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Spoken Words; Read Out Loud

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1. What do you think of reading aloud/being read to? Does it bring back memories of your childhood? Your children’s childhood?

Bedtime stories had never been part of my childhood memories. My parents, busy as they were working, fixing dinner, and following through our daily heavy load of homework assignment, could never be held responsible for not reading to us. However, they encouraged reading, making trips to the library with us and picking books that would expand our mind beyond what was taught in class. In school, for both Chinese and English language studies (I grew up in Hong Kong in the 1970s, reared up in bilingual colonial education), teachers gave dictation exercises for which we had to write down exactly, word for word, what was read out loud. That became handy when I studied a third and fourth language because my ears were by then fairly well-trained.

2. Does this affect the way you feel about audio books?

Audio book is a new concept to me. I don’t usually listen to audio books unless I’m driving. My preferred format is still the printed books. The tangible experience of a book in my hands is irreplaceable. I am an old-fashioned reader who enjoys reading, re-reading the lines and passages, turning back a page or two, and flipping through the pages. Audio does not permit that self pace I am allowed with reading an actual book. What if I want a line or a sentence repeated? What if I miss a paragraph altogether? I scribble notes as I read and even with the e-reader I find it very difficult to do so.

3. Do you now have times when you read aloud or are read to?

Certain books have to be read out loud in order to be comprehended. Books written in colloquial and vernacular are better understood when you hear the flow of words. A perfect example is Nora Nearle Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Toni Morrison’s beautiful language that piles one perspective on another, usually between reality and un-reality, becomes more accessible when I read out loud to myself. So is the case with any novels written in stream of consciousness, like Virginia Woolf. The meandering, interlocking, overlaying sentences simply disentangle and afford pictures of still-life when Woolf’s passages are read out loud. Try reading out loud a chapter or two next time if you find a book difficult to understand, which is usually the case if it is not plot-driven.

4 Responses

  1. I always remember a book that I’ve read aloud distinctly. It’s never a book I read, but a book I read aloud. Hurston’s, as you’ve said, was one of mine. (So wonderful, but I wouldn’t have persisted without that spoken element.) Maxine Hong Kingston and Michael Ondaatje, too, because their prose is so beautiful that I need to shape the words myself or they slip past in a blur of beauty. Nice to know there are others to do this too!

    • I remember having trouble understanding Hurston in high school. I couldn’t concentrate because almost half the words (the vernacular) I couldn’t comprehend at first sight. When I read it out loud and hear the words, they make perfect sense. It’s like magic. I use the same tactic when I encounter a difficult book. It works for a book in very lush and dense prose, like Virginia Woolf and Henry James’s.

  2. I was read to as a kid and love audiobooks now, though I’ve never connected the two. You make an excellent point about difficult-to-understand books. I’ve read passages out loud to myself, but I’ve also listened to audiobooks of that sort of book, and it’s almost always easier for me to understand. Especially those that utilize distinct dialects or vernacular.

    • Dialects and colloquial are called so because their phonetics and pronunciation are variations of the standard spoken language. This is when reading out loud really helps me understand the meanings. In my high school writing class, the teacher also encouraged us to read out loud the essays we have written. That helps with the overall flow and fluidity of the paper.

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