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Social media posts, newspapers, shop signs: IOE study reveals that adult reading aloud is widespread

20 August 2019

Findings from a survey into contemporary reading aloud practices indicate that adults in the UK read aloud in a variety of contexts and for a multitude of reasons, despite the mainstream conception of reading as a silent, individual process.

Two men reading a map aloud

‘Adults Reading Aloud: a Survey of Contemporary Practices in Britain’, co-written by UCL Institute of Education (IOE) academics Dr Sam Duncan and Dr Mark Freeman, aims to uncover when, where, how and why adults read aloud, to themselves and to others.

While there is an abundance of literature about reading aloud to children and as a teaching tool, the authors argue that there is little research into the reading aloud practices that adults carry out at home, at work or in the community.

The pair analysed answers from 529 respondents to a national survey into oral reading and found almost all of the respondents read aloud in some form or another - though the frequency and type of text varied significantly. 

The most common type of text read orally amongst those taking part in the survey are social media posts, with 60.5% of respondents reading them aloud either daily or often. This is followed closely by newspapers or magazines (59.8%), shop signs (58.9%), and instructions or recipes (58.1%).

The survey also provides some insight into why people read aloud at all. Respondents provided a range of reasons, with many citing that oral reading helps them ‘to better understand a text’ or to share information, while some do so to help memorise information or to compose text.

Interestingly, over half of respondents said they read aloud "because I enjoy it".

Finally, Dr Duncan and Dr Freeman highlight the impact that cultural visibility has on our perception of oral reading. They conclude that “many instances of reading aloud are brief, unplanned and sometimes unnoticed, such as the spontaneous activities of reading recipes, instructions and social media posts to others”.

These types of impromptu reading aloud, they claim, are not only less culturally visible, since they largely take place in private, but often they are not even noticed by the person doing the reading.

This sentiment is echoed by a comment from one respondent, who said, “I did not realise how much we read aloud. I probably have not included all the examples of when I read aloud, as we do this without thinking most of the time”.

The writers hope that their research will expand the very concept of reading among teachers, curriculum developers and policymakers to “reflect the breath and diversity of adult reading practices – visible and less visible, solitary and shared, silent and aloud.”

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