Reading in the head doesn’t exercise your vocal organs (lips, tongue, and throat). Reading out loud does. It exercises the same vocal organs that you exercise when speaking to someone. Fundamentally, that’s the main reason reading out loud improves your fluency.
As a child, you may have read out loud in your English classes, but this exercise works for adults as well. It works for any level of fluency, but will benefit the most who are at average to above average level.
A word of caution and a note before we get into thick of the post.
Caution: Reading out loud, or in fact any other exercise, cannot replace speaking to get better at speaking. You’ve to speak to get better at speaking. Reading out loud will hone your fluency, but it can’t work in isolation.
Note: While reading out loud, don’t focus on comprehension. It’s fine if you don’t understand what you’re reading.
Without further ado, reading out loud will help your fluency in following ways:
1. It brings clarity to your voice
Because your vocabulary is limited, you speak a limited range of words again and again in your daily conversations. But when you read out loud from a newspaper or a book, you cover a much broader range of words. What does this do?
You speak a wider variety of sounds. Your vocal organs – lips, throat, and tongue – get exercised in ways not exercised before, which makes your voice clearer. (I’ve noticed that although I’ve been reading out loud only in English, my voice even in my native language has become clearer. There are no shortcuts though. You’ve to practice regularly for few months before you notice the first green shoots.)
Reading out loud also maintains base level of practice for your vocal cords in case you don’t get opportunity to speak on some days. You may not realize this, but not speaking English for days together will affect – even if in small way – your ability to produce relevant sounds perfectly. To give an extreme example, Zeng, a Chinese man, lost his voice after not speaking for twelve years to avoid getting found for the murder he had committed. His vocal cords, which are nothing but muscles, atrophied because of non-use for such long period.
2. It improves pronunciation
English is a non-phonetic language, which means words in English language are not necessarily pronounced the way they’re written. For example, whereas bottle and take are pronounced the way they’re written, bomb and receipt are not pronounced the way they’re written. That’s why mastering pronunciation in English takes effort.
Reading out loud is one of the key exercises that improve pronunciation.
Reading out loud regularly acts as a revision board for the pronunciation you’re learning. The words whose pronunciation you learnt will come up in your reading-out-loud exercise sooner or later and speaking them loud is one of the best exercise to embed pronunciations in your long-term memory (here, you’re unwittingly doing spaced repetition, albeit bit randomly).
Repeated pronunciations of a new word as part of a full sentence (while reading out loud) help you cross the gulf you feel when using the word in a conversation for the first 2-3 times. You’ll feel the gulf and hesitate even if you’ve listened to the pronunciation and spoken it few times. To give an example, try pronouncing on tenterhooks or ignominious or miscreant as part of a sentence. You’ll feel bit odd while pronouncing them even if you know their pronunciations inside out. (I’ve experienced this many times.) That’s because you haven’t pronounced them as often as, say, get or run or beautiful. Reading out loud, if done regularly, does it for you.
3. It can act as a practice ground for other components of your speech
You can practice following while reading out loud:
- Pauses (at full stops and commas),
- Intonation (the rise and fall in your voice),
- Emphasis (laying stress on certain parts of a sentence), and
- Pace (slow or fast) of your speech
Remember, what you practice becomes reality.
Reading out loud can also help overcome fear of listening own voice, which some have.
Tweak the exercise if your speaking skills are at a basic level
If your speaking skills are at a basic level, you face a challenge. You may read as flat as a fizzled soda, you may read each word so distinctly that you sound like a robot, or you may mispronounce a lot, but with no one to correct you.
If you fall in this category, you should ideally start with reading out small chunks (one or two sentences) and checking how you fared with the audio of that text. All you need is transcript and audio/ video, which you can get from audiobooks with transcripts and YouTube videos with transcripts.
Another option is videos produced specifically for this purpose. An example:
Pause the audio/ video, read a sentence or two aloud, and listen to what you just read by playing the audio/ video. Repeat the cycle few times every day.
Tip: If you’re a beginner, listen a lot to progress your English Language skills fast.
How often should I read out loud?
You can start with a session of five minutes per day and then take it to two sessions separated by at least few hours. Just ten minutes can work well for you provided you do it regularly. You can in fact make these sessions part of your regular reading, wherein you take out five minutes to read out loud.
What to read?
Although reading out loud any kind of text will help, prioritize dialogues because they’re closer to real conversations. So, pick fiction books or scripts of movies and plays, which are rich in conversation, for your reading out loud exercises. You can find plenty of such content for free on Google.
When reading dialogues out loud, speak as if you’re portraying the character in the conversation. Show the emotions – anger, surprise, shock, happiness, and so on – depicting what you’re reading. See the above YouTube video to get what I just said.