The mouth and the ear are trusted accomplices that help us understand the written word. These organs of speech and hearing, if effectively used, makes it easy to revise and understand not only what we have written, but also that which has been read to us. This academic ritual, trusted since time immemorial, has even made some of us recite with clarity the bedside tales that our grandparents read to us. However, if the truth be told, our generation has unconsciously resolved not to test everything they write against the mouth and ear.
The result is disappointing! Since most students do not “hear” the words they write, this shows in their poorly-written essays. Peter Elbow, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, strongly argues that reading aloud should become a staple in every classroom. He believes that the writer is the starting point in the process. The writer should write in such a way that the reader will find the language clear and comfortable to read. To achieve this, the writer should read aloud the draft, and then instinctively find faults in the prose. Often we see the silent reader mouthing over words in a newspaper article trying to decode the meaning. This is an attempt to read aloud, so as to understand the written material. If the words in the mouth sound right in the ear, the resulting sentence will be clear.
This invaluable academic ritual should not only be relegated to elementary schooling, but should be cultivated even in the newsroom. Writers should convey their message to the public in clear and uncertain terms. The silent reader should not find a written piece a thorn in the tongue! To eliminate syntax errors such as repetition, verbosity and redundancy, the writer should first read aloud alone and identify the problems in the prose. If the words do not sound well in the mouth, the ear will get rid of them and the eyes will be instructed to look away from the script. It is thus instructive that writers should make reading aloud a ritual before they submit articles for publication. Liberty Voice Institute has even gone a step further, making it mandatory for its writers to voice record their written pieces before submitting them for publication. This is because, when one reads out aloud, the “ear can hear the annoying clang of repetition and other syntax errors.” One is also able to identify long and unnecessary sentences that might be a barrier to understanding the written work.
As for the visually impaired, the importance of making reading aloud a ritual cannot be over-emphasized. Abraham Mateta, a visually-impaired law student at the University of Leeds, agrees that most braille readers are slow readers, which affects their understanding of prose. “Visually impaired people are exposed to having written material read for them instead of reading for themselves. As a result, if reading aloud is not done properly, it impacts on their understanding of the content.” Therefore, the implication is that the material should be crafted in such a way that the impaired listener can quickly digest the new information. Reading aloud should thus be an indispensable ritual that makes listeners and writers understand the written word.
Opinion by Shepherd Mutsvara
Elbow. (2010) Revising by Reading Aloud. What the Mouth and the Ear Know.
Top And Featured Image Courtesy of Paul Martinez’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License.