When I was in middle school, you would never recognize me without a book. I didn’t have any friends to hang out with, and if you were unoccupied you were fair game for the bullies. So having a book was my way of escaping and avoiding, I guess. I could pretend I was someplace else, and could totally become oblivious to the world and noise around me.
When I was 13, my mom and dad chose to homeschool me (and contrary to a common myth out there that homeschoolers lack social skills, I came out of my shell, learned to socialize, and made friends… but that’s a different story for a different time). Homeschooling means a lot of required reading. A lot! So I could take my book history book on the Vikings to my bedroom and it was there that I learned to read out loud to myself.
Perhaps you could make a case that my ‘reading aloud career’ started when I was 4 or 5 years old—when I narrated my picture books on the tape recorder that my mom provided to keep me occupied. I think I was actually obsessed with the red light on the record button. Then, as I grew older and learned to read simple children’s books for myself, I would record those. In 6th grade, I would read my history homework assignments out loud to myself. I think this might have been because I remembered what I was reading more.
And I read lots of Nancy Drew books to my sister, so I’d much practice reading for an audience, but it wasn’t until I was homeschooled teenager that I started reading aloud just for myself. I started practicing honing my diction and enunciation. I don’t really know why I started doing that. Perhaps it was the perfectionistic side of me. However, drilling this into myself at an early age certainly has made it a lot easier and it sounds a lot more natural now. I don’t have to think twice about it, or make a concerted effort. This is why I think it is important for children to learn the art of reading aloud. It was as a teenager while learning to read the classics that I discovered my genuine love of vocal reading.
This article will be the first in a series about the importance of reading out loud, or “The Art of Reading Aloud,” as I like to call it. Because it is an art. And a fun one at that!
If this is something that hasn’t occurred to you before, you might be asking Why is it so important?? We think of reading out loud to children, or maybe to an elderly person, but what about to ourselves? What’s the difference between vocal reading and silent reading? At least you’re reading! Yes, I’ll agree. And I cannot speak universally, only from my own experience, so here it goes…
For me, reading the stories out loud makes them seem more real. They come alive! It’s like the difference between eating vanilla ice cream and eating Coldstone Vanilla Ice Cream with butterfinger candy bars, carmel, and graham cracker crust mixed in! Plain vanilla is nice, and some people may prefer it better for special reasons. But the other kind with all the extras adds dimension and crunch and gooiness. You don’t know what you’re missing until you try it! I now find it nearly impossible to comprehend and really involve myself in a good fiction story, without reading it out loud to myself, or at least whisper read if I have to be quieter. I suppose this is because I am listening to my voice acting out the emotion of the story. I feel it enables me to experience it at a deeper level. I get easily distracted trying to read silently. I start skim reading, which doesn’t enable me to experience it by half.
I also like to listen to the words. I like to feel the sound of them slip up from my throat and over my tongue. It makes me appreciate the words the author chose when I can hear them put together!
So, here is an exercise that I encourage anyone reading this try if you never have before. Next time you sit down to read, read just to yourself alone out loud. Choose a place and time when no one will be around to overhear you and make you feel self-conscious. In some future post, I will submit tips and links to fun websites where you can learn to improve the art of reading aloud. I am not a professional audio book narrator (though that is my dream) and I do not know everything on the subject; I only hope to pass along what I learn to you. But right now the point is to just jump in and try it, mistakes and all. No Internal Criticizers allowed!
You know… the voices that whisper in your ear things like, “You sound so stupid. You can’t even pay attention to the story because you’re paying so much attention to how stupid you sound. You don’t sound interesting. You don’t even know how to pronounce that word. You can’t make a believable British accent…” Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard those from myself, too. But you seriously aren’t going to let that stop you from enjoying life more, are you? Who cares if you don’t sound ‘interesting’? Tell yourself right back: “So? I’m just starting out and no one else can hear me. I’m learning. I’m just having fun and playing around. I’m not setting out to win an Audi Award.” It’s just like learning to do anything else, like piano or tennis.
So first thing, learn to get comfortable reading to yourself. Have you ever listened to your own recorded voice? Although this is hard to believe in today’s media age, a lot of people have never heard themselves. Please, please try this if you haven’t! If you have, you may feel inhibited because you don’t think you have a “good” voice. Some people even loathe hearing their own voice, not because it really sounds all that bad, but they hate listening to themselves! This is so sad, and I think it stems from a form of self-hatred that needs to be overcome. You can gradually learn to improve the things you don’t like about your voice. All voices have their pros and cons and no one is perfect, but everyone has something positive about their voice! My Mom doesn’t like how her voice sounds so low, but if you’re female and you have an alto voice, it makes it easier to read the male characters’ voices! My Grandpa doesn’t like how his bass voice has gradually gotten higher pitched as he’s aged, but I enjoy listening to his peaceful, mellow voice.
But keep trying, keep practicing, keep doing! Just pretend as though you’ve been a professional audio book narrator your whole life. Starting out with confidence makes a world of difference. After a little while of gained confidence and learning to improve, you won’t hear those voices in your head anymore.
A lot of ‘imperfections’ work themselves out, anyway. If you stumble, you will soon learn be able to read longer without stumbling. Reading out loud has many more benefits that what I can list here, but becoming voice conscious is a good thing. I wish more people were. It really is a learned skill. Being voice conscious not only helps you as you read out loud, but also you will gradually learn to be voice conscious subconsciously when you are not reading out loud! You will learn to speak up so others can hear you, not harshly blast others’ ears out, speak with clarity and proper diction, and not mumble. You will be aware of the ups and downs of your voice, the lilt, and musical notes of the way you say things. You will be able to identify accents in others, and aware of it in yourself (whether you perceive this as a bad thing and want to change it, or a good thing and want to ‘hold onto’ your accent if you happen to move!)
I think another reason why I love to read out loud is that there is an unfulfilled acting desire within me. And reading aloud is that—acting. More specifically, it is storytelling to yourself! You don’t have to stress yourself out about really performing over the top for yourself (but as you have more and more fun, I hope you will!). If doing voices and accents really isn’t your thing, no one says you have to. But try and let yourself go!
Does getting a hoarse voice inhibit you? I find whisper-reading the narration and only speaking aloud the dialogue helps a stressed out voice.
Visiting the free downloadable audiobooks on Librivox may help you get over some of your inhibitions and inspire you to volunteer yourself! Just ordinary volunteers reading books in the public domain, like a good friend reading out loud to you on a Sunday afternoon on the back porch!
I hope to have a future post on reading aloud to others.
If you have already discovered the joy of reading out loud, feel welcome to share what you love about it!
The king listens to himself reading…