A Brief Look into Silence

Both silence and vocalization have their own merit.

Reading aloud does not give me as big a sense of freedom as reading silently does, since I find that reading silently provides me with more opportunities than reading aloud does. When reading aloud, I find myself unable to thoroughly process what I have been reading, whereas when I read to myself, I find it simpler to ingest the information which is presenting itself to me on the page before me. Furthermore, as an active introvert, I find it easier to understand content on my own rather than going through text vocally (in a way which reminds me of presenting ideas to other people).

Reading something exclusively for myself within the confines of my mind allows me to focus on every word tying itself to a passage, invites me to create a personal mental image that nobody has ever seen but me in the book, whereas reading the same passage aloud, be it to myself or to others in my vicinity, I cannot quite as easily envision the contents of a passage — my voice-to-brain filter is not as well-formulated as my brain-to-brain filter, and it takes longer for me to process information and pair it with a mental image than it does for me to simply translate a written text into my mind and conjure up a personal understanding of it. Though I would love to share this mental image of mine with others, translating words into an image and then back into words will only confuse the audience to which I am reaching out, thereby rending it thus: I can either read aloud to myself or others to look for a way to evaluate a text as a group, to find a deeper meaning in it based on facts and shared images, or I can read a text to myself and grasp the information it is presenting to me with the help of my personal sensory memories and other cognitive triggers.

On a side note, I write by configuring words in my mind and transferring them onto the page as my mind comes up with the proper words, and so do I read. Reading aloud triggers memories of reading aloud in class in my head, and I feel as if I am restrained by a time limit, that I cannot go back and fix the mistakes I made whilst reading or figure out what exactly the text was talking about which I completely missed whilst trying to effectively render written words into speech. Reading in my head helps me UNDERSTAND what I am reading — it allows me to stop, take a moment to digest the words, to loop them together and supply them with a mental image. Reading aloud constricts me with memories of rushing through a script in class. However, I must sometimes read a passage aloud, slowly articulating each sound, every word, in order to gain access to my concentration and to allow myself to only think about the text before me. Much like St. Augustine mentioned in his Confessions, I find that every person who chooses to read to him/herself rather than reading aloud has a reason to do so, and that this reason is beneficial to the person in question.

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Sometimes, silence can open the doorway to access outside ideas that can further fuel your own

Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” 1951.

5 thoughts on “A Brief Look into Silence”

  1. I really enjoyed your article, and I can relate! As an introvert and a budding writer, I value silence and am growing to appreciate it more and more. When I read quietly, I get to hear the whispered hum of the dorm fan, or birds outside, or crickets, and a deep sense of peace descends upon me. Because I love to write, I tend to get mentally caught up on words. I love studying them in sentences to see how the author describes something or how he portrays a tricky character. Like you, I don’t feel that I have the same freedom when I read aloud; instead, I get entranced by the “acting” part of pronouncing each word perfectly, making fun voices for characters, and bringing the story audibly to life as though I had a stage and an audience. Vocal reading certainly has its place for me: whenever I’m having trouble finishing a homework assignment or it’s late and I can’t focus, reading aloud can help me “get through” those last twenty pages. But at the same time, I don’t always internalize the information, at least not in the same way. I might remember it, but only for a period. So then, have I truly internalized it, or only memorized it?


    1. I agree! Thank you so much for this comment; it made me feel a bit better about questioning myself for wanting to read something for the personal emotional attachment rather than reading something for the atmospheric memories I can share with other people when reading, say, a storybook out loud to a child or, even less personal, reading an assignment aloud to myself to force myself to stay focused on it for a class. I hope we can someday all appreciate the need for both out-loud and mental reading, as they have their own purposes and uses. Another form of reading that I really enjoy is “engaged reading,” or reading with attention to every word and every idea, enough to take notes in the margins of a book. Do you often write down your opinions about a book, or do you usually internalize your ideas into emotions/sensations or thoughts that stay with you over time?


  2. Your post is the first to bring in the connection between silent reading and imagination…something that, I agree, comes much more naturally when reading silently. Does silent reading better suited to furnishing our inner lives, while reading out loud is more relational/musical/physical? In poetry–if I can generalize here–both are important experiences of the text. The “freedom” that silent reading affords (and which some of us use to digress and get distracted…) can also be used to free-associate, cross reference, and delve into our memories: “private” things that we wouldn’t do in vocalized speech. This is another way to “savor” the text, not in our mouths but in our minds.


    1. I personally believe that reading out loud is a means for either sharing memories/sensations with others (i.e. slam poetry, storybooks) or for aiding in concentration (i.e. textbooks, flashcards), while silent reading leaves more traces of personal emotion and internalization of a text’s connections to *you directly*. I agree that poetry oftentimes relies on both silent and audible reading to engage an audience, as I find that it is a medium which requires audience members to explore various sensations they can experience when internalizing poetic language/content in different ways. I really, really appreciate your explanation of silent reading’s influences on a reader’s perspective of a text and of his/her experience while reading! The way you put everything made me feel more “in my own skin,” more comfortable about seeing silence as a bridge between reading and my imagination.


  3. I like the point that you bring up in your first paragraph, though I cannot agree entirely. While reading aloud is helpful for me in many cases, such as when reading old English, there are times where it is generally unhelpful that you just reminded me of. I hate when a teacher calls on someone to read a passage of a text but then asks the same person to answer a question about the text that was just read. When reading aloud, especially with an audience present, it is easy to get lost or focus on things other than the text itself, meaning that silent reading would be more beneficial in a case like this.


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