A word in your ear

Recently I had an interesting email about sub-vocalisation and speed reading from a gentleman who lives in Mississippi. He said his biggest problem is sub-vocalisation. He doesn’t move his lips but he hears the words in his head. His question was: ‘They say it is impossible to stop sub-vocalization, but if that is true how do you explain the people who read who are deaf?’
This was my reply:
I sub-vocalise selectively for enhanced recall. I don’t believe in eliminating sub-vocalisation. It is hard-wired into the brain. We learnt by reading aloud and the area to do with speech in the brain is active even when we read silently. I’ll sub-vocalise key points.
Deaf people probably still have sub-vocalisation, but their version involves signing. The brain area which is active when they ‘speak’ is similarly likely to be active when they read.
Apparently, most adults can tune in or tune out of hearing the words in their heads.
Sub-vocalisation may be less of an issue once you start using questions. This is an active approach, rather than receiving information passively.
As you read a non-fiction paragraph, identify what the main idea is. The topic sentence can help as it tells readers what the paragraph is about. If the paragraph has a topic sentence, it is most likely to be the opening sentence or (next most likely) the closing sentence. Think about how the author organises the supporting ideas. For example, is it an explanation of a process? What steps are there? Are examples used? The best questions are the ones you devise yourself.
Once you start using questions, you engage with the meaning of what you are reading. As a result, your recall is likely to improve. At the very least, it will shift your attention from the issue of sub-vocalisation to the content of what you are reading.

This Thursday I went to an author event in Corbridge. The four authors from Wombach Press read a selection of their short stories. They were all graduates of Northumbria University’s M.A. in creative writing. The standard was high, as you might expect. The authors each read one of their short stories and they read them well. It was a pleasant evening.


As blog readers will know, I have been reading a lot of Nordic noir just lately and the Wombach authors’ work is very different, with no detectives or deaths in mysterious circumstances. There is plenty of ironic humour, though. I like James Warde-Aldam’s short story collection very much. The ‘Open Water’ short stories are set in rural Scotland. James often explores characters’ responses to the natural environment. The landscape prompts characters’ memories and perceptions.

It is a treat to actually hear authors reading their work. There is something wonderful about adults reading aloud to others present in the same room. Generations before radio, people often used to read to each other. There was the excitement of the latest instalment of a Dickens’ novel and articles from newspapers about events that had taken place days earlier. Reading aloud well was a skill which was appreciated and which was part of everyday life. Authors are not actors. They don’t usually produce a performance in the way actors do. (Charles Dickens was exceptional in this respect.) However, authors’ understanding of what they are attempting to achieve in their work often informs the reading and gives it a unique authenticity. This was evident in the readings from the quartet of Wombach Press authors.

Have a great week!


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