Abram K-J asks a question concerning my previous post, which mentioned the key role of subvocalization in reading. Subvocalization is “saying” the words silently in your mind as you read them. When you do this, you “hear” the words and your mind is able to comprehend them. In this sense, I said, reading is hearing. When you do a brain scan of a person who is reading, it’s the auditory centers of the brain that light up.
Abram asks how this works with speed reading. Speed reading courses typically teach the student that avoiding subvocalization is crucial to becoming a very fast reader.
Where’s the Evidence?
Here’s the thing, though. Call me a bit of a speed reading skeptic. I’ve done speed reading courses and found some helpful techniques, but those primarily had to do with speed-scanning or -skimming a page, not what I would call reading. Further, from my (limited) research, scientists who have run tests on speed readers are generally unimpressed by the results. In fact, there is good reason to think that the eye itself limits the speed at which we can read, as it’s unable to focus on more than a little text at a time.
Slate magazine has a good write-up here that deals with the major issues. Note that speed reading tests always use very simple writing, like the kind you’d find in Reader’s Digest; so anyone who claims they’re speed reading Barth is really full of it.
Reading Like Rain Man
Now, there is at least one scientifically documented speed reader: Kim Peek, the inspiration for the movie Rain Man. But, please note that Peek lacked a corpus callosum, which links the two hemispheres of the brain. The very trait that allowed him to speed read had him counting down minutes to Wapner and kept him from learning how to button his shirt.
So, the research currently shows that subvocalization of some form is unavoidable. Tests using very sensitive machines find muscle movement in the vocal chords of readers that is undetectable even to the readers themselves. Even deaf people subvocalize (or the muscular equivalent) when they read! So, the point still stands: reading is hearing, and if we want to get better at reading Greek or any second language, we must develop automaticity through hearing and speaking that language.