Reading Aloud: Who Knew How Much it Could Benefit Your Health

Don Marquis, a 19th and early 20th century American humorist, once famously wrote, “If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that’s read by persons who move their lips when they’re reading to themselves.” For Marquis and his audience, lip moving while reading was thought to be the act of an unsophisticated reader. It has been ingrained in our culture for centuries that experienced readers are meant to scan words without participating with their mouths. Just ask any librarian. But, reading aloud actually has a lot of benefits.

Reading Aloud’s Superiority

Yet, as is often the case, the cultural consensus on what constitutes intelligent reading may be off the mark. Ancient scholars all read aloud. St. Augustine, one of the earliest Christian scholars, observed the silent reading of a colleague with curious fascination. As he wrote in his 4th century Confessions, “When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.” As Alberto Manguel notes in his A History of Reading, “This silent perusing of the page was in his time something out of the ordinary…Normal reading was performed out loud.”

The hidden benefits of reading aloud call out

The early learners may have been on to something. Studies have shown that reading aloud may have cognitive benefits that surpass those of silent reading. It can aid writing and the learning of new languages, facilitating the reader’s overall comprehension of text in ways silent reading can’t.

Better Focus

The reasons for spoken reading’s superiority make perfect sense. Speaking, researchers Trish Sousa, Jonathan Carriere, and Daniel Smilek wrote in 2013, engages more cognitive processes than reading in silence. Speech offers a way to actively participate with text, enabling the reader better focus on the words on the page.

Yet Slower Speed

Yet not everyone in the academic community is on board with the scientifically-validated out loud approach. In an article titled “Bad Reading Habits and How to Break Them,” The University of Alabama Center for Academic Success cautions that out-loud literacy can slow a reader down. “Moving your lips slows you to a fast talking rate, about 150 words per minute,” this article reads.

But Better Understanding

Yet what good is reading fast if you absorb little or none of what you read? The next time you see a reader moving his lips, don’t look down on him. Like any of us, he’s simply trying to better understand. And he may be doing a darn good job of it.


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Last updated: 04.13.2017

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and it is not meant to be relied on as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult your physician before starting any exercise or dietary program or taking any other action respecting your health. In case of a medical emergency, call 911.

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