Reading out Loud
That was something we were forced to do as a child in junior school when learning to read. I have to openly admit that reading my work aloud was not a habit I had ever developed, until recovering from serious problems with my eyes, but now it is something I do almost every time I write, or more correctly I have the computer read it to me. Doing so actually helps spot the errors, there have been times when I have the software read me a single sentence as many as ten times before I can be satisfied that it is right. Worse; it is the times I do not have it read aloud that I have published errant work.
One aspect about reading your work aloud (or having it read to you by someone else) is that it is another step that must be performed before publication and gives you additional time to reflect on many aspects of the things that you have actually written. Did you mean to say that? Often there are words we write which seem at first glance to be correct, but can be far from it, a second (or third) look should be a natural course. There are all too many people that dash to publish, when they should use every possible tactic to ensure their presentation is edited, polished, improved, then modified again until it is right.
Speaking is Different from Reading
When we say anything out loud we will do so with a slightly different emphasis than a person reading those same words, it is a fact of life and cannot be helped as when we speak our accent comes into play and truth is two different people will say exactly the same words in slightly different ways, they will place a different emphasis on the various parts of the sentences or paragraphs as they speak. Accent is fascinating and there can be hundreds of accents both local and foreign that impact how our work is understood.
When you read your piece out loud you are looking for a natural ebb and flow rather like water flowing down the stream, it should both inform but sound natural in the process, sentences should flow naturally, the point of reading it aloud is to ensure this happens. Any other result should cause you to edit what you have written.
I have both edited for an on-line magazine and moderated articles on a general writing web site and have seen many challenging submissions. One day I found myself looking at a poorly written submission, many of the ideas in it were good, but the sentences were badly constructed. Using the reading software it became clear where the sentences failed to make sense, for example where the writer failed to make proper use of definite and indefinite articles, but also where phrases were incomplete, making the ideas difficult to read, omitting words makes a massive difference to understanding.
The Flow of the Words
Words are peculiar objects, we cannot simply throw them in the air and use them as they land, normally words MUST be used in a specific order to make any sense, miss out a crucial word (often a small one like “in”, “of”, or “at”) and the whole phrase changes its meaning or perhaps loses meaning altogether. Truth is even highly paid writers make basic mistakes in their haste to get something completed for a deadline but thankfully, as far as the public are concerned, they have editors to catch the mistakes (well the majority of them anyway), yet even with the quality control cycle that happens with professionally published books it is still possible to find errors and some people delight in telling the editorial staff about what they have found.
Here are a few examples that I have noted over the years:
- “… practising yoga since early can overcome various health problems”
- “If there’re fat people it is because they have abandoned Mediterranean diet…”
- “… his generosity and courage to speak truth…”
- “Why most of the men prefer beautiful girlfriend.”
- “… you must a good command of english…”
- “I think that the “paranormal activity” is any strange event which can’t be proved or understood…”
- “… they passed it on following generations”
- “We are not enough civilized for Facebook”
- “… it melt my lipstick away.”
Each of these are real-life examples of errors I have spotted which could be rectified easily had the writer read the work aloud, indeed some were spotted most effectively as the software read the words to me.
Breaking them down
A few days ago I woke early to practice my yoga exercises, trouble is my wife found me locked in position where I had fallen asleep, rising early was not a good idea after all. It is likely the writer meant to say “…practicing yoga from an early age can overcome various health problems…” another acceptable phase is “since early in your life”. This is certainly one of those mistakes another person would have spotted reading aloud.
I cannot skip over the errant contraction “there’re” it seems the writer is confusing it with “they’re” correct use “there are” may not have been spotted by reading aloud if you believe the contraction to be valid, to my mind this is invalid for narration, but is possibly something someone may say if using a peculiar accent so may be valid in speech.
The words “Mediterranean diet” are used incorrectly because it is a direct article, so should always be referred to as “the Mediterranean diet”. Truth is too many people are getting lazy with their use of direct or indirect articles at the current time and forgetting that nouns must always be prefixed by “a”, “an”, or ‘the”. We normally speak “the truth” and of course inserting “the” before “paranormal activity” in the next phrase is a case of superfluous usage. Most men do prefer a beautiful girlfriend and that particular sentence came using “the men” which is not required.
Of course “they” should pass it on “to” following generations, this is an example of people dropping those vitally important little words from their sentences, the ones most commonly dropped are “it”, “is” “in”, “at”, “or”, “and”, and “to”. If writers read their article out loud they would realise that these little words are actually missing, it is easy to make a slip in your typing and it can be tough to pick these errors up without reading the words out loud.
Switching word order can make a lot of difference as in “we are not enough civilized for Facebook” we may not be enough civilised but we should be civilised enough, such a simple slip. My reading software catches so many of these in my writing and the worst aspect here it that this is normally the type of error you need another person to find for you, because you will always read the sentence as it should be not as it actually is.
The last one of these would certainly have been found by reading it out loud “… it melt my lipstick away” the words seem to me to be in past tense so the word should be “melted”, but if the sentence were in current tense then “melts” would be appropriate, but the verb melt is always affected by the tense it is used in and when it becomes a noun it is “melting”. Misuse should be clearer from reading aloud.
Reading aloud doesn’t provide the solution to every error in our writing, but it is a good way to help resolve some of the problems of editing and perfecting English usage.