Cultivate the Art of Oral Reading

From the standpoint of the minister, I think we can discuss the art of reading from two angles.

By J. I. ROBISON, Acting Dean, School of Theology, Walla Walla College

From the standpoint of the minister, I think we can discuss the art of reading from two angles. First, there is the oral reading that every minister is called upon to do in the pulpit, either in Scripture readings, prepared readings for special days, or the reading of his own ser­mons at times. And second, there is a minis­ter's private or individual reading which he does for his own self-improvement or pleasure.*

Reading in Public.—There are many preach­ers who are good preachers but very poor read­ers. They have never mastered the art of grasping the thought and experience of the writer and conveying this same thought and experience to their listeners through the me­dium of reading. A good reader must be able to understand and enter into the emotional feelings of the writer and to reproduce them through the tone and modulation of his voice to such a de­gree that those same feelings will be experi­enced by his listeners. A writer may weep or laugh as he writes. The reader, though he may get the idea, may entirely miss the intensity of feeling and convey to his listeners neither sor­row nor joy.

Nehemiah gives us the three requisites of good oral reading : "So they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading."

They Vead Distinctly. It is most essential to read distinctly. We read in "Counsels to Teachers :"                     .

"In reading . . . the nronunciation should be clear. A nasal tone or an ungainly attitude should be at once corrected. Any lack of distinctness should be marked as defective. Many have allowed themselves to form the habit of speaking in a thick, indistinct way, as if their tongue were too large for their mouth. This habit has greatly hindered their use­fulness."—Page 239. (See also page 241.)

Gave the Sense. The reader must first of all grasp the meaning of the author and then express this meaning through the words chosen by the writer for the conveying of his thought.

This will require on his part an appreciation of the emotional experience of the author, a sympathetic understanding of his message, and an ability to convey to his hearers the thoughts and emotions that he now has grasped and made his own. To accomplish this, the reader must first be sure that he himself comprehends the thought of the writer, and then he will choose first an appropriate rate of reading that will best serve the thought expressed. He will also use the pitch and quality of voice and the force of expression that will be best suited to convey the idea. These will have to be modulated from time to time in harmony with the changing thought of the writer.

Caused Them to Understand. Reading may be said to be perfect when it causes the listeners to understand or when it reproduces in the audience the experience and emotions of the writer. This can be accomplished only as the reader not only understands the thought the author wishes to convey, but believes it and enters into the author's feelings and puts into his voice the conviction and emotion of the author.

I believe that many articles, such as Week of Prayer readings and other matter read in our churches, fail of their purpose because we as ministers often do not put the necessary preparation and thought into the reading so that we can read distinctly and give the sense and cause the audience to understand the mes­sage.

Technique of Public Reading.—Effective reading is indeed an art, the mastery of which demands the same earnest thought, the same persistent practice, the same careful technique as the mastery of painting or music. It is a common error to think that that which is to be read may be given without any preparation. It may be so given, but it will accomplish little. An article that is to be read should have almost as much careful preparation and earnest study as a sermon to be preached. In fact, a reading well prepared may be more effective than a sermon poorly prepared.

A few words should be added on the technique of public reading. If the reader has familiar­ized himself with the subject matter sufficiently, so that his eyes and attention need not be glued to the written page in order to get the author's thought, he will then be able to keep in mind his audience and see their reaction and deter­mine whether he is getting the message across. A good reader will keep his eyes on the congre­gation from one third to one half the time and still be able to read the author's words without interruption. This will enable him to make the message more personal and keep the attention of his listeners, who sometimes find a written sermon or message rather uninteresting.

A reader should speak in a conversational tone, but loudly enough that those on the back row may hear distinctly. Care should be ex­ercised that the voice be modulated to suit the thought, with necessary inflections as may be indicated by the punctuation or grammatical construction.

The practice among us of handing our Week of Prayer readings to all church members, who studiously follow the article line by line, is, I believe, most unfortunate. It does not develop either good reading or attentive listeners There is no inspiration to a reader who, glancing from his paper, sees the whole congregation intently following the copy to see whether he is reading correctly. He can never catch their eyes nor see the reaction of the audience, and thus in­terest lags. Then, because his reading is being watched so attentively, he may become over­anxious that every word be read correctly and thus be unable to enter into the real spirit of the message. Better by far for the reader to prepare the message so that he can read it as though speaking and have the congregation fold up their papers and give their undivided attention.

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By J. I. ROBISON, Acting Dean, School of Theology, Walla Walla College

November 1943

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