Please Read These Words Out Loud

Saying something out loud, or even hearing a recording of ourselves, helps us remember it. Why not test it out with this article?


If you want to remember something, you should say it out loud. So says a new study from the University of Waterloo.

The study tested 75 undergraduate students on how well they remembered a list of 20 words and found that students remembered the most words when they were allowed to read them out loud. Results were worse when they heard a recording of themselves reading the words, when they heard a recording of someone else reading the words, or when they read the words silently.

Reading out loud has long been known to improve memorization. The effect is linked to something psychologists call production – or adding an active component. The action, such as moving the mouth, tongue, and lips, adds a distinctive element to each word which is hypothesized to improve our ability to remember. Mouthing, writing, typing, and even drawing words have also found to be memory-enhancing productions. This meshes well with my own tried and true study habits, when I would re-write all my notes and recite the things I was learning to anyone who would listen, and often simply to an empty room.

But is it actually the physical action of speaking that helps in memorization, or is it the fact that you’re hearing yourself? Most studies have been unable to tell the difference between these two pieces of the puzzle.

That’s the gap that Colin M. MacLeod, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, and post-doctoral fellow Noah Forrin wanted to fill. By adding a condition where the participant listened to a recording of themselves, the researchers were able to differentiate between the effect of listening to yourself versus performing the action, or production, of speaking. It turns out, the physical action itself significantly improves memory, but hearing yourself speak is better than hearing someone else speak, meaning that the element of self is still important.

You might be wondering whether these results have anything to do with the learning styles of the individuals tested. Were the results skewed because most of the participants were verbal learners?

As it turns out, there is virtually no evidence that supports the existence of learning styles. A 2015 study found that there was no discernible improvement in comprehension when instruction was matched to the participant’s preferred learning style.

So when you’re studying for that next exam, try learning out loud – though maybe not in the library.

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Malgosia Pakulska is a freelance science writer, speaker, and blogger. She completed her PhD in Professor Molly Shoichet’s lab studying drug delivery systems for spinal cord regeneration after injury. She is still passionate about research and wants to share that excitement with the public. When she is not in the lab, she is experimenting in the kitchen and blogging about it at Smart Cookie Bakes.