Silent Reading and the Power of Voice

Our current culture is immersed in the idea of silent reading, at least from what I’ve gathered and observed over the course of my academic years. Very rarely do I see people use the power of voice when it comes to literature and I can see the disadvantages to that. When I read parts of this passage out loud to myself, it felt so much different than reading silently. Being able to vocally articulate and comprehend what I’m reading makes for a smoother and easier learning experience. Speaking out loud adds emotional depth that silent reading does not offer in most cases. I find that if I am struggling to understand something, regardless of the subject, reading and speaking my thoughts out loud give me a sense of clarity and ease.

Maya Angelou quote taken from timetoshinepodcast.com

As an introvert more times than not, reading silently is much more comfortable but we must all challenge ourselves to use the power of voice. I believe we as humans have resorted to silent reading mainly because technology makes it so easy to do so. In the ancient times, there were no printing presses and no computers to quickly find and mass produce information and texts. They had to pass stories and history down through word of mouth. We are meant to be vocal; we all have unique voices that we should be sharing with the world. I have never thought to question the strangeness of silent reading; it’s become so commonplace. We all have heard the term “knowledge is power” and it makes me wonder how can knowledge be shared if we all stay silent?

I personally enjoy reading to myself a lot but when I think about it, sitting in silence for hours on end staring at page after page is kind of weird. At times, it can be quite frustrating when I need to share what I’m reading but the other person has no clue what the content is. In Borges essay, he mentions St. Augustine’s inner battle with a silent reader: “around the year 384; thirteen years later, in Numidia, he wrote his Confessions and was still troubled by that extraordinary sight: a man in a room, with a book, reading without saying the words.” (Borges). The fact that St. Augustine never forgot about this man silently reading and even wrote about it several years after the fact shows just how weird this was during the time.

I think there needs to be a balance of silent and out loud reading. I am not religious but having been within the church several times, the bible seems to have more of an effect on people when scripture is spoken out loud; for a congregation to read as individuals dampens the meaning. Or in a school setting, there is nothing wrong with assigning silent reading amongst each student and then coming together to voice opinions later. There should never be more over the other, out loud reading and silent reading go hand in hand.

Work Cited

Borges, Jorge Luis. “One the Cult of Books” (1951) Selected Nonfictions (New York: Penguin, 2000). Ed. Eliot Weinberger. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine and Eliot Weinberger.

3 thoughts on “Silent Reading and the Power of Voice”

  1. I agree about there needing to be a balance between reading silently and aloud. I find myself reading more to myself than to others, but I would like to try and read more out loud when I can. I like how you said we all have unique voices and they are meant to be shared. We do all have a story to tell and we should share them with others. Also, I love the quote by Maya Angelou

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  2. By a “balance” of silent and voiced reading, I think that we’re getting at the importance of being conscious of the difference, and of the virtues of each. Yes! That’s the outcome that I hope that we achieve in this conversation.

    Also: In your post, Haleigh, you mention “power,” and I want to add that – in fact – matters of social power and privilege were wrapped up in silent reading (and, of course, in literacy to begin with), and that we should not forget that, either! I found an excellent article, “The Beginning of Silent Reading Changed Westerners’ Interior Life” (https://qz.com/quartzy/1118580/the-beginning-of-silent-reading-was-also-the-beginning-of-an-interior-life/), that touches on this point:

    “If silent reading was in fact rare or rude in ancient times, then at some point the expectation of readers in society shifted. As late as the 1700s, historian Robert Darnton writes, “For the common people in early modern Europe, reading was a social activity. It took place in workshops, barns, and taverns. It was almost always oral but not necessarily edifying.”

    But by the time Marcel Proust was writing in the late 1800s, his narrator hoping for time to read and think alone in his bed, reading privately had become more of a norm for wealthy, educated people who could afford books and idle bedroom rumination.” (Thu-Huong Ha, Quartzy, November 2017)

    SO that is another dimension of “power” which you didn’t explicitly mention, but which is no doubt worth exploring as well.

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  3. I am in agreement to the fact that verbal reading should be more prevalent than it is today. I also agree with the fact that there is a time and place for everything, with both verbal and silent reading having benefits. While I am not sure that the balance of both should be completely equal, seeing as silent reading is still more practical in most cases, I like that you mentioned how both verbal and silent reading should coincide. I am glad that you referred back to the history of story sharing, which is rooted in verbal stories passed down between generations.

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