Back to the Storytelling Circle: Why Reading Aloud Should Remain a Habit

Remember being tucked in the covers as a loved one brought words from a favorite childhood book to life?  As listeners transform into readers, audible reading becomes unacknowledged and forgotten.  Readers having a recollection of how profound the out loud reading style can be when in contrast to silent reading.  Ironically, most readers were exposed to books and to language via spoken words but neglect the practice of verbal perusal with increasing age.

Image of parent reading to children.  Photo credit: 

What is the real difference between reading orally and reading silently?  Both forms have benefits pertinent to the types of texts being read.  Typically, reading aloud prevents the reader from skimming over details or confusing vocabulary while ultimately keeping the reader more attentive to the story.  Silent reading has more practicality in most cases, however, with readers possessing the ability to cover text more quickly and read in situations where bystanders would condemn oral reading – even libraries promote silent reading.  In book IV of the Confessions, St. Augustine acknowledges how silence allowed Ambrose to focus on reading because Augustine and his cohorts would “go away” as not to “burden” Ambrose while he read intently (Book IV).  St. Augustine insinuates that discourse is prevented by silent reading.

Likewise, different texts may be beneficial to read in alternate forms.  A speech, for example, is written with the intention of oration and speeches are usually written after having been read aloud.  A textbook however, may be written to condense a large amount of information in a long sentence and the author may expect the reader to silently jump back and forth between multiple sections.  Author Jorge Luis Borges writes in a style that is best comprehended by the act of verbally reading the text as opposed to reading the text silently.  When reading Borges’ “On the Cult of Books” silently, the reader may be tempted to skim through the passage or read through the text with the same speed the reader would indulge in a modern fiction novel, but complications occur such as poor pacing or the perception of the text as a boring read.

What can a writer do to make a text that is more audibly appealing?  Borges uses two elements that make his writing easier to process – freedom of interpretation and selective pausing.  Borges, while he does provide background to quotes he uses in the text, the author keeps unnecessary information to a minimum and allows the quotes to shine based on the quality.  A scholarly writer would more likely focus on the significance and background of a quote as opposed to allowing the reader to draw personal conclusions on the quote.  Using an array of punctuation, Borges also breaks sentences into segments that are audibly alluring.  Certain sections of sentences are unintentionally read with emphasis by the reader, yet the text has greater impact when read in such a way.  The author goes to the effort of placing the reader in a position where it is more comfortable to read his text aloud.

Next time you indulge in a passage, consider approaching the text out load – you might just like what you find.

Works Cited

Augustine. Confessions. Circa 397 CE.

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



2 thoughts on “Back to the Storytelling Circle: Why Reading Aloud Should Remain a Habit”

  1. I really like your observation about silent reading being suited for skimming and fast-reading, not for the savoring of text that we can do with our voices, vocal cords, mouths. We can’t “skim” out loud – we’d sound crazy. As silent readers, are we becoming a culture of skimmers?


  2. You make an interesting point with the idea that different texts are meant to be read differently. If certain pieces are written with a performance aspect in mind, then, of course, it makes sense that it would be more suited to reading aloud. In the same way, a textbook is obviously not intended to be read aloud. Not only is a performing manner not naturally incorporated into the writing, but the copious amounts of information also cannot be absorbed easily.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s