Reading Aloud

On reading things aloud as an adult. Recently, I’ve started reading Terry Pratchett aloud to myself. Why, you might ask, is a grown man reading aloud, when he is perfectly capable of reading silently? Allow me to outline my reasons.

First it helps me read Terry Pratchett. Despite my affection for Terry Pratchett, I often find his work challenging to read. It’s not so much that his prose is sophisticated or complex. It’s that his humor often comes from presenting a clever twist of some sort, often in his word choice or his analogy. Pratchett is a master of the “anachronistic yet fitting” descriptions, using an odd word choice or analogy to re-frame the events in his stories in a way that is both completely unexpected and completely appropriate, which is precisely what makes them hilarious. It’s brilliant, yes, but at also it makes one exceptionally conscious of how much of reading is not done by the eyes, but by the brain, which fills in the blanks of what your eyes just cruise over  based on patterns that you are used to reading. You can get away with it more when you’re reading silently—indeed, often your mind won’t even realize that you’ve misread something. Reading aloud forces you to slow down and actually think about the words that you’re saying, and better appreciate the jokes.

Second, it’s good practice. Reading aloud is a lot more difficult than it seems, especially if you’re used to reading silently, because it requires you to slow down and “read ahead” before you speak. If you read too quickly, you will often find yourself starting sentences with incorrect inflections because you began the sentence not knowing how it would end, or you will find yourself misspeaking and stammering because the sentence took an unexpected turn somewhere around the middle. If you have ever done a “cold read” of a theater script you probably know this. Again, the only way to get better at “slow reading” is to practice.

Third, it gives me a chance to practice accents. Accents are great, but you never get a chance to do them ordinary conversation (except when role playing, or when you are in the absolute best of company).

Fourth, as a chance to practice good speaking. A lot of the time, speaking at formal events requires you to modify your speech in a way that makes it more similar to writing. Normal, off-the-cuff speech is quite messy, full of false starts, sentence fragments, stammers, repetition, and other sins that would stick out rather sorely in written text (this is, incidentally, why one of the surest ways to make someone look like a blithering idiot is to exactly transcribe of something they actually said, complete with every “um…”). Reading aloud helps you make your regular speech more articulate and precise, when you want it to be.

Fifth, because one of these days, I anticipate reading aloud to children. It’s never too early to start… again.


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