For years, I assumed everyone heard words as they read. I am no longer sure they do.
I got my first reading voice after Mrs. B, our teacher, said to another student “Johnny, read silently so the rest of us don’t have to hear you.” My inner voice jelled in that moment. Somehow I knew that if I did not move my lips Mrs. B would not hear me and if Mrs. B could not hear me she would not steal my voice.
I talk to people about reading and watch people read. It seems that Johnny might have failed to save his voice; he took Mrs. B’s admonition to heart and learned to read silently. He stopped moving his lips and quieted his external voice but too young to understand the difference between out-loud and loud, he also suppressed his inner voice. When Mrs. B said “ … read silently … “ Johnny worked to make his inner voice as thin as possible, or worse to read without hearing, to create a mental path from shapes on paper to memorized definition to language center; a long, unnatural route. I speculate that intentionally weakened voices and reading from shapes lie behind slow readers and the common dislike of reading. When we hear the words, books speak. If we need to analyze shapes to determine definition, voice disappears into an uncomfortable puzzle. For the sake of readers everywhere, I hope I am wrong about people losing their voices, that instead words speak to most readers from the page. If people stifle voice so no one hears, teachers who said “read silently“ instead of “read with your inside voice“ have serious karma to deal with.
© 2009 Chrome Poet