Does reading out loud cause you to remember things better?

We have previously written about, 5 reasons to allow students to use cell phone in classes 

 Reading out loud loud cause you to remember things better?


You may look a little odd talking to yourself, but studying out loud improves information retention by differentiating bits of knowledge. According to the article:
In this paper, these researchers document what they call the production effect. They looked at people's memory for items like a list of words. They found that if people studied the list by reading half of the words silently and the other half by saying the words out loud, that [the] words spoken aloud were remembered much better than those that were read silently.
The production effect works because it makes part of the list of items more distinctive. The words you speak aloud are now translated into speech and you have knowledge of producing the items as well as a memory of hearing them. All of this information makes your memory for the spoken items more distinct from the rest of the items that were read silently.
Sounds like a good enough reason to start vocalizing a bit more to us.


New study finds memory improved by vocalising or sub-vocalising words.
Committing words to memory is a notoriously hit-and-miss business. Over the last forty years psychologists have found three methods which consistently improve memory for words:
  1. Imagery: recall is aided by creating an image of what you want to remember.
  2. Elaboration: thinking of associations helps anchor words in your mind.
  3. Generation: memory is improved when you have to put some work in to generate the target. E.g. guess the name of your favourite blog from this cryptic clue: _sy_log.
In research on trying to remember lists of words, these three methods have each produced memory improvements of 10% over simply reading words once.
That might not sound much, but it is an average over many studies and often for things that are hard to remember. Psychologists like testing people with non-words like ‘trackle’ or ‘nosting’ that could be words, but aren’t.

Speak it…

Now, in a new series of studies published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, there’s solid evidence for a fourth which could join the other big three memory enhancers.
And, you’ll be happy to hear, it’s very, very simple. It only involves saying the word you want to remember out loud to yourself. It doesn’t even seem to matter if you don’t vocalise the word, it only has to be mouthed. That’s it.
According to MacLeod et al., saying a word out loud, or at least mouthing it, improves memory by increasing its distinctiveness, i.e. making it unusual compared to others.
Across 8 experiments in which participants were asked to read and remember lists of both words and nonwords, the researchers found memory improvements sometimes greater than 10%. They also ruled out some alternative explanations, finding that improvements were not:
  • At the expense of unmouthed words. The effect was all benefit for the mouthed words and didn’t decrease performance on unmouthed words.
  • A result of “lazy reading” of words read silently.

…but be selective

Of course just reading all the words out loud would destroy the effect because then there’s nothing for words said out loud to be distinctive in comparison with. It’s only going to work when some words are said out loud compared with others not.
So if you’re revising, or reading a report or a book and want to retain more of the important points, the key is to identify the right words and vocalise or sub-vocalise them.
This finding ties in with the general idea that we tend to remember people or things that stand out from the crowd. One gentle reminder though: if you are spotted mouthing random words in public, it’s you that will stand out from the crowd.


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About Ajit Choudhary

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