I’ve been hearing the sound of my own voice a lot lately. I hear it when I read Peepo. I hear it when I read Goodnight Moon. I hear it when I read Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy – and all the other firm favourites that make up my 11-month-old’s burgeoning library.
Reading with my baby is one of my favourite things to do. Mainly, I love watching his little round face light up with joy and anticipation. But also there’s something quite enjoyable about simply saying the words out loud – especially ones like “bees put on skis, ants put on pants and ptarmigans [tahr-mi-guh ns] put on cardigans”. (Source: Oi Goat!)
Our own day-to-day writing may not have rhyming couplets or interjecting animal noises, but there is value in reading your written work out loud. In a chapter entitled Revising by Reading Aloud. What the Mouth and Ear Know, Professor Peter Elbow discusses how the process can help you to improve your writing.
So, what are some of the benefits to reading out your prose?
Catching errors: reading out loud slows you down. That means it’s easier to spot mistakes that you might just miss if you’re simply scanning your work at the end.
Punctuating properly: unsure of where to put that comma? By reading out the sentence, you’ll have a better idea of where you need to punctuate.
Eliminating complexity: if you’re stumbling over long words or gasping for breath mid-paragraph, you know you need to simplify.
Avoiding repetition: does a particular word feature too frequently on the page? You might notice it more if you hear yourself saying it for the eleventh time.
Finding the right word: you’ve found the perfect word in the thesaurus – but it sounds clunky and awkward when you read it out. Probably best to substitute it for another one.
Refining your rhythm: it’s not just nursery books that need rhythm. Listen to your voice as you read out your writing. Does it sound monotonous and robotic, or does it flow freely and naturally? Don’t be afraid to tinker around till it sounds just right.
Ultimately, it’s all about creating a better reading experience.
As Elbow points out: “Reading aloud gives us a glimpse of how readers hear us. When we hear ourselves speak the words we’ve written, it’s almost as though we’ve magically brought another person into the room. Reading aloud vastly increases audience awareness.”
Now, go ahead, give it a go,
Just don’t wake up the Gruffalo.*
*Or a napping baby.