By Kathleen Strycula
As you read this sentence, listen. Is there a little voice in your head that is speaking and listening to these words at the same time as your eyes take it in, processing the words and sentences not only visually but also – in some way – aurally? There is a fascinating relationship between reading, speaking, and hearing. Reading out loud is a unique combination of all these skills. It has social and occupational advantages, and yet, it is something that, as adults, we rarely practice. In an article for The Atlantic entitled “In Praise of the Intimate, Lost Art of Reading Aloud,” Chloe Angyal writes: “Being read to aloud isn’t really something you do past childhood, right? But… some things – a great book, your hilarious voice for [a book character] – are too good to keep to yourself.”
We frequently read aloud to children both at home and in an educational setting. Jim Trelease in The Read-Aloud Handbook asserts: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” The national campaign of Readaloud.org highlights the benefits of reading out loud to children fifteen minutes every day. These include improving their literacy skills, supporting language development, affording an opportunity for social bonding, and instilling a love of reading. Some of my favorite books are ones that I heard read aloud to me as a child, and I plan to read them aloud someday to my own children. In the meantime, we should find other occasions for reading written works aloud. Although the benefits of reading aloud may change from childhood to adulthood, they are still invaluable.
For adults, reading is often a solitary activity; reading aloud introduces a social dimension into the literary pursuit. Audiobooks are a wonderful medium that can bring a book to life through hearing it recited by another person, while online reading groups are centers that spark literary engagement and discussion. Although these both have their advantages, weekly read-aloud sessions bring people together in a comfortable and engaging atmosphere where they can connect with those around them in real time, face-to-face.
Writing for The Guardian, Elizabeth Day in “Storytelling: How Reading Aloud Is Back in Fashion” addresses this important social aspect. In an age where interactions and friendships are becoming more and more virtual, Day points to read-aloud groups as a place where adults can learn about and draw from “the power of literature to engage, the special kind of intimacy gained from a communal experience, and the ability to communicate with so many different people.”
Moreover, the benefits from reading out loud come from both ends of the spectrum. On one end, the listener, hearing an unfolding novel, poem, or essay as another person reads it aloud, becomes part of a social community and at the same time practices sustained aural attention. On the opposite end, the speaker improves their intonation and oral fluency in the act of reading aloud to friends and family – a valuable skill that is useful and applicable in nearly every field or career.
Why, then, read aloud? Like independent reading, it too gives us new perspectives and can change the way we understand the world. Furthermore, reading aloud encourages social and intellectual engagement with others, opens us up to stories and discussions we might otherwise not have happened upon alone, and cultivates a mindset of curiosity and the pursuit of lifelong learning.
So the question then becomes, why not read aloud?
Kathleen Strycula is a senior at the Catholic University of America majoring in psychology and minoring in studio art. The Catholic University is home to the Beta of the District of Columbia Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.