I hear voices when I read


Now, I’m not delusional, but when I read I do hear an internal voice sounding out the words. And if you reflect on your own reading experience, there’s a chance you might experience the same thing. Although perhaps you haven’t given it much thought.

Some people are able to disconnect from the words. There’s a phenomenon known as speed reading. My understanding of this is that every word is not read. Instead, there is a way to skim over and focus on main ideas, summarizing thoughts for each paragraph and section of text.

I can’t do that. If I try, I end up feeling like I’m missing crucial information.

For me, to read with comprehension means there’s an internal voice sounding out the words. I don’t know for sure if this was my experience as I started to read. But it’s what I encounter as an adult, so it seems safe to assume it’s always been there.

Though I’m not the only person to go through this process, it offers another explanation for why additional sounds and people talking made it difficult to focus while reading independently. I already had this internal voice sounding out the words.

It also explains the aggravation I feel as an adult when my environment is too loud and “I can’t hear myself think.” I can’t hear that internal voice and, for whatever reason, I’m not able to maintain my focus.

I bring this up because this helps me make sense of why reading comprehension portions of standardized tests were so challenging. I needed to really focus and read the passage. Being a slower reader early on didn’t help. And as you might imagine, having that voice sounding out syllables takes precious time that just isn’t available for those tests. Having to rush through it just meant being confused. And it wasn’t as simple as referring to a line of text or a range of lines, even if those notations were offered with the questions. I needed (or felt like I needed) the complete context to understand everything.

Recently I came across my results from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills that I took in first grade. Amazingly it was saved in a box with other random childhood memories. It’s interesting that the skill I scored highest on was listening, nearing the 80th percentile. (Even then I showed signs of being a strong listener, and yet I constantly undervalue that ability.) My vocabulary skills were strong, too. But reading comprehension, word analysis, and other reading skills were below average, ranging in the 40th percentile.

With a test like this, they (whoever “they” are) offer a written explanation of how to interpret the numbers. There is one part that I can find comfort in. They explained that listening is a skill that could be used to build up other skills. And it’s true, it’s one of those foundational abilities for learning. As much as the overall report might be intimidating or overwhelming, there’s got to be something positive in the mix. Parents, keep that in mind.

Standardized tests are tricky tools for measuring ability. It would be nice if we could simply test a person’s knowledge and ability without requiring a time limit. But for some students, that might mean taking all day on a test instead of an hour. But that’s another topic altogether.

I realize accommodations are being made more often in classrooms as people realize the standard approach isn’t quite one-size-fits-all. Some students are given more time to take tests or maybe to answer questions orally instead of written.

I could have benefited from using noise-canceling headphones while taking a test or during independent reading. It would have helped me focus more instead of being distracted further by other sounds in the room.

Are there things that interfere with your ability to read? What makes it challenging?



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