Were you forced to read out loud as a child? Do you still read aloud? Chances are you have learnt the habit of silent reading. I admit openly that reading my work out loud was not a habit. However, when recovering from serious problems with my eyes, it is something I do almost every time I write. More correctly, I have the computer read it to me.
Doing so actually helps spot errors. There are times, when I have the software read a single sentence as many as ten times, before being 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 taking another step before publication. That gives you additional time to reflect on many aspects of the things that you have actually written. Did you mean to say that? Often the words written, seem at first glance correct, but are far from it. A second (third, or even fourth) look should be natural for writers. All too many people dash to publish, when more care shouls be taken. Use every tactic possible to make sure your 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. It cannot be helped as when we speak our accent comes into play. Truth is two different people will say exactly the same words in slightly different ways. Each will place a different emphasis on the various parts of the sentences or paragraphs as they speak. Accent is fascinating as there are hundreds of accents both local and foreign. Each impacts understanding.
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 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. Thankfully, as far as the public know, they have editors to to perfect the work. Editors catch most mistakes. 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 I spotted some as software read the words on a web page 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 place 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”. The writer is confusing it with “they’re”, correct use “there are”. Reading this aloud may not have highlighted the error, should you believe the contraction a valid form. While invalid for use as narration, a speaker may use this term if using a peculiar accent. Therefore it would be valid for speech.
The words “Mediterranean diet” are incorrectly used. A direct article is used. It 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. 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. Editors may find it tough to identify these errors 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 should be ‘civilised enough’. Such a simple slip. My reading software catches so many of these errors when I make them in my writing. The worst aspect here it that this is normally the type of error you need another person to find for you. The reason, you will always read the sentence as you planned it, 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 look to be in past tense. “Melted” being correct. On the other-hand, if the sentence were in current tense then “melts” would be appropriate. The verb ‘melt’ is always affected by the tense in which it is used. When it becomes a noun it is “melting”. Misuse is 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.