meaning and form and makes it harder to remember.
gnothi seauton
[ Parent ]
Replace subvocalizing with shadowing (none / 0) (#131)
by TON on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 07:29:26 PM EST

I realized that when conversing in French I am unable to comprehend what I have heard until I subvocalize an English translation. Is this common?

Well, evidently it is. Looking at all the posts here just verifies that.

Are there methods similar to the ones Juppon tried for reading that could help me break this habit?

Shadowing is a different sort of subvocalization which may help you. In any case, it has been demonstrated to be a very effective method of foreign language learning. So, what is shadowing?

As usual, foreign language teaching has professional jargon just like any other trade. Basically, shadowing is repeating what you hear: it is subvocalizing the actual words or phrases that someone else is saying.

Obviously, you cannot repeat everything that the person you are conversing with says. There is a danger of becoming Eliza or Yoda. Students who shadow grab chunks of language out of what they hear and subvocalize them as the other person is speaking.

This may seem tricky at first. It may seem to slow down your own thought process. In the end, it should help you replace translated subvocalization. Shadowing helps listeners focus on understanding and on "chunking" language into more significant units, rather that examining each word. As people improve at shadowing they can become silent shadowers.

"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis


[ Parent ]

try this path (3.00 / 1) (#7)
by krkrbt on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:38:51 PM EST

some ideas for further exploration:
  1.  self-hypnosis & "Time Distortion" (application of self-hypnosis
  2.  Expanded Awareness (aka Hakalau, Photo-Focus, Angle Wide Vision).  Read while in your expanded awareness state.
probably ought to learn/do "imagestreaming" too.  (http://www.winwenger.com)

learn to subvocalize faster? (4.00 / 1) (#8)
by mveloso on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:42:31 PM EST

Faster subvocalization is one way, but the other trick might be to shut off the part of your brain that's trying to feed the text to your vocal cords/speech areas.

When I read this article I can subvocalize or not, depending on how lazy I am. Using a bit more detail, I can sort of see that I subvocalize for the first few words, but don't for the rest.

Try slightly constricting your throat when you read, and see if that helps?

poll problem (4.00 / 2) (#11)
by ucblockhead on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:51:15 PM EST

WPM reading what?

Mine varies tremendously depending on what I read. Your WPM is going to be vastely different while reading James Joyce from what it is while reading Terry Pratchett.

It is also my observation that many people who claim to "speed-read" don't have the reading comprehension that they should.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

Indeed (4.00 / 1) (#15)
by Juppon Gatana on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:56:12 PM EST

You're right, but I didn't want to make it too specific. The rate at which I read Nabokov and Gaiman are entirely different, but I was referring more to a modern, adult, simple novel. It's going to be different even then depending on what you read, so I was just hoping for a kind of general, aggregate speed count.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
speed and novels (4.50 / 2) (#17)
by ucblockhead on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:14:44 PM EST

I honestly don't see all that much reason to worry about speed reading when reading novels...if the novel is good, I'm in no hurry to finish, if it is bad, why bother reading it at all?

Nonfiction is another matter, of course.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Speedreading would be great for series (none / 0) (#82)
by keenan on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 03:32:47 AM EST

I often find novels in a series much better at the beginning than at the end, but by the time the 3rd or 4th book rolls around, I like the characters too much to simply stop reading.  If I could speed read the later books, it'd be awesome -- I'd know what happened to the characters without going through all the pain of reading slowly.  (In my opinion, some authors like way too much detail.)


[ Parent ]

I'll hazard a guess... (none / 0) (#130)
by cdyer on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 06:13:04 PM EST

You're talking about Robert Jordan, aren't you?


[ Parent ]

The language affects it too (none / 0) (#72)
by Lynoure on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:32:05 AM EST

Not only the type of text but the language used too affects the wpm rate. Eg. 400 words of Finnish includes more information than 400 words of English.
(Example: "autollansakaan" is one word "not even by his car" is five).

[ Parent ]
Comprehension (4.50 / 2) (#14)
by pyro9 on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 05:53:46 PM EST

Speed reading is a useful skill, but should not be used all the time. So called comprehension (as measured on most speed reading tests) simply consists ov being able to dump out the key facts from the text less than 5 minutes after reading it.

Unfortunatly, all I tend to get that way is a bag of unconnected facts that I still need to spend time mapping into the rest of what I know if it is to be really useful to me. That extra time (not coincidentally is about how much longer I would have taken to read the text without 'speeding' through it.

So most of the value is to quickly find what I want to know in a manual or to 'buffer' what I'm reading because the text will be snatched away from me :-)

It is still worth learning, however, since once you ralax again and start reading normally, it will still be a little faster than before.

The future isn't what it used to be
I only subvocalize when I read about it. nt (2.83 / 6) (#16)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:13:16 PM EST

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
speed reading (4.00 / 1) (#18)
by zephc on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:21:46 PM EST

Something that totally kills speed reading is wide columns of text, which is about anything wider than one finds in a novel.  You can dump through text faster when its in narrower columns, like newspapers and textbooks.  When reading things online, like papers, I have to resize my browser windows so everything is nice and narrow, hoping images on the page dont mess it up.

Wow, that's bizarre. (none / 0) (#92)
by traphicone on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 07:54:27 AM EST

I find that when text is in narrow columns it is nearly impossible for me to read. I invariably end up stumbling over phrases and thoughts that have been broken up into pieces too small to have meaning or which are split awkwardly in mid-concept.

Of course, I don't consider myself a speed reader, so maybe that's part of it.

"Generally it's a bad idea to try to correct someone's worldview if you want to remain on good terms with them, no matter how skewed it may be." --Delirium
[ Parent ]

Damn! That was kind of disappointing... (3.50 / 2) (#19)
by RareHeintz on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:23:09 PM EST

When I saw the title, I was really hoping you would advocate shooting people who grunt their way through conversations. (Of course, if we did that, America would run out of teenagers quickly - to say nothing of the speech-impaired Bush family!)

As it stands, though, you've written an interesting piece. My personal experience is that I switch between subvocalizing or not, depending on my situation. Reading a Tom Clancy novel on an airplane? No subvocalizing, 100-150 pages per hour. Reading something I want to remember in any but the vaguest fashion? I mentally "hear" what's being said, and that seems to me to engage the mnemonic and critical-thinking filters I'd have working during a conversation. It slows me down, but it's worth it for the added engagement to the material.

Anyway, just my $.02.

- B
http://www.bradheintz.com/ - updated kind of daily

wierding voice (none / 0) (#46)
by Ming D. Merciless on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:03:35 PM EST

Actually I thought Killing Subvocalization was the title of a Bene Geserit How-To.

A little slice of 1987 on the internet. Visit KAOS -- Central NY's premiere BBS. Multi-user, telnetable, Citadel/UX.
[ Parent ]
Speed-reading (4.76 / 13) (#20)
by kaemaril on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:29:52 PM EST

I am reminded of a Woody Allen quote I once read:

"I learnt to speed-read, and read War & Peace in an afternoon. It's about Russia."

Why, yes, I am being sarcastic. Why do you ask?

Stop reading books for babies (4.00 / 13) (#21)
by the on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:33:08 PM EST

Look at what you are reading. Do you find you can't read it fast enough? That you are able to process the ideas faster than you can read them? Then stop reading that book and find a harder one. Try reading again. Find you can't read that fast enough? Then find a harder book. Eventually find a book that you can't read faster than you can process. Now you've found your correct reading level. Keep reading books that are this difficult.

If you're worried that this process might not terminate I have listed some books that you can definitely already read faster than you can understand:

  1. Decoherence and the Appearance of a Classical World in Quantum Theory
  2. Concluding Unscientific Postscript
  3. On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems
  4. Of Grammatology
  5. Superstring Theory: Volume 1, Introduction
Somewhere between the crap you're currently reading and these books lies something at your reading level.

Next problem please.

The Definite Article

As Wonderful as this Solution Is... (4.50 / 6) (#23)
by Juppon Gatana on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:42:37 PM EST

Have you considered that perhaps some authors may explain their concepts simplistically, and what they discuss is not in fact "crap"? Some people even call the ability to describe complex or intruiging ideas in a straightforward manner as "good writing."

The two books I am currently reading are Lolita, and Aristotle's Politics. Though few would call these "baby books," each sentence does not usually contain a complex concept that requires intense thought. There are many, many other books that fit this description as well.

Also, your haughty and incendiary attitude is not appreciated.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
You want to speed-read Lolita? (4.33 / 3) (#26)
by the on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:49:52 PM EST

I wonder if they do courses in speed-sex. Wham bam thank-you ma'am!

The Definite Article
[ Parent ]
No, Not Exactly (4.00 / 1) (#31)
by Juppon Gatana on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:30:55 PM EST

But I would have no qualms with ready quickly through it, and pausing to reread the passages I find particularly intruiging. That is what I do already, just not so fast. I read it at a normal pace, and then when I run into something really beautiful, which happens quite frequently, I re-read it two or three times and then pause, just thinking about those words. Nabokov is an incredible author.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
You slow down for the good bits (4.00 / 2) (#33)
by the on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:41:01 PM EST

Phew! I was really worrying about you for a bit :-)

The Definite Article
[ Parent ]
I forgot to list fiction (4.00 / 2) (#24)
by the on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:45:12 PM EST

So here are some examples which you can read faster than you can think:
  1. Finnegan's Wake
  2. Ulysses
  3. Gravity's Rainbow
  4. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
  5. Feersum Endjinn

The Definite Article
[ Parent ]
Finnegan's Wake (none / 0) (#60)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 10:58:43 PM EST

I found the key to even trying to read that was not to think about it too much.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Feersum Endjinn (none / 0) (#85)
by gcmillwood on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 04:48:00 AM EST

I don't normally subvocalise.  I think I read almost too quickly (recently a 500 page book in about 3 hours) - I know from experience that I miss things out.  Because of this if I think the book was actually worth reading when I have finished I will re-read it another 2 or 3 times later on.

Feersum Endjinn on the other hand I had trouble with, because it forced me to subvocalise.  Every few chapters my reading pace slowed to a crawl as I slowly worked my way through the dyslexic text.  A fantastic book though.

[ Parent ]

Joyce is a quack. (none / 0) (#90)
by tkatchev on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 07:26:54 AM EST

If there's anybody who deserves to be permanently ostracized as "the Worst Writer of All Time", Joyce certainly has to be it.

Read a normal book, for ghod's sake. Joyce is not only trash, it is pretentious and unintelligible gibbering trash.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

Joyce is a genius (none / 0) (#107)
by adequate nathan on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 02:07:35 PM EST

And, considering that Nabokov agrees with me, I feel free to blow your opinion off.

"For me -- ugghhh, arrgghh."
-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in Frank magazine, Jan. 20th 2003

Join the petition: Rusty! Make dumped stories & discussion public!
[ Parent ]

Joyce suxxxxxx. (none / 0) (#123)
by tkatchev on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 10:01:52 AM EST

So does Nabokov. Both are trashy quacks, so I guess it figures that they like each other.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

Crap? (5.00 / 2) (#28)
by jman11 on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:01:36 PM EST

How do you know what the poster was reading?  I admit I might have missed it, but I did not see any reference to particular works.  While he probably isn't reading technical books (hell I'm happy to get a page an hour) he might be reading some good stuff.

There is a whole world of fiction and non-fiction out there you have missed, which is definately not crap, but can be read at high speeds.  I am not disagreeing that for many technical works the speed of reading is not important, comprehension speed is.

Why find a harder book?  To prove you are a real man or somehow tough?  Reading is an important skill and being good (quick and accurate) at it is quite useful.  I wouldn't denigrate someone over the speed they are trying to read at.  It would also be wrong to judge a book based on how long it takes to read.  A good example here is "Mein Kampf" (possibly the most appropriately titled book of all time), the bastard took me forever to read, but it was not a well written book; in fact that is why it took me so long to read.

[ Parent ]

If you want to read it fast... (3.33 / 3) (#32)
by the on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:38:45 PM EST

...it can't exactly be good can it? Since when do people want to hurry anything that's good?

To prove you are a real man or somehow tough?
Actually I'd have thought that was a better question to pose to someone who wants to read as many books as possible in the shortest possible time.

Ugh! The whole concept is hideous!

The Definite Article
[ Parent ]

What the article said (none / 0) (#48)
by jman11 on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:11:31 PM EST

The writer wanted to learn to read quickly, while it is possible his motive might be as you described it is an assumption that this is what he intended.

You might accuse me of the same thing, but I posed mine as a question.  Your's is a direct statement.  I notice you did not reply to the question.  If you would like an example of something that people hurry that is good you can try eating.

I was merely replying to your post, that said he should stop reading crap, by suggesting he might not be reading crap.

[ Parent ]

Eating and reading (none / 0) (#52)
by the on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:34:12 PM EST

If you would like an example of something that people hurry that is good you can try eating.
That's a good example. But you need food to live so eating in a hurry does still have its uses. But reading Lolita in a hurry? In what way can it benefit someone to read a good book in a hurry? I guess if you have an exam on Nabokov tomorrow.

I assumed your question was rhetorical. Do you really want me to answer how I knew what the aithor was reading. I guessed. Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes it doesn't. As it happens, I was wrong. Sounds like good reading to me. It makes me even more bemused why anyone would want to read it in a hurry.

The Definite Article
[ Parent ]

Just FYI (5.00 / 1) (#54)
by Juppon Gatana on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:50:46 PM EST

For example, as a college student, I am frequently required to do a lot of conceptually easy reading, often from straightforward textbooks, such as those on history or government. These are books for which speed reading would be greatly useful.

Hesse is an example of an author for whose books I would be likely to employ speed reading. I read him not usually for his prose, especially when it's in translation, but for the spiritual and intellectual concepts brought up and discussed in his books. Nabokov is a rather terrible example because one never knows which line could have a hidden meaning or reference another part of the book, and God knows I've surely missed a lot of them by now, speed reading or no. Shakespeare is another bad example, for his work would yield little from a non-pronounced reading.

I would not have rated your comment unfavorably had it not declared my reading to be "crap." That crossed the line to ad hominem, however.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
It was worse than ad hominem (none / 0) (#59)
by the on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 10:55:05 PM EST

It was incorrect.


The Definite Article
[ Parent ]

To a degree I agree with you. (none / 0) (#117)
by jman11 on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 10:09:25 PM EST

To a certain degree it is true, why hurry something that is enjoyable.  Books I spend more time reading, although it takes me less time to read a good book (i.e. a good book I'll read in a day, a bad one will take me a week plus, but I spent more hours reading the good one), are normally better.

I have peers who struggle through books, it seems they read very little as they read too slowly.  What takes them weeks, takes me a couple of days.  It seems this reduces what they read, also they don't seem to gain or understand any more than I do.  Now I'm not a terribly quick reader, I do vocalise and get on average about a page a minute.

For some people it seems their speed (or lack of) reduces what they read.  Although I am quite prepared to admit it could be viewed the other way round.  That a quick reader reads quickly as they have practiced.

This is, I think, a good reason to improve your reading speed.  I do feel that people read fewer books due to their speed and they could read more if they could just process the words quicker.  This is what I took the author to be meaning.

[ Parent ]

Not good or bad (none / 0) (#64)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 11:21:50 PM EST

It's not necessarily good or bad, it's utilitarian. Many people need to read journals, papers, textbooks, or manuscripts every day. The object is not to savor every word, it's to get the most meaning you can in the least amount of time. I read technical articles, not because I enjoy it but because it's part of my job. I'm not going to give that up because the reading isn't Shakespeare.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
Those titles make my brain hurt (none / 0) (#63)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 11:16:54 PM EST

Man, even those titles are giving me a headache. I can't imagine what it'd be like if I actually cracked one of those books.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]
What if you want to knowledge from a specific book (none / 0) (#137)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Sun Jan 26, 2003 at 04:18:24 PM EST

I'm not sure if I'm being trolled right now, but sometimes you have an agenda for reading a certain book. For example, some people are students who have to read textbooks. There is no reason a person shouldn't try to read books as fast as possible if their comprehension is acceptable.

Anyway, there's no real reason to read limit yourself to hard books. A good writer expresses him or herself at the lowest grade level possible.

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
[ Parent ]

I've thought about this (4.00 / 2) (#22)
by jcolter on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 06:34:07 PM EST

I am not sure that I can think much faster than I can subvocalize.  To be honest, I often find myself rereading certain things to try and fully understand them.  

Have any tests been able to show that comprehension does not fall off after a certain speed of reading has been achieved?  I am not talking about repeating something verbatim, but grasping the "deeper" meaning.

hmm... (none / 0) (#68)
by Baldwin atomic on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 11:57:38 PM EST

I know what you mean about losing meaning - I generally read a whole sentance merely by glancing at it (I guess that means I don't subvocalise, exceot when I'm conciously thinking 'do i do that?'); and sometimes I'll have to go back and re-read a sentance slowly if I don't understand it - especially if the sentance uses unusual grammar or has misspelt words.
As to deepre meaning, I don't think it has much of an impact - I usually 'get' the deeper meaning, but maybe not until after I finish reading the text...

Opinions not necessarily those of the author.
[ Parent ]
maybe not the best choice of words (none / 0) (#86)
by jcolter on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 05:56:48 AM EST

When I said deeper meaning what I meant was the ability to assimilate ideas that you would read.
Maybe we should try a more explicit example?  While one is capable of learning a new computer language I am not so sure that I can internalize the information as quickly as say reading an airport novel.

[ Parent ]
true (none / 0) (#94)
by Baldwin atomic on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 08:16:18 AM EST

It does take a lot longer to read, say, a textbook on an unfamiliar programming language, because you aren't familiar with the terminology etc. (I think another post mentioned the ability to predict sentances as being a possible factor). Also, when you read about a programming language, chances are you want to 'memorise' the information, unlike when reading a novel - this takes more 'CPU cylces'. So yes, you are right in that respect...

Opinions not necessarily those of the author.
[ Parent ]
What is 80% comprehension? (4.33 / 3) (#30)
by GGardner on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:17:59 PM EST

What does 80% comprehension mean? That you understand 80% of the words you read? 80% of the concepts? 80% of the sentences? That you could repeat back 80% of the words?

Explanation (4.00 / 2) (#37)
by Juppon Gatana on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:56:55 PM EST

Sorry about that. It was actually a combination of comprehension and retention. Basically, we were asked to answer questions concering specific portions of the text, e.g. what happens when Alice meets Fred, etc. What a fabulous use of Latin I have employed.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
Retention (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by GGardner on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 08:43:33 PM EST

What a fabulous use of Latin I have employed.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Thanks for the info. You said that 80% is higher than the usual rate -- what's the usual rate?

[ Parent ]

I've Heard... (none / 0) (#50)
by Juppon Gatana on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:26:00 PM EST

That's it's 65%, at least in comparison to the tests that we took, but again, I don't know if that refers to the entire text itself. Obviously, I'm not going to remember 65% of the book verbatim. I think the tests are probably flawed, at least to a small degree.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
Subvocalizing while thinking (4.50 / 6) (#35)
by khym on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:45:49 PM EST

For example, as I read this article, I hear the words in my head and from there I am able to understand what's on my monitor.
I subvocalize when I think. Are there people who can think without hearing the words in their heads? I sort of envy them...

Give a man a match, and he'll be warm for a minute, but set him on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.
Thinking voices (none / 0) (#49)
by R343L on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:12:02 PM EST

To hear my thoughts as a "voice" I have to be:
  * reading or writing, or
  * consciously organizing my thoughts into words.

Otherwise, I just have concepts that are usually a mixture of words, symbols and images. E.g. if I'm thinking about making a backup copy of a file I will quickly be imagining the process. So, if the file is in a directory on a unix server, I might imagine typing a cp command in an xterm in my vncviewer or I might imagine opening a windows file browser to the share for the server.

Thus when I think out loud it can be very confusing for the programmer sitting with me while designing something. :)

"Like cheese spread over too much cantelope, the people I spoke with liked their shoes." Ctrl-Alt-Del
[ Parent ]

Subvocalizing with a language switch (none / 0) (#71)
by Lynoure on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:23:34 AM EST

I subvocalize when I think about speaking, but often in other language than I would actually use in that situation (English when I'd speak Finnish with the person and the other way around). Usually I just think in pictures.

[ Parent ]
I have even more of that. (none / 0) (#98)
by tekue on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 10:36:05 AM EST

My prime language is Polish, but I often use English when imagining a conversation with someone. Lately I've even had a dream in which I talked with people in English, which is even weirder. I can't recall the whole dream, but more the meaning of it, alas there are certain words in English that don't have any direct and compact translation into Polish, and I distinctly remember those words -- I remember sounds much more easily than words or images.

I think it could have something to do with things you hear in certain languages. Most movies I watch are in English, and the situations presented in them are often of the kind that I rarely or never encounter in real life -- places like a space shuttle, or situations like talking with someone famous or a book/movie character.

This could be the same for people who -- like me -- use K5 as their main or only source of tech-talk or politics-talk. In person, I rarely meet people with enough knowledge and interest in the subjects I fancy to really conversate with them, so it becomes easier for me to think about those subjects in English -- with proper vocabulary and sentence structure.

As all knowledge is based on certain neuron "matrixes", to stop vocalising one needs to create matrixes that translate written words directly to meanings. As most people learn to speak before they learn to read, and as they use the language instinctively, it's easier to re-use the existing lingual matrixes for understanding written text, than to create separate ones. The image of a word is translated first to it's sound, and then the sound is translated to a meaning, and as you use this technique again and again, you get better at it, so it becomes unprofitable to create new matrixes for reading.

[ Parent ]

Depends on the level of complexity (none / 0) (#73)
by Canar on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:34:44 AM EST

When I'm doing mundane things, no subvocal thought is required. When I'm doing more complex things, subvocal thought is needed to the extent that the issue is entwined with language. In math, I can look at an equation and think through it without words if I understand the concepts well. Otherwise, I need to subvocalise the concepts to let me work through it.

In philosophy, though, few thoughts tend to be subvocal, although they are also the key ones that link the major ideas together and yank new insight from old statement. The kicker is that these subvocal insights are inspired, if you will, by vocal ranting.

With programming, vocalization means I'm not quite  into the code enough to write reliable stuff. It usually means that the code I just wrote has bugs in it.

[ Parent ]

Very interesting (none / 0) (#75)
by jabber on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:39:32 AM EST

I subvocalize thoughts sometimes. Usually when trying to structure a textual response, or when composing thoughts I intend to share at some point in a conversation down the road.

While problem solving, I do not hear my thoughts at all. In fact, I very often do multiple things in parallel in my mind, one which is the subvocalized "task", which I've always thought of as being "in the foreground", and others just sort of taking care of themselves without my "focus".

I certainly do not subvocalize code when programming. I think this is because the code already is the most concise way of representing the concept, but would take a paragraph's worth of words to verbalize.

Now the interesting part - well, to me at least: I'm bilingual. When I subvocalize, I do so in the language which I will be using to convey the thought to someone else. This is most frequently in English, since most of my conversations and correspondences are in English. Sometimes however, it is in Polish.

The less I subvocalize in Polish, the poorer my reading and writing skills in that language. And this seems to be a significant point. This makes me wonder if subvocalization is a function of the way the language centers of our brains are wired into the rest of the wetware.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

no you do not (none / 0) (#104)
by loudici on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:37:51 PM EST

you most probably don't subvocalize when you think. you only subvocalize when you are trying to think about what you think and need to give that thought a concrete form. the trick is that if you try to think without thinking about thinking then you can't know whether you are subvocalizing. the reason i know i am not subvocalizing is that i have been reading and working with math books, articles, and posts in english before i knew how to pronounce some or most of these words.


gnothi seauton
[ Parent ]

Language and thought (none / 0) (#112)
by awgsilyari on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 03:53:48 PM EST

For me it depends strongly on what I'm thinking about. If I'm working out a programming problem, well.. It's really hard to explain just WHAT is actually going on in my head. It most definitely is not words! OTOH if I'm reading poetry (which is too rarely, unfortunately) I definitely do hear the words in my head -- otherwise, how could I appreciate the rhythm and rhyme of it?

I guess this could be an argument that we don't actually think in words: language utterances are linear entities. They begin at some point in time, proceed, and end at a later point in time. However the MEANING of the utterance is in some sense a whole entity, independent of time. The meaning does not progress through time, only the words do.

If we really thought in language, how could we hold any complex concept in our minds? If you're thinking "The dog ran fast" by literally imagining in your mind each word, "The" "dog" "ran" "fast," then by the time you get to "fast" you've already forgotten "dog." But that isn't what happens. You build a integrated concept in your mind of "The dog ran fast," which has meaning independent of the four words that conveyed that meaning.

I suspect that the vast majority of thought is not in human language. It's highly structured, but it's a blend of all kinds of facets, visual, auditory, logical, emotional, etc. Language is just a tool to communicate multidimensional concepts in a linear way. And I also suspect that it seems to you like you think in words, because when you mentally go and "look for" this word thinking, you create it as you look for it, just by looking.

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
[ Parent ]

Speed Reading is *Work* (4.00 / 2) (#36)
by BenJackson on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 07:47:49 PM EST

If I try, I can read very quickly. But it does take effort. If I relax I slow down quite a bit. I always "read" about three words at a time, but to go quickly I have to keep my eyes moving ahead of my comprehension to have a pipeline of words ready to understand.

It works best with fiction, and I'm reading fiction to relax, not to set a land speed record.

In a way, channel surfing is like spead reading... (4.40 / 5) (#39)
by shigelojoe on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 08:21:38 PM EST

People (okay, just my parents) always ask me how I can know what I'm flipping past when I'm changing channels at about a rate of three channels a second. One time, my parents bet me that, flipping through the 50 or so channels we had in only thirty seconds, that I couldn't remember what was on a given channel (any channel) when I flipped past it. I was feeling lucky, so I told them I could do it with only twenty seconds, and without any thumb stretching beforehand. We shook on it. They had a stopwatch, I had the remote, and on the word "Go!" I flipped through all of the channels in about 18 seconds. They then proceeded to quiz me on what program was showing on each channel. I was able to rattle off each show that was airing and in some cases even the episode that was showing. So, yeah, it's like speed-reading; you know those people who can read dialog boxes and text boxes in a split second.

Mods please delete this post (nt) (2.25 / 4) (#41)
by shigelojoe on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 08:22:59 PM EST

[ Parent ]
That's not how it works here (nt) (3.83 / 6) (#43)
by fluffy grue on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 08:28:44 PM EST

[ Parent ]
I mean, delete this comment, sibling, and parent (3.50 / 2) (#42)
by shigelojoe on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 08:25:15 PM EST

And this post's sibling too.

[ Parent ]
Dude, you can't! (none / 0) (#55)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:53:11 PM EST

There's no way to delete a post here. The best you can hope for is that enough people vote 0 on it so that it is hidden by default.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Heh! (none / 0) (#81)
by epepke on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 01:53:16 AM EST

Looks like you've got SpeedPosting down pat, too.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
In a way, channel surfing is like spead reading... (2.66 / 3) (#40)
by shigelojoe on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 08:22:26 PM EST

People (okay, just my parents) always ask me how I can know what I'm flipping past when I'm changing channels at about a rate of three channels a second.

One time, my parents bet me that, flipping through the 50 or so channels we had in only thirty seconds, that I couldn't remember what was on a given channel (any channel) when I flipped past it.

I was feeling lucky, so I told them I could do it with only twenty seconds, and without any thumb stretching beforehand. We shook on it.

They had a stopwatch, I had the remote, and on the word "Go!" I flipped through all of the channels in about 18 seconds.

They then proceeded to quiz me on what program was showing on each channel. I was able to rattle off each show that was airing and in some cases even the episode that was showing.

So, yeah, it's like speed-reading; you know those people who can read dialog boxes and text boxes in a split second.

speed reading dialogs... (none / 0) (#66)
by Baldwin atomic on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 11:52:55 PM EST

I can read most dialog boxes so fast that other people just say "did something just pop up?" or "shouldn't you read that?", but that's just simple shape recognition I guess - you can generally predict when you're going to get a pop-up, and what it's going to say, so if it looks vaugely right, you click your usual response (I hope no trojan programmers are reading this...)

Opinions not necessarily those of the author.
[ Parent ]
Design for usability (none / 0) (#99)
by tekue on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 10:48:56 AM EST

This is exactly why it's so important to design objects used for perceiving information as usable as they can be. If in a single situation there are ten possible pop-ups that are distinctly different (by using those 'Warning', 'Error', or 'Question' icons for example), the user can instinctively answer them in a second or less. If there are three which are only distinguished by a single word or number, you need to find the word/number on the screen before triggering the instinctive reaction.

That is by the way why pop-up boxes are a bad idea in most cases -- as you are stopped in your work by them until you answer, people tend to click-tru them as fast as they can, often without reading. This is also the reason why human interfaces need to be simple and repeatable.

This is also why good magazines don't use regular CAPITAL letters for acronymes, but smaller ones, that blend in the text better. You don't want people to have to stop reading before continuing -- which is often a problem in texts about politics, markets, computers, etc.
Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature. --Tom Robbins
[ Parent ]

Opposite problem here (4.50 / 2) (#47)
by celeriac on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:06:32 PM EST

I've never subvocalized that I can remember. I guess this is a great help for getting through most ordinary prose and technical documents. But sometimes I get the idea to try some Kerouac or Shakespeare, the kind of beautiful stuff but usually doesn't make a lick of sense unless you hear it out loud. I start out trying to read aloud, or at least subvocalize, but it usually feels slow and bogged down, or my throat muscles get tired, or whathaveyou, and I go back to ordinary reading, only to realize some time later that I haven't understood a damn thing for pages. So I'd kind of like a hint for training myself to slow down at will without getting fatigued.

I suspect, and this is more or less wild speculation here, that for a lot of people who don't subvocalize, spoken English and written English are quite different languages as far as the brain is concerned. It's hard to learn a new language when one you already know is so conveniently available as a fallback (I know that watching, e.g., French movies with English sustitles does absolutely nothing for my comprehension of French). So it seems like the problem for someone trying to cease subvocalization is to find a way to make subvocalizing an unavailable option, while allowing yourself to go slowly enough to comprehend things through written English. Beyond that I don't have a lot of ideas.

Dante (none / 0) (#110)
by lordpixel on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 03:18:13 PM EST

Yeah, I agree. I recently read some of Dante's Divine Comedy (in English).

Its so lyrical - well it is poetry after all - that if I didn't sound it out it just didn't make sense. I'd look up and I'd realize I'd skimmed the last 2 pages without taking anything in. Going back and making myself "read aloud" internally, and its like night and day. Suddently the meaning comes through.

Ditto for Kerouac really, except with that my problem was putting it down. The langauge is so beautiful I'd just fly through it at an enormous pace.

I am the cat who walks through walls, all places and all times are alike to me.
[ Parent ]

With you on that one (none / 0) (#118)
by milksop on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 11:26:43 PM EST

Not that this is helpful to the poster, but I have exactly that problem as well. I expect it's almost as common.

I read/skim/chunk/whatever very quickly, but I'm not very adept at slowing down during either very technical (try to not subvocalize for a calculus text and get much out of it, for example) or during something that's meant to be spoken (plays, as you mention).

I guess it's all about trying to develop some sort of feedback look where you can judge your instantaneous level of comprehension and adjust speed accordingly. :)

i make games.
[ Parent ]

I/O Errors and scanning (4.20 / 5) (#51)
by tetragon on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:33:57 PM EST

I can read at around 1440 wpm, but I generally go with 100-200 pages/hour (555-1110wpm depending upon the text and time of day). I find that whenever I read towards the top end of my reading speed, sometimes words occasionally slip their line position (a word gets swapped with the word in the same visual position on the line below it), which generally is not a problem, but sometimes it can drastically alter the meaning of a paragraph. Other than the problems that and turning too many (or forgetting to turn) the pages can cause, my level of comprehension is very high (I don't know any way to tell it exactly).

These speeds can be reached without skimming, but I can't go my top speed for too long, I occasionally get headaches from it; I end up reading and processing multiple lines at a time, frequently an entire paragraph. I never really payed attention to it before, but it seems like when I do read towards my upper speed limit, instead of reading horizontally across the page starting each line at the beginning, I read diagonally, mostly horizontal, but down at the same time, reversing direction of the horizontal scan when I reach the edge of the page.

As for subvocalization, I occasionally do it when I'm reading at only 100 p/h, with plays, or when what I'm reading has a beautiful verbal structure. I can't think of any actual practicing that I've done to reach my reading speed. All I know is that I've been reading at it since grade 6, but probably earlier.

Ceci n'est pas une sig

This is Consistent with What I've Heard (5.00 / 1) (#57)
by Juppon Gatana on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:57:04 PM EST

All the people I know who speed read have noted the same experience. They seem to read in Z-shapes, going down the page, taking in usually paragraphs at a time for meaning. I don't anyone who has taught him/herself to speed read, unfortunately, only people who do it naturally, so there is not much I can glean from their technique.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
God damn it. (4.75 / 8) (#56)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 09:54:23 PM EST

I've been trying to figure out whether or not I subvocalize but every time I think about it when reading I start doing it whether or not I was before.... Blargh.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."

yeah, same here... (none / 0) (#65)
by Baldwin atomic on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 11:48:51 PM EST

I started to read this article, got to the definition of subvocalising, then 'realised' I was doing it, and couldn't remember if I used to.

I'm guessing I usually don't, because I read way faster than practically everyone I know....

Opinions not necessarily those of the author.
[ Parent ]
origin of consciousness (5.00 / 1) (#80)
by shadowmage on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 01:26:06 AM EST

As Julian Jaynes points out in "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind," one cannot be aware of something without being conscious of it, and conscious awareness is built upon "narratization," which is essentially subvocalization.

Based on this, we would conclude that it is impossible to monitor one's subvocalization without causing it; furthermore, one cannot even consider the concept of subvocalization without subvocalizing. Bleh.

[ Parent ]

No (none / 0) (#97)
by gidds on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 09:30:47 AM EST

I disagree.

I can give specific cases where I've become aware of something without narratising or subvocalising it (for example, when singing at a concert, realising my mic wasn't turned on, and singing up to compensate, all while concentrating on the words I was singing.  Yes, I narratised it afterwards, but at the time it was simply something I was aware of and acted upon.)

I know little about bicameral mind theories, but aren't they, erm, contentious to say the least?

[ Parent ]

Passwords and Pass Phrases (4.75 / 4) (#61)
by QuantumG on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 11:03:22 PM EST

Learning not to subvocalize passwords and pass phrases is a requirement for some security work I've done. The idea is that you won't be able to give up keys in your sleep or hypnosis.

Gun fire is the sound of freedom.
If you know it, you might tell it... (none / 0) (#70)
by Lynoure on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:15:57 AM EST

It doesn't make you immune though, it just slows it down when speaking: "press X then / then i then z then I then j then K and then G".

(And who the hell can subvocalize "QpHjdfwF" as a word anyway?)

[ Parent ]

I can (4.00 / 1) (#74)
by mauftarkie on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:39:22 AM EST

(And who the hell can subvocalize "QpHjdfwF" as a word anyway?)

By spelling it out. That's how I subvocalize my passwords. I guess I'll never do high-security work -- I can't stop my inner-voice! I've been trying to do so while reading this entire article + comments... so far, it hasn't stopped. Heck, I'm even subvocalizing this post as I type!

Without you I'm one step closer to happiness without violence.
Without you I'm one step closer to innocence without consequence.

[ Parent ]
Passwords (4.00 / 1) (#88)
by ekj on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 06:26:50 AM EST

I frequently find that even if I *try* to remember my passwords as in telling them out loud, or handwriting them, I cannot.

I can *type* them very quickly and correctly, probably in my sleep, but it's like the memory is tied to the typing. Once a co-worker needed a root-poassword and after trying in vain to remember it and tell it to him for 5 minutes I told him to give me the keyboard. Type it I could do correctly instantly.

[ Parent ]

really is that possible (4.50 / 2) (#87)
by jcolter on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 06:13:15 AM EST

Could you give us an example of how someone could learn a password without sub vocalizing it?

What is I really dared you to sub vocalize, could you resist the urge?

[ Parent ]

Impossible. (none / 0) (#93)
by traphicone on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 08:14:30 AM EST

I don't know about learning a password without subvocalizing it, but I definitely don't subvocalize mine anymore. I've typed my passwords so many times that the few I use most often are etched into muscle memory. I find that most of the more trivial English words are this way to me, as well.

"Generally it's a bad idea to try to correct someone's worldview if you want to remain on good terms with them, no matter how skewed it may be." --Delirium
[ Parent ]
password key position (none / 0) (#96)
by minimalist on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 08:27:51 AM EST

I tend to remember pin numbers (and phone numbers)by their pattern on the touch pad rather than remembering the actual digits. I also have the experience of not being able to recall a password but being able to type it - as if the memory is "in my fingers". Mini

[ Parent ]
DTMF (none / 0) (#120)
by Piquan on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 05:52:44 AM EST

Strangely enough, I do remember my PINs by motor memory, but I subvocalize them as DTMF sounds.

[ Parent ]
Different kinds of memory (none / 0) (#134)
by mediador on Sun Jan 26, 2003 at 03:13:36 AM EST

There is significant work in proving different kinds of memory.
As a previous post there is "sensorial memory", others are alphanumerical, musical, spacial (moving in a space like the blinds do), graphical (faces), relational (one thing related to other through experience), etc.
Hector Villarreal Monterrey, Mexico .......................... Tech is wonderful... when it works...
[ Parent ]
I do this (none / 0) (#135)
by CokeBear on Sun Jan 26, 2003 at 10:25:21 AM EST

I have no idea what my passwords are, and they are impossible for me to figure out without a qwerty keyboard in front of me. I have about 15 different passwords, and I remember them only by the character they start on, and following a pattern around that charachter (which is etched in muscle memory) to type the password. All I need to remember is which of my passwords I've used for which website.

[ Parent ]
Subvocalization not issue (4.80 / 5) (#67)
by Eric Green on Thu Jan 23, 2003 at 11:54:48 PM EST

I can read a typical 120,000 word novel in two hours, and I subvocalize regularly, so I doubt that subvocalizing is the sole problem. More probably is chunking. I notice I chunk a lot of things, reading a couple of words at a time rather than a single word at a time. One thing that I do notice myself doing is painting "word pictures" when reading expository lumps, rather than subvocalizing the words themselves. For example, if the author is David Weber and he is describing in loving detail the details of a new frigate class for his Honor Hornblower In Space series, I'm seeing a mental picture of a frigate, rather than hearing the words. Dialog, on the other hand, always gets "heard". The reading experience for me is much like watching a movie, I have a mental image of what all these people look like and am listening to them interact with each other and use the expository parts to build an image of what things must look like.

In any event, try building mental pictures of what you're reading as you're reading it. That should distract you from concentrating on the look and sound of individual words. Once you get away from individual words, then your mind can start learning how to clump words and build these pictures in near real time.

You are feeling sleepy... you are feeling verrry sleepy...

What I do (3.00 / 1) (#78)
by hans on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 01:17:30 AM EST

Depending on the situation, I can process a couple hundred pages in an hour or two.  Or I can take a month to read the same.  For faster reading where I have to learn most of what's going on, I tend to read a paragraph or group of sentences, and process them as a whole.  As in, I don't think about the meaning of every sentence or phrase, I think about the meaning of every larger point.  

When I'm really in a jam and need to read an entire book before a meeting that's in, say, an hour, I'll hit the table of contents first, then breeze through as fast as possible, mostly just scanning.  Every other page if need be.  I do this in the hopes that I'll catch the important bits and be able to recall them when needed, with a little help.  I guess it works better than not reading the book at all, as its gotten me through college so far.

Ugh. (none / 0) (#127)
by Spork on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 05:07:20 PM EST

Don't do this in college. Just... don't. I've had several students who have skimmed the assigned reading and they end up making fools of themselves and really piss me off (their grades reflect that). I admit that some instructors give totally unreasonable reading assignments; I would never give over 40 pages a week. But in my experience, people who spend less than five hours with those 40 pages don't retain squat. How many wpm is that?

[ Parent ]
Hehe (none / 0) (#136)
by Juppon Gatana on Sun Jan 26, 2003 at 01:27:34 PM EST

40 pages a week? I get easily 40 to 80 pages from a single class every two days. :)

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
subvoc: reading vs talking vs thinking (4.80 / 5) (#83)
by bolthole on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 03:46:01 AM EST

going through things "verbally" in your head, gets used more often than you notice, I bet.

When writing stuff (like this article) normally, you play through it in your mind before writing it.

When reading, often, the relaxed thing to do is internally sound it out

And heres the real kicker that almost noone notices: When plain *thinking*, there is a tendancy to do the same thing.

I believe they are all related.

To look at the extreme end: start thinking about a subject. At the same time, notice HOW you are thinking. Are you playing out a pseudo-verbal monolog? I believe most people do.  However, it is possible to "think" about something, without actual words. Many people probably just do this on an emotional level, sounding out how the FEEL about something. But it is possible to actually rationalize, without internal words.

The trouble with this is, you tend to lose a certain amount of processing on the info.

If you speak this way, it may result in the phenomemon of "opening your mouth without thinking", aka "putting your foot in it".

Similarly with writing.

For reading, if you get really good at it, you can sort of whisk through things, but you lose the texture of the thing. For example, if you read a novel this way, you're going to miss the major point of enjoyment of it - having your brain play around with mental imagery, etc.

I was trying to think of an analogy for what is happening, and I think I've just though of a really really appropriate one. (unfortunately, only techies will get it, but...)

It's like dropping the indexes on a database table, and doing "LOAD DATA INFILE 'xxxx'".

Sure, you "load up" the data really fast. But it's just data. You dont have all the interconnections, triggers, and fun stuff like that. It takes time to generate all that other stuff around the raw data.

BTW: the whole semi-"verbal" thing, is because we need the verbal side of the brain, to do the extra analysis of the subject matter, methinks.

pure thought, and also the base level of reading methinks , is the hard logic, symbolic manipulation part of the brain. The other stuff  is most related to the aural part of the brain, I think.

I think without words many times. (none / 0) (#133)
by ultimai on Sun Jan 26, 2003 at 03:01:27 AM EST

Sometimes I use image, sometimes I just instantly think of something that would take a minute or two to explain. I just know "the thought". It doesn't need to be said, I just "know". Whenever I do speak in my head, it's when I am reading, talking, having some social situation being played in my head or a semi-idle conversation with myself.

[ Parent ]
one time vs a stream (none / 0) (#140)
by bolthole on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 05:43:45 AM EST

having a "mental picture is worth a thousand words" is one thing. Actually having a stream of thought that way, is another.

listen to yourself think about an interesting subject for about three sentances. Then see if you can "think" those same concepts, without words.  Thats difficult enough.. but then try to continue thinking on without words. REEEALLLY difficult.

and, oddly enough, tiring. it SHOULD be easier, but it takes a lot of effort to keep our superego mental monitoring process(es) down. just waking up, or when reeaaally tired, is the easist to do this.

Funnily enough, I belive I always used to think without words, until I was baout 7 (or maybe 5).

The irony was, I was reeaaally slow to say things. that is to say, I'd want to talk about something, but I'd have to think really carefully about the exact words I'd want to use.  But in thinking about things internally, I was really really fast, and wondered why everyone around was so slow.

[I also had a terrible record for saying things without thinking about the consequences. I'm somewhat better at that now :-) ]

I'm guessing most/many children are like this. But you never hear people talk about it.

[ Parent ]

i agree... (none / 0) (#141)
by damballah on Sun Mar 09, 2003 at 04:52:43 PM EST

thinking w/o words is similar to intuition. you kinda "know" what the thing is w/o needing to express it. now, this is only good if you come up w/ a good solution to a problem and think of a new way to solve it. this solution is new and you will have some difficulty putting it into words since you're just discovering it.

but if you want to explain something to someone, you'd better think of some way to put it into words. talking about it makes you understand it more and is proof that you really have a firm grasp (as opposed to some gut feeling) of what you are talking about.

<it>"all i care about is love" - billy flint in chicago</it&gt
[ Parent ]

hugely variable (4.50 / 2) (#89)
by minimalist on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 06:55:20 AM EST

I've been working with a variety of speed reading techniques for a while too and subvocalising was one of my major problems. I seemed to get over it by just pushing a bit faster than I could form the words in my head.. this did not detract too much from my comprehension and, over a period, got me out of the habit of subvocalising everything. Over time I've found that I can read extremely quickly when reading "for enjoyment".. especially fantasy novels which I easily finish in one sitting, however, I'm also a network engineer and I find that when reading white papers or other such materielle that are work related my speed is less than a third of my "fun-reading" speed. I perform best where the text enables me to build up clear images, or where the plot means that the flow of language is easy to follow (or even predict). This is sadly rarely the case with work related material. Mini

Hmm... Thanks (none / 0) (#111)
by Juppon Gatana on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 03:22:32 PM EST

I haven't tried reading just slightly above my subvocalization speed yet. I was reading usually at around 600 wpm, as opposed to my normal 350 or so. I'll try slowing it down to just a little too fast, and see how that works. Thanks for the tip.

- Juppon Gatana
(Nou aru taka wa tsume wo kakusu.)
[ Parent ]
Thank you. (4.00 / 1) (#100)
by nstenz on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 11:06:40 AM EST

My reading speed has slowed significantly in the past few years (ever since I stopped reading paperback books for the most part). The subvocalization issue had never even occurred to me before. I tried reading the article by just looking at the words, and realized I could indeed go much faster without pronouncing them in my head. I guess that's how skimming works, but the trick is to slow down just enough to actually understand each word while taking the group of words together as one thought.

With some practice, I could probably get used to this. It wouldn't work for crap while I'm coding, but it may be useful for K5 browsing.

I concur (4.00 / 2) (#101)
by RyoCokey on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 11:13:10 AM EST

Personally, I didn't even know thinking was possible in any form recognizable to me without subvocalization. I don't have any thought capability that doesn't involve it. Not that this hinders me in any way, I just can't picture an alternative method. All conscious thoughts manifest themselves as an internal dialog.

On the subject of the article, this doesn't appear to have much affect at all on my reading ability. I still manage about 750 wpm without skimming. Note that subvocalization is not bound to the physical limitations of your voice box and thus can go as fast as your brain can process it.

"Like all important issues, gun control is an emotional issue that will be resolved by politics, belief, and conviction, not by a resort to "facts'." -
thinking and subvocalization (3.00 / 1) (#102)
by loudici on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:21:58 PM EST

learn a foreign language and you will convince yourself that subvocalization, and for that matter verbalization, is a process that comes after thought.
gnothi seauton
[ Parent ]
man beats wife (5.00 / 1) (#106)
by lordpixel on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 01:57:47 PM EST

Subvocalization is not sufficient as a model of thought.

Take the simple sentence "man beats wife"

Now, this could mean, "man hits wife" or "man outruns wife in race". You can model either meaning internally (in your thoughts) and assign that significance to the phrase, but the subvocalization of the phrase doesn't change.

ie, you can think about multiple things that subvocalize the same way but mean different things, so thought and subvocalization aren't equivalent.

Or learn another language. 1 is 1 regardless of whether I choose to vocalize it as one, une, uno, ichi, eins etc. I believe often the abstract representation 'thought' is all your brain is using internally, but necessarily you must render that down into some language (vocalization) to communicate it to others.

Sure, if you're composing a speech or a document you're "thinking in words" but its a concious activity to do so, and takes some effort. I don't believe its what one does all the time.

I go into an abstract mode a lot when planing programming. I'm thinking quite visually ("... oh, and so of course if I have one of <mental placeholder for some programing concept> I'll need a way to get it over there, so perhaps I'll <another placeholder>). Some of the Patterns literature's effectiveness is its ability to name these placeholders so computer programmers can communicate ideas to each other more clearly. Its defining a vocabulary that hasn't existed up to this point.

I am the cat who walks through walls, all places and all times are alike to me.
[ Parent ]

Numbers (none / 0) (#126)
by snowlion on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 02:01:26 PM EST

I liked everything you said, but differ on numbers.

In my experience, people seem to almost always use the language they learned math in to do numbers.

My girlfriend always swaps into Spanish as soon as she's doing math.

She'll convert English to Spanish, do math, and then swap back to English.

I've talked with foreign exchange students about this, and they've always said the same thing.

I know of one exception- Arthur Benjamin, my old math prof. He retrained himself to do math in alphanumerics, if I understand correctly. He can add, multiply, square, cube, all sorts of things, very quickly, because every number is just a single consonant.

For example, 367 ("three hundred seven") is just "michik", to him. 4605 is "reach-sill".
Map Your Thoughts
[ Parent ]

in my case (4.00 / 1) (#103)
by loudici on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 12:30:55 PM EST

my first language is french, i learnt german in high school and english mostly in math and computer science books, so i learnt reading and writing english a long time before i actually spoke it. i never vocalize.

on the subject of speed reading, though, my position     is that if the actual reading time is significant compared to the time needed to understand what i am reading, then either the author is babbling unnecessarily, or i am reading something useless, or i am reading for my pleasure, but then that time is enjoyable, hence not wasted.
gnothi seauton

Apparently, (4.00 / 2) (#109)
by danni on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 02:53:33 PM EST

Your vocal cords may actually move if you are not talking at the same time as thinking or reading.

This forms the basis of 'Throat reading' employed by mediums and Derren Brown :P  I think it could be due to Idemotor action, the mechanism that makes a pendulum held between your fingers move if you imagine it moving.

Does this explain why subvocalization may slow your reading speed?

Yes, I've noticed (none / 0) (#116)
by gengis on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 06:51:50 PM EST

A couple years ago, I noticed that as I subvocalized the sounds of the letters G and J, I would move my tongue into position to make that noise.  I *could not* make the noise in my head, without moving my tongue.

Oddly, that seems to no longer be the case, as I just tried it...:)

[ Parent ]

The same applies to thinking too (4.00 / 1) (#113)
by johnw on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 04:01:05 PM EST

It is just as possible to eliminate vocalization from thought. Although many think that verbalization is essential to linking concepts, common experience shows that this is not so. For example, if you are a mechanic or computer engineer, and I ask you to think about how a car or computer works, the subject of your thought is too complex and multi-dimensional to be expressed in linear forms. You are able to visualize and manipulate concepts -- and find answers -- to engineering problems without ever putting those thoughts into words. The same is possible with abstract ideas (which are also often highly complex and multi-dimensional), though it takes practice because there are no familiar "images" to fall back on. Like meditation, one tends to navigate these byways of thought using intuition and feelings of depth, which are no less pragmatic than verbalizing the same idea. In some cases, especially when the thought involved is particularly complex, removing the verbal component not only vastly accelerates the thinking process, but can even lead to intuitive leaps that verbal thinking might have restrained or prevented.

Can You Give an Example, Anecdote? (Subvocal) (none / 0) (#125)
by snowlion on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 01:51:58 PM EST

I'm curious about this; Can you give an actual real world example? Explain what your sensations and effots are while you are working on some problem.

I am imagining that I am playing Go.

When I see a Go configuration, I look at the problem area, figure out what my goals are (which side I am), and then "hot spots" appear- likely points of departure. I think that these hot spots appeared due to the work of habit. Then I recurse into situations. I can go about 2 steps forward before everything gets very fuzzy. I can "name" situations for recall, so the subvocalization helps me remember board configurations. I get a lot of, "Well suppose I went...." (without anything vocal trailing after it) or "Maybe..." or "uh...".
Map Your Thoughts
[ Parent ]

Verbalizing can be a useful form of repetition (5.00 / 2) (#114)
by johnw on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 04:03:07 PM EST

At the same time that verbalization slows you down, consider that it might also be helping retention, simply because it repeats the ideas as they are formed in your mind. Just as people might read aloud, or write by hand, information they really want to know better, so vocalization is not always such a bad thing. In fact, with particularly "thick" material it can help slow things down, where non-verbalization would leave you plunging ahead beyond your ability to keep up with the subject.

Take a speedreading class (5.00 / 1) (#115)
by epepke on Fri Jan 24, 2003 at 05:17:02 PM EST

This is somewhat obvious, but I'm mentioning it because I haven't seen much (any?) discussion of it. Take a speedreading class. That is, pay some money to a teacher for the use of his and/or her skill for the purpose of teaching you how to do this.

Self-help is fine and dandy, when it works. When it doesn't work, sometimes you have to rely on the skills of someone who has been trained in how to do it.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

Since English is an analytical language (none / 0) (#119)
by omghax on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 12:46:45 AM EST

don't build on words to comprehend ideas, skim through words and sentences and let the meanings coalesce.

Creepy (none / 0) (#122)
by Rhinobird on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 07:57:43 AM EST

I heard all your words in my head, but I don't know what you sound like...uber creepy no? :-P
"If Mr. Edison had thought more about what he was doing, he wouldn't sweat as much." --Nikola Tesla
Switched topic! (none / 0) (#128)
by cdyer on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 06:09:01 PM EST

I find it interesting that this conversation switched topics about halfway through. the original article and the first few posts are about trying to stop subvocalizing your own language to read faster. At some point it switches to reading in a foreign language and subvocalizing a translation in your native language.

I propose another shift to the phenomenon of subvocalizing one's own language into another language so as not to understand it.


I'm a moron. (none / 0) (#129)
by cdyer on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 06:10:25 PM EST

Can I take that last comment back?  I didn't realize I was in a subthread on just that topic.


[ Parent ]

Scoop ate my subvocalized post the first time (none / 0) (#132)
by anyonymous [35789] on Sat Jan 25, 2003 at 10:00:07 PM EST

To sum it up again, I have noticed that I read at the same speed I talk because I subvocalize. I have noticed that when reading a good book with the stereo on I stop subvocalizing when I get deep into the story. I read a lot faster. I forget to subvocalize. So I assume it is something I taught myself to do at an early age. If that is the case it can be unlearned. You probably just need to practice.

it's cool in theory (5.00 / 1) (#138)
by mounsterr on Sun Jan 26, 2003 at 07:28:08 PM EST

...but then I sing along to the music. Maybe I should try chanting...

[ Parent ]
interesting (5.00 / 1) (#139)
by ebatsky on Sun Jan 26, 2003 at 07:29:09 PM EST

I've never thought about this before, so when I read the article I tried reading all the posts here without subvocalizing. It wasn't very hard, and it did improve the speed about 2x (usually about 600 wpm, now 1200). The way I did it is just breath deeply while reading and scan the lines with your eyes faster than you could vocalize them. Could pretty much understand it as well as regular reading, etc.

The only weird thing is that after doing this for 15-20 mins or so, top of my head started to feel weird, kind of like if you smoked pot, the same type of feeling. This speed reading stuff might have more benefit than previously thought!

Anyway the best way I've found (in my 30 mins of experimentation) is to move your eyes from side to side as you go through each line, but quicker than usual. Works for me.

using subvocalization for comprehension (none / 0) (#142)
by benobo on Sat Jun 14, 2003 at 03:42:15 PM EST

Sometimes subvocalization allows for the apprehension of meaning that is communicated by phonetic constructs. A simplistic example: "The java men banged their four heads together." Some of us are predisposed by our culture and developmental experiences to the parsing verbal input for levels of meaning based upon the branching of meaning within phonemes and the possibilities of meaning within definite and indefinite phonemic derivatives. Slowing down to subvocalize may help one to find meaning, or, depending upon the source, subvocalization may only provide meaningless distraction. Sometimes it may be wise to choose to comprehend without listening. Sometimes, without listening, we may not comprehend.

Observations and Another Article (none / 0) (#143)
by thadk on Thu Jul 10, 2003 at 06:54:20 PM EST

Since I see that this article is up there on a few google terms I'm going to add a link and some things that have been helping me "Kill Subvocalization" before Rusty drops it into the archive.

I read in a book I came across somewhere that subvocalization has the feel of taking place in the lower part of your head (tongue, mouth). "Thought-stream" (for lack of another term) feels more like it is toward the top part (eyes).

After going back the technique I originally ran across (and rudimentarily mirrored when I had trouble accessing) I found that this was pretty much true. It made it a bit easier to maintain for me.

There was also another good article and more accompanying discussion on this topic here at K5 (a link of which may or may not be buried in the comments below).
How to Read Quickly Without Really Trying by CantSay.

For more interesting, community written and approved K5 articles like this one check out the Ko4ting Wiki.

Killing Subvocalization | 143 comments (138 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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