Hearing Words in Your Head

In talking about speed reading, Scott H. Young mentions a word I hadn’t come across: Subvocalization. He defines it: “Subvocalization is saying the words inside your head as you read them.” I’ve done this almost my entire life and didn’t know there was a word for it. Hearing words in my head is a natural habit and I never thought about whether others do it.
Actually, I did once. A reporter interviewed me when I was in high school. We talked about speech and hearing. I mentioned that even with my hearing aids turned off, I still “hear sounds” in my head when someone talks or when I read or write. Maybe I thought this was a “deaf” thing — just never seriously thought about it until I read Young’s post.
Now that I think about it — not sure it’s a deaf thing because not all deaf people wear hearing aids. I wonder if those who don’t wearing hearing aids have their own sounds they hear in their heads — it might be different than what we know.
It’s that same habit that helps me as a writer. As I write this, I’m hearing these words in my head. It works almost as well as saying the words out loud. Rarely do I find something doesn’t work out loud when it worked in my head.
When I read, I hear the book’s words in my head. Young says that if a person wants to read faster, it means to stop subvocalizing. Oh boy. This was HARD to do and when I did it, I felt like I was staring at the book’s pages and couldn’t absorb the words. I’m not sure I want to turn this into a habit considering it plays a large part in my job as a writer.
What are your experiences — if any — with subvocalization?

7 thoughts on “Hearing Words in Your Head”

  1. I don’t hear words, I see them written as letters. So, I don’t hear the word “house” spoken; I think of it as h-o-u-s-e.

    I think that’s weird. 🙂


  2. I am sooo glad someone has addressed this issue! I thought I was crazy! Noone in my family or associates “hear” the words in their head. I am a hearing person and always have been. I began to wonder about this because I was unsure how deaf individuals can read if they don’t know what the word is supposed to sound like. That is when I learned that most people don’t actually “hear” the words. I am an average-speed reader, but my comprehension has always been outstanding.

  3. I’ve always heard voices in my head when I read. And when I read other people’s writings, I’ve found I give them a different voice in my head than the one I use for my own writing. H-m-m, I wonder if that means something? 🙂
    When I read a novel, I find I give the characters voices and change them as I read. I also hear the sounds in my head the writer describes.
    I wonder if that’s why I hear high pitched voices for tweets in Twitter? Just kidding. I don’t do that, chirp, chirp. Really, I don’t.
    .-= Jeff Hurt’s blog …Why Do You Tweet? =-.

  4. @Dawn, not weird — interesting.
    @Richard, that’s what happens when I stop hearing words in my head. But I guess it’s a habit you have to develop.
    @Mandy, looks like lots of people do it. In fact, I am “hearing” these words I type.
    @Jeff, chirp chirp chirrrrp. 😉

  5. This is cool. I have always sub-vocalized, for as long as I can remember. After talking to my wife she says she doesn’t.
    My wife is always stunned at how often I use the wrong “there” and “to” even though I know the difference, on top of that I miss it when I proofread repeatedly. When I talked to my wife she says she sees words and if I have the wrong there in a sentence it completely changes the meaning to her and cause a mental stumble in her comprehension. In other words, she has a really hard time seeing around not just incorrect word usage but spelling errors as well.
    This does not happen for me, because I never see the words when I’m reading, I hear them in my head. I can’t see the words, and hear the words, at the same time, and I have very little comprehension if I’m only seeing the words. This also makes it very difficult for me to proof read stuff. I almost always miss something. Even misspelled words don’t usually phase me because I don’t see them I hear them.
    I wonder how different that is from other people.

  6. Eric, that’s a new one. Sounds like you have a unique way of processing information between eyes and brain. Proofing may be be hard for you, but I bet you’re great at something that’s hard for the rest of us.

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