The Art of Reading Aloud: Read It Like You Hear It

13 Jun


“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”    — Albert Einstein  “Ein Märchen” (The Fairy Tale), Artist unknown, circa 1900When I attended public school, my teachers would often assign an hour for our class to take turns reading paragraphs of a short story aloud.  This was a wonderful idea!  For one, it developed reading proficiency and other unique skills that can only be experienced when people read out loud to one another.  Not to mention engaging in performance.  Don’t imagine that most of the class was thrilled or saw this as highly beneficial to development.  In fact, I didn’t look forward to it much either.  Reading time was boring because of an apparent lack of many children’s reading skills.  I am not sure what were the exact causes.  Since kids stumbled over simple vocabulary, I suspect reading disabilities like dyslexia were to blame.  I’m sure that in making us read aloud the teacher was able to see who was struggling and assign further aid for them.  Another reason could very well be the fact that many kids today do not have parents who take the time to read with them to help further develop a love of reading.  TV and social media is the more common source of entertainment, and as we all know texting improves one’s spelling [NOT!].  Then again, it could have been the short story selections we were to read from were so boring in and of themselves, that no one was very excited about reading them.  But that’s another rant for another day…

One time our teacher had us read an adapted script from the old radio play The War of the Worlds.   Somehow this failed to ignite most of the kids’ enthusiasm.  Lines dragged on and on…  I felt like saying, “Come on people!  This story is about an alien invasion!  People are freaking out and are calling for the military and fire department!  Put some whiz bangs into it!”

This problem doesn’t just affect younger readers.  Unfortunately, I think a lot of people don’t know how to read well.  I’m not talking about those who struggle with dyslexia (that’s an understandably different matter altogether), although there have been studies that show reading out loud, paired with other techniques, may aid those with reading disabilities.  Some people may know how to read and may not struggle with comprehension or pronunciation, but yet reading aloud produces inhibitions and other interfering barriers betwixt the brain and the mouth.  For some reason, we tend to become more demure when we read out loud.  Therefore, it isn’t quite as fulfilling as the experience should be.

If you feel you need a little improvement in this area, I hope the following tips will be helpful to you.

Love this Hilton Hassell illustration of Anne and Gilbert!I recommend starting where you feel safe that no one will overhear you.  It’s just you and your book.  Take each sentence at a time, but most especially the words between the quotation marks (spoken lines of the characters).  Let’s take a scene out of a famous book:

Gilbert reached across the aisle, picked up the end of Anne’s long red braid, held it out at arm’s length and said in a piercing whisper:

“Carrots! Carrots!”

Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!

She did more than look. She sprang to her feet, her bright fancies fallen into cureless ruin. She flashed one indignant glance at Gilbert from eyes whose angry sparkle was swiftly quenched in equally angry tears.

“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”

And then—thwack! Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it—slate not head—clear across.

[From Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery]

You’ve imagined the scene; now read the first quoted line silently to yourself.

“Carrots! Carrots!”

How did you hear Gilbert speak that when you were imagining it in your head?  Probably in a nasty, teasing sort of way.  The text says he said it in a piercing whisper.  You can further imagine this by perhaps recalling a similar memory from your past where either you were teased or the one who did the teasing.

“Carrots! Carrots!”

Now speak the line out loud, trying to recreate the emotion aloud that you had heard in your head.  What’s your best piercing whisper?

A lot of this involves putting yourself in the character’s place.  I find that I become more empathetic of the characters this way.  I think it helps us get in touch with our emotions, and it certainly makes creative use of our imagination and hones our acting.

Anne of Green Gables - "Psst! Carrots! Carrots!"On to the next spoken line:

“You mean, hateful boy!” she exclaimed passionately. “How dare you!”

Here we get more of a clue about how to read this.  She exclaimed passionately.  How would you imagine this would sound?  Imagine first, then say it out loud.

“You mean, hateful boy!”  ….

“How dare you!”

Filling the sentences with emotion doesn’t have to stop with what’s between quotation marks.  Narration is filled with emotion as well.  For ex.,

Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!

This sentence would not be read the same way we read Gilbert’s “Carrots!  Carrots!”  This time, we imagine ourselves as humiliated Anne, slowly turning in her seat with blazing eyes to face whom she considers as the ‘hateful boy.’  We imagine, empathize, and then let our voice communicate it out loud.

Audiobooks are great resources to not only experience a story read aloud to you, but also to take tips away to use for yourself when it’s just you and your book.

There are other ways we can make reading out loud fun.  We can imagine what the voices of the characters sound like.  We don’t all have the talent for producing cartoon voices and that isn’t necessary, anyway.  It doesn’t have to be over the top.  But some suggestions would be to soften the voice for females and deepen slightly for the men [careful now, I don’t want to be the cause of a rise in throat cancer].  Maybe higher voices for children, shaky for the elderly.  Attempting accents are always fun, too.

You can improve your reading if you feel you need to/want to at any age.  But it’s always nice to start young.  If you’re teaching young children to read the way they imagine the story in their heads, they may have a greater love of learning that will last them throughout life.

Allow yourself to feel silly.  No one’s watching.  We get better over time, and hopefully it will become more fun.  The goal is have a more fulfilling, colorful reading experience—one that comes alive with our imagination!











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One response to “The Art of Reading Aloud: Read It Like You Hear It

  1. Barb

    June 13, 2014 at 2:14 am

    Excellent tips! You are a good writer, making your blogs very interesting reading, and the instruction here is very easy to follow. May your readership expand!


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