Read out loud or silently?

During ESL lessons the situation often occurs that a block of text should be read by the student. This presents the situation of whether the text should be read out loud or silently. Just what are the benefits and drawbacks of reading out loud vs. reading silently?


Regarding comprehension, reading silently offers the opportunity for the student to reread sections of the text if needed. If the text is read out loud, the student usually reads on if the pronunciation is more or less accurate. This is the case whether or not the text was understood by the student. However, it has been suggested that reading a text out loud aids comprehension because parts of the brain that govern speech that would not otherwise be in use during the act of reading, become activated by reading out loud. This can help those who rely on aural memory to help them remember things.

Reading every word vs. scanning

When a person reads out loud, they read each word of each sentence in the order in which it is laid out on the page. when answering reading comprehension questions, however, a person scans the text for the information needed. This applies to formal English tests like the Cambridge or Trinity College tests. So a person preparing for one of these tests would do well to read silently most or all of the time.

Drawbacks of reading out loud

Another drawback to reading out loud is that it does not involve other students very much, so the benefits to the class as a whole are quite limited. Many students find it distracts them from their own comprehension to listen to another person read a text out loud. In addition, other students often struggle to pronounce words correctly. This means the other students hear poor examples of pronunciation. Students listening to another student read have their textbooks open to the text being read, allowing them to follow along. The listening comprehension involved here is limited by the fact that students will likely be reading along in addition to listening.

A person can read faster by looking at whole words or groups of words rather than single words. Reading out loud focuses on pronunciation, so readers usually focus intently on each word and even each letter. This slows down the reader a lot. And, there are some words that are in the text that are not crucial for understanding it. these include linking words and articles.

Practicing pronunciation

Practicing pronunciation is better accomplished by focusing on smaller chunks of text featuring more limited practice points than those located in an entire text. An entire text may include too great a variety of pronunciation tasks for it to be an effective way to focus on pronunciation, and students may become overwhelmed.

All in all, reading silently and reading out loud both have their benefits. Reading blocks of text silently does, however, allow the student to read faster, and allows for rereading the text when necessary. Whether a student comprehends more by reading out loud or silently is not known, and likely depends on the learning styles of those students involved.

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