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How reading aloud can benefit your mind, body and relationships

How reading aloud can benefit your mind, body and relationships
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Why reading aloud isn’t just for children: it reduces stress, improves memory and strengthens relationships, experts say

As a child, Alakananda Bhattacharya loved when her English teacher would ask her to read aloud to the class.

Over the years, the 43-year-old singer and writer based in Delhi, India, has continued to read aloud.

She credits the practice with improving her diction and pronunciation, which helps her singing and promotes her interest in theatre. But she also finds connection, entertainment and joy through reading aloud.

“I sometimes read to myself, but mostly to others, including my young nephews and nieces, my husband and friends. It makes the whole experience more enjoyable,” she says.

Alakananda Bhattacharya has enjoyed reading aloud from a young age. For her, it brings the text and characters in a book to life. Photo: Alakananda Bhattacharya

Reading to children is a common and encouraged practice. It helps to expand their vocabulary, strengthen fluency, and foster empathy and creativity. It also builds stronger bonds between reader and listener. Studies show it may also lift the reader’s mood.

Adults reading aloud to themselves or other adults is less common, as reading silently becomes the norm as you grow older.

Bhattacharya and her husband enjoy reading excerpts of books to one another. Photo: Alakananda Bhattacharya

There are several advantages to reading aloud, including stress reduction, boosting memory and strengthening relationships.

A 2007 study of community reading groups in the UK found social and therapeutic benefits for participants, providing them with a sense of shared experience.

Liau Yun Qing hosts the monthly Read-Aloud Singapore Book Club for adults. Unlike other book clubs, most members have not read the book before attending. They take turns to read it aloud in the session, pausing intermittently for discussion.

“I like that we get to experience the book at the same time. The impromptu sharing cuts down on people feeling like they need to be clever when sharing their thoughts,” Liau says.

“It’s nice to hear how different people read. Sharing your voice with another is a nice bonding experience and quite intimate.”

Liau Yun Qing, co-founder of the Read-Aloud Singapore Book Club. Photo: Liau Yun Qing

When reading to someone, the reader shows they care by investing their time and attention in the listener, who feels appreciated.

“Reading aloud means that reading is shared. And, as we say, sharing is caring,” says literacy specialist Beverly Sace at Books and Brains Literacy Services, an educational consultancy in Hong Kong.

Sace recommends parents read not only to young children, but to their teenagers, too.

“Essentially, the underlying effect is supportive of … relationship bonding. Teenagers look forward to this time and it can be used as a point in the week to touch base.”

As a teenager, Sace would read to her grandmother, who had cataracts.

Literacy specialist Beverly Sace highlights the importance of reading aloud as one of the most important things parents and teachers can do: It sets children up for success. Photo: Beverly Sace

“I felt close to her because of this. Many years ago, as a busy mom doing my master’s and cramming for exams, my then 10-year-old read me my textbooks. These are all special memories.”

Bhattacharya agrees. “When I have friends over, I often read their horoscopes to them and it becomes quite entertaining. Finding ways to bond without using a screen is quite an accomplishment nowadays.”

Reading aloud can promote intimacy between partners. Photo: Shutterstock

Reading to your partner can bring you closer and is a great way to spend time together. Bhattacharya reads comics to her husband on train journeys, and they both read excerpts from books they enjoy to each other.

“You go through this journey together, experience the ups and downs of the plot, laugh, feel and think about the characters together. It’s hard not to bond over that,” Bhattacharya says.

Reading aloud may also help communicate thoughts and feelings that you are unable to express directly with your partner, if the author describes ideas that echo your own.

“Because it is not so ‘personal’ coming from the writer – a third person, rather than you – if your partner disagrees or exhibits feelings of discomfort, you can control the communication and say, ‘I’m just sharing some feelings with you, what do you think?’” says Dr Melanie Bryan, a Hong Kong-based couples’ therapist and clinical psychologist.

Psychologist Dr Melanie Bryan says reading aloud may help to communicate thoughts and feelings that you are unable to express directly with your partner. Photo: MindMatters

“It also shares the idea that the reader is not alone; there are others who feel the same way.”

As adults, many of us read aloud instinctively, without even realising it, to make sense of complex information. Verbalising language activates auditory and visual processing in our brains, which aids comprehension and allows us to better understand text.

Along with comprehension, reading aloud helps improve memory. People consistently remember words and text better if read aloud rather than silently, something known as the “production effect” – where “producing” items by saying, writing or typing them leads to memory improvements relative to silent reading.

Much like how singing a song or reciting a nursery rhyme helps us remember the words, vocalising the text increases our ability to commit it to memory.

Sharing your voice with others while reading aloud can make for an intimate bonding experience. Photo: Shutterstock

Whether you want to be a better writer, speaker, reader or listener, reading aloud can help. Reading fluently, with appropriate rhythm, accuracy and expression, hones oration skills.

It can also improve your writing. Reading that email or article draft out loud helps spot errors, abrupt transitions and awkward sentences.

“There are always instances when I find certain minute errors, or maybe better ways of expressing myself, once I hear what I’ve written,” Bhattacharya says.

With shortening attention spans, active listening is challenging for many. Reading aloud strengthens this skill, helping us internalise the words and reflect on their meaning.

Alakananda Bhattacharya enjoys reading to her nephews and nieces. Photo: Alakananda Bhattacharya

Hearing the richness and beauty of words read out loud is also a pleasurable experience. It can be relaxing, as reading aloud enables us to slow down and luxuriate in the process.

A study from the University of Sussex, in the UK, found that as little as six minutes of reading reduces stress levels by 68 per cent among adults.

The ability to be transported to a different reality provides an escape to the reader and listeners, which can help alleviate stress and provide a distraction from their concerns and anxieties.

However, reading aloud can be stressful for some – including those with speech or reading impediments.

Sace says that although reading aloud offers benefits to the reader and the listener, we shouldn’t force children to read if they don’t want to. Photo: Beverly Sace

“Confidence is such a fragile thing and any negative experiences related to reading should be avoided as this can exacerbate difficulties,” says Sace, adding that we should not force children to read in front of others if they do not want to.

Similarly, it can be stressful for adults who are uncomfortable reading aloud to be put on the spot, or for those who do not want to be read to.

“I would be very annoyed if someone tried to read aloud to me without my consent,” Liau says.

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