On reading aloud

April 27, 2016

I remember being quite taken aback at learning, a few years back, that people did not always read silently to themselves. Apparently, up until something like the fifth century or so, even when reading alone, people would vocalise the words as they read – they read aloud, to themselves. And it was quite a discovery, a revelation, when someone realised that you didn’t have to do that; you could just look at the words and read them, and without the vocalising you could read rather faster…

Nowadays, silent reading is the norm, and reading aloud rather less common, I think. We read to infants and small children, and I can still recall the pleasure of reading to, and then reading with, my daughters. There is something magical about the young discovering story, and something conspiratorial as an adult sharing it with them. And, of course, children are read to at school.

I rediscovered reading aloud as a teacher. I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these pages my sharing of readers with my classes and how I based the major part of my teaching on books we read in class. Looking back on it all now, some years later, I think somewhere I was indulging my enjoyment of reading aloud to a certain extent. I would ask for volunteers to read and got them; I would pick on those who never volunteered occasionally; I would go round the class and have everyone read. And every half dozen turns or so, it came back to me to read: to pick up the pace, to reach a suitable pause for the end of a lesson, to bring out the best in a particular passage. Sometimes I would do the voices, or the accents… I think we all enjoyed it, and got the necessary learning done, too.

Poetry is a particular case: most poetry is meant to be read aloud, for then we get the full play of sounds, words, rhyme, rhythm, metre and the rest,which skimming silently over the words on the page cannot give; indeed I would advise students presented with unseen poems to write about in exams to ‘vocalise silently’ to themselves in order to extract the subtleties of the verse to write about.

I listen to many audiobooks (cue mention of Librivox again!) which means that there are many people out there who enjoy reading aloud for others, never knowing who their audience might be. Some read wonderfully well, some rather less so. I’ve found many of the readings of these volunteers very enjoyable. So, I also like being read to…

Somehow, the pleasure is different: the consumption of the text – and therefore its enjoyment – is much slowed. The words themselves, the choice of language, and its rhythms, if the delivery is good, can be savoured. You cannot fast-forward, skip over or skim-read a few pages of an audiobook as you can with the paper and ink version.

As preparation for a certain writing activity, I used to have students focus on each of the five senses individually and try and decide which they would do without, and which they would least wish to be deprived of: their responses were always many and varied. I shared my own reluctance with them, to lose my sight and therefore not be able to read: in such a sad case I would, I imagine, try to find a refuge and a substitute in being read to…

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: