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It Says Here That ...
Time to Re-evaluate the Skill of Reading Aloud?

Mark Pilling teaches English to workers in the oil industry in Qatar and, in response to several recent exchanges on the TESL-L mailing list regarding the usefulness of reading aloud as a classroom activity, he has some unique insights which suggest that ESL/EFL professionals might better rethink our predisposition against such activities. See also related articles on warnings against reading out loud as well as suggested lessons incorporating the activity.

I too appreciate the comments of John Harbord and subsequent advocates regarding reading aloud, and, working in a culture where schooling placed great emphasis on reading aloud, especially in language learning, I used to go to lengths to de-emphasise this expectation and increase the focus and time spent on silent reading, comprehension and other activities to practice and develop speaking skills.

However, I have come to realise that reading aloud does have a place and value and would like to share my thoughts.

Firstly, my learners enjoy reading aloud and listening to others read aloud; moreover they are disappointed if there are few opportunities to do so. Whilst I may not regard this as intrinsically worthwhile, if it is used as a spring-board for further activities and helps the learners appreciate their lessons more, I no longer consider a bit of reading aloud to be a waste of time.

Secondly, and importantly, I've become aware that at work, in the oil industry, my learners are not infrequently asked to read aloud. Field workers read data over the telephone or walkie-talkie. The daily log is read out at the beginning of shift. Instructions and Work Permit details are read out. Office based staff read minutes of meetings, memos, circulars, letters, extracts of reports and contract documents, etc. to others.

Furthermore, the ability to communicate in English is important for our employees' appraisals and critical for their promotion possibilities. Regularly it seems that appraisers, especially those who do not work closely with the appraisee, will judge his or her ability in English on their ability to read aloud.

Indeed, perhaps there is more reading aloud to communicate than we think. "It says here ' .....' ".

By Mark Pilling

2002 ESL MiniConference Online