Category Archives: The Art of Reading Aloud

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


“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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The Art of Reading Aloud: To and with Others

Illustration of Children Reading by Emilie Benson KnipeIt probably started when I was a little girl first learning to read Amelia Bedelia.  I was older by my sister by 3 years and so had a great advantage over her in that I could read ‘real books.’  I would read “Geraldine’s Big Snow”,  “Kidderminster Kingdom Tales“, and “Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day” to her because I loved to read all the expressive words.

Little Sister eventually learned to read, but somehow reading aloud didn’t stop.  We got older and I discovered Nancy Drew.  I’d read a whole mystery out loud for us on a rainy Saturday afternoon.  We’d pitch my pup tent out in the backyard during the summer and we excitedly devoured Frank Peretti’s Cooper Kid mysteries.  Then we got older and it was the Father Brown mysteries I got for Christmas one year (I think S. just wanted to hear my unrealistic British accent more than anything!).

When we were in our late teens/early twenties, our family went through a long moving ordeal during which we forwent a tv for a while.  Ever since we were small, S. and I had learned the skill of being our own entertainment.  So, in the evenings we sat in the living room and I read Agatha Christie mysteries (Why Didn’t They Ask Evans and The Body in the Library among others).

Family readingThere is something memorable and delightfully homespun about reading out loud in a family setting.  Yes, it does feel a bit awkward at first, especially if you don’t view your family as anything particularly resembling The Waltons.  To be honest, to this day I don’t feel completely comfortable reading in for a live audience.  Being an introvert causes an internal self-critic to warn me against letting myself go “too much or I’ll feel stupid.”  I feel ridiculous trying to put on voices or accents, I fear mispronouncing a word, I hate reading the kissy scenes, and on and on.  I don’t read perfectly.  But you know what?  Looking back, I have all of these wonderful memories of reading to my Mom and sister when we were still all living together.  Families change as the years go by, but remembering that we did something other than watch the latest Law and Order: CI episode makes me feel like maybe we did have our Walton moments.  It sort of gives me a cozy, reminiscent feeling that is precious.

Click on the picture for a wonderful article on the same topic!

It is rare in this day and age.  It’s much easier when you start young or start when you’re kids are young.  Reading books to kids at bedtime never grows out of date.  Can you remember a parent, grandparent, older sibling or someone who read you bedtime stories?  I think we’ll realize if we ponder long enough that it wasn’t the story so much that we loved the most.  We’d heard that Peter Rabbit story so many times we had it memorized!  No, it was the person who was reading it to us that mattered.  Hearing the voice that cared so much about us that they spent the time to read out loud, no matter how tired they themselves were.  It was hearing the excitement in their voice as they enjoyed the story right along with us.  It was like that moment of time was the only thing of importance, and nothing else existed outside of experiencing the story together with someone else.  This wasn’t something that could be tangibly felt or put into words at the time, but looking back you see how precious that was.

We have the opportunity to pass along the same kinds of memories!  The big secret is that bedtime stories aren’t just for the kids.  Adults love them just as much.  Timeless stories that stand the test of time, like fairy tales or E. Nesbit.  We can enjoy exploring those story worlds with the next generation.

I don't know who painted this, but I'd like to know!But reading aloud doesn’t have to be only for children.  Aging parents, grandparents, the bedridden or anyone who has ears to hear can enjoy being read to.  The unspoken message is that is says someone cares enough to spend time sharing a story with someone else.  You might be in a phase where there isn’t much else to talk about with each other, but you can connect through a story.  In a safe, loving atmosphere, gradually stepping out to read to the people you love can boost self-confidence.  When you hear that first word of encouragement, that first positive laugh over the way you read a humorous line, that “Stop that!  You’re scaring me!” …you will bless yourself for taking up the idea of trying!  Affirmation can make one feel like they can do anything!

Reading aloud is a constructive, imaginative, and creative art.  Edith Schaeffer, in her book “The Hidden Art of Homemaking” suggests it as an outlet for acting.  She says that if you’re a person who had always dreamed of being an actor but never had or took the opportunity, reading out loud to the people nearest you will give you a feeling of fulfillment.

You can be creative about this.  How about reading to each other for a romantic date idea?  I knew of someone who read “Anne of Green Gables” to her college dorm mates on weeknights while they pampered themselves in the bathroom.  Perhaps you’re one of those lucky people who can read during long car rides without getting motion sick.  Read about the sights you’ll be seeing, the history of the places you’ll be going.  When my sister and I were homeschooled, Mom read the history of Genghis Kahn while us girls shelled peas.  My grandma and grandpa started up their church’s library and personally read every book they entered into their card catalog system.  In this way they discovered The Mitford Series, by Jan Karon which they took turns reading aloud to each other.  One summer when I came down with poison ivy really bad, my mom read Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains while I soaked in a ginger bath.  My friend’s mom refused to let her children see the Lord of the Rings until the had completed the trilogy together as a family.  Their goal was to read each book before they hit the theater.

Antsy listeners who can’t keep still while being read to can enjoy the story just as well (or even better) when they have a quiet activity like putting together a puzzle, working on crafts, building models, etc.  Children might want to act the stories out with their stuffed animals as they are listening.  I always listened to a good story with a blanket thrown over my head to block out all distractions.  There is no right or wrong way of doing this.

If you’re still shy about trying this, there are other ways to enjoy reading aloud to others without the live audience. is a wonderful way to read in community!  I once recorded a set of children’s books on audio cassette for some children whose mother didn’t have time to read to them.  It’s a great way to start out and practice at, before offering to read with others physically present.

It requires commitment to complete a story, making time out of everyone’s schedules, patience and courage, but whatever you do, don’t let life slip by without discovering this wonderful pastime!

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Posted by on November 19, 2013 in The Art of Reading Aloud


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The Art of Reading Aloud: Storytelling to Yourself

Little Girl Reading FairyTalesWhen 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!

Delphin Enjolras (May 13, 1857–1945) was a French academic painter. Enjolras painted portraits, nudes, interiors, and used mostly watercolours, oil and pastels. He is best known for his intimate portraits of young women performing mundane activities such as reading or sewing, often by illuminated by lamplight. Perhaps his most famous work is the "Young Woman Reading by a Window"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!)

J.C. Leyendecker 'The Arrow Collar Man reading book' 1916 by Plum leaves (in), via FlickrI 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.

I don’t know much on this subject, I’m just throwing it out there, but some find that reading out loud helps them with dyslexia and ADHD.

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…


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