17 Feb 2021

Talking to Yourself: The Benefits of Subvocalization

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to studying — or focusing on any intellectually stimulating task, for that matter. Some people prefer a quiet atmosphere while others can focus with loud music blasting in the background. Others enjoy the ambient noise of a coffee shop while working (though coffee shop study sessions feel like a thing of the past). Recently, much attention has been paid to the power of spoken self-affirmation as a means of self-empowerment. Talking to oneself, either silently or aloud, can also serve as a cognitive and intellectual tool with the potential to increase motivation, emotional regulation, and have a hand in developing metacognition and reasoning. 

Subvocalization, also known as silent speech, is the internal speech that we typically employ while reading; it is the mechanism by which we silently say the sound of a word as if it were read aloud. Subvocalization is a natural process that helps the mind comprehend and remember the meaning of the material that is being read. Billy Wheelan, the founder of Sentia Education, often teaches subvocalization to his students and recognizes both its value and potential drawbacks as a studying and test-taking tool. 

Here’s Billy’s take: “Subvocalization can benefit test-takers in several ways: for the student who rushes, subvocalization provides a way to stay on pace. In the ACT Science section, it provides a mechanism for ensuring the test-taker is considering carefully which chart or graph she’s using as evidence — lest she accidentally reason a response from looking at the wrong source material. And while subvocalization slows most students down too much to be employed widely in passage-based reading, it’s a great way to unpack tricky sentences or paragraph transitions. Subvocalization really should be in every test-taker’s arsenal and it’s easy to practice on your own as you complete question sets or mock tests.”

By (silently) articulating ourselves, we are forced to pay more attention to crafting a cohesive idea or argument. For many, self-talk conjures up the image of an imagined listener or interrogator, pushing us to more critically examine our thoughts. Another fascinating offshoot of subvocalization is the tendency to move our bodies while thinking deeply or talking to ourselves. If you’re ever paced back and forth while thinking or talking something out, you’ve already employed this technique intuitively! 

Evidence shows that movement enhances our ability to think and learn. In fact, activities such as speaking aloud, writing, or dancing do not begin in the brain and simply trigger the body to move, as one might assume. Rather, these actions require both the body and mind to work together as an integrated whole, influencing one another. So, physical actions like moving the jaw as you silently talk yourself through a difficult math problem, for example, can enhance your comprehension of the task at hand. Don’t take our word for it — give it a try next time you sit down (or pace back and forth) to study, write, or simply think! And though talking aloud to yourself would be frowned upon on Test Day, no one will fault you for subvocalization. 


If you’re interested in learning more about our tutoring techniques, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. All of our tutors are well-versed in test-taking techniques that have helped many of our students reach their target scores. We are also passionate about providing academic support to students of all ages, especially during such a challenging time for students and educators everywhere. We are here to help. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

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