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February 2002 Issue

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Intrapersonal Communication and Reading Comprehension

By Gary K. Probst


Intrapersonal Communication Skills Are A Prerequisite For Developing Reading Comprehension Skills.  In this article we will address the following:

bulletWhat is intrapersonal communication?
bulletWhat is interpersonal communication?
bulletWhat is the cause of poor intrapersonal communication?
bulletWhat is the effect of poor intrapersonal communication?
bulletCould a lack of intrapersonal reading skills be the cause of why some college students are diagnosed as being learning disabled?
bulletWhat are the reasons given in the literature for developing oral reading skills?
bulletWhere can I find a demonstration of having the text read orally?
bulletGetting off the subject
bulletGrants are available from NIH to study oral reading skills in adults


What is intrapersonal communication?

When reading, a person uses a neurophysiological activity called intrapersonal communication. You are now using intrapersonal communication while reading this article. Intrapersonal communication is the “talking to yourself” you do while reading.

To develop an understanding or comprehension of what is being read, a person needs to possess good intrapersonal communication skills. Good intrapersonal communication requires using intonation, diction and enunciation while “talking to yourself” when you read.


What is interpersonal communication?

Interpersonal communication is the information received from listening to what someone else is saying. Interpersonal communication always uses intonation, diction and enunciation to give meaning to information. Intonation, diction and enunciation sometimes give more meaning to what is being said than the actual words themselves.

While reading, it is necessary to “hear” the same intonation, diction and enunciation used in speaking in order to fully comprehend the printed information. Therefore, a person needs to be a good speaker in order to be a good reader.

While reading the following statements, notice how you use intonation, diction, and enunciation:

  1. Go ahead and do it! HOWEVER, if you do…
  2. There are several ways to do this, BUT please do it my way!


What is the cause of poor intrapersonal communication?

Lack of good oral reading skills will prevent a person from being able to use intrapersonal communication skills to obtain information from the printed page. Today, there is very little if any emphasis in developing good speaking and oral reading skills in grades K to 12. Most students have never learned how to use intonation, diction, and enunciation while reading orally. When asked to read orally, most students will read slowly in a jerky, dull, monotone voice.

However, there are some school systems that attempt to develop oral reading skills in elementary school students. Harford County Public School System in Maryland gives each elementary teacher a copy of the book by Michael F. Opitz and Timothy V. Rasinski titled, GOOD-BYE ROUND ROBIN: 25 EFFECTIVE ORAL READING STRATEGIES published by Heinemann in 1998. www.heinemann.com.

This book gives excellent suggestions on how to develop oral reading skills. While this book was written primarily for reading instruction in the elementary school, many of the twenty-five strategies given can be easily adapted for use in reading classes for adults and college students.


What is the effect of poor intrapersonal communication?

Some poor readers have the bad reading habits of lip moving and regression. The reason a person moves his or her lips or whispers when reading is he or she is attempting to use interpersonal communication instead of intrapersonal communication to obtain meaning from the printed page. Due to the short-term memory limitations, lip moving while reading causes a person to read too slowly for good comprehension.

Reading for the person who keeps regressing is similar to listening to a speaker who stutters all of the time – very difficult to follow the train of thought. For this reason frequent regressing while reading makes it very difficult for a person to comprehend the information given in printed text.

Students who say they learn only by listening possibly have not developed the intrapersonal speech skills required to comprehend the information on the printed page. These students have found they comprehend best when using the instructor’s interpersonal speech to obtain comprehension of the information. This could be the reason some students say, “I learn best from a lecture. I just cannot get anything out of the textbook!"

Students who cannot learn by reading the printed page are at a tremendous disadvantage. It is possible to read a textbook three or four times faster than it can be read orally. In other words, silent reading of a textbook requires only one-third to one-fourth of the time it takes to orally read the textbook. Students who have to take a test orally have a real disadvantage because of the limitations of their short-term memory.

With the rapid introduction of individualized online instruction, the traditional lecture class will soon become, if it is not already, obsolete. A person who does not possess good intrapersonal communication skills will not be able to become a learner in the future that uses web based instruction or training.


Could a lack of intrapersonal reading skills be the cause of some college students being diagnosed as learning disabled? 

Several directors of Academic Success Centers during January 2002 in the Open Forum For Learning Assistance Professionals told about students who require the college to have their examinations read orally to them. These students have been diagnosed as having the learning disability of not being able to take tests that must be read silently. This is a terrible inconvenience not only to the staff of the Academic Success Center but a serious problem for the student.

Could it be possible these students have never developed intrapersonal reading skills and have to rely on the interpersonal reading skills of others to comprehend the information on the test?

If this were the cause of a student’s learning disability, it would be much better for the student to be taught oral reading skills. Today, many jobs require not only passing some type of computerized test but passing a certification test.  What is the chance of he or she getting hired for a professional position who says that he or she requires the test to be read orally to him or her?

Is a lack of intrapersonal reading skills causing reading comprehension problems to be incorrectly diagnosed?

Many years ago when I was working as a reading clinician in the public schools and at a university reading clinic, a student’s oral reading, silent reading and listening comprehension grade levels were determined. It was assumed that a student needed and could benefit from reading instruction when his or her listening comprehension grade level was higher than his or her reading comprehension grade level Usually, students who had a poor reading comprehension score made many errors when reading orally. A student’s oral reading comprehension score was usually the lowest of the three comprehension scores.

Could a student’s high listening comprehension score on these tests be the result of using the reading clinician’s interpersonal speaking skills on the listening comprehension test to obtain a high comprehension grade level?


What are the reasons given in the literature for developing oral reading skills?

What I found interesting are the reasons given for developing oral reading skills in the literature I reviewed on the Internet. I could find no reason in my review of the literature on the Internet that oral reading skills are required to develop the prerequisite intrapersonal reading skills required for silent reading comprehension. However, all the sources emphasize oral reading skills are necessary for comprehension of written text material.

In the book, GOOD-BYE ROUND ROBIN: 25 EFFECTIVE ORAL READING STRATEGIES, two major reasons given for developing oral reading skills are (1) to share information with another individual and (2) enable teachers to determine whether a child is using language cues effectively. Following these two general reasons twelve specific reasons are given.

A very comprehensive study on reading skills reported the following in the April 13, 2000, NIH NEWS ALERT titled “National Reading Panel Reports Combination of Teaching Phonics, Word Sounds, Giving Feedback on Oral Reading Most Effective Way to Teach Reading:”

“The panel also concluded that guided oral reading is important for developing reading fluency-the ability to read with efficiency and ease. In guided oral reading, students read out loud, to either a parent, teacher or other student, who corrects their mistakes and provides them with other feedback. Specifically, guided oral reading helped students across a wide range of grade levels to learn to recognize new words, helped them to read accurately and easily, and helped them to comprehend what they read.”

This study can be read at the following website:



Where can I find a demonstration of having the text read orally?

A good place to see how text can be read orally to the reader are the demos given by Learn2.com. Click on the following website http://www.tutorials.com/ and you will see a list of demos. Select the demo on Digital Cameras. After a brief period, your tutorial will appear on the screen. However, in this case the advantage of oral reading of the text is limited. This is because of the poor screen design of the scrolling text and lack of oral reading skills of the reader. However, you will see how oral reading of text can be helpful for a person with poor intrapersonal communication skills. Also, you will learn something about how to take digital pictures for the web.


Getting Off The Subject

While you are at this website, look at the demo for learning FrontPage found under Web Development. This is an excellent demonstration of how WBT can be used to instruct someone in how to learn a skill. As an instructor and a student of different software programs, I have found it is very difficult for everyone in a class to follow or receive instructions at the same time. This type of WBT given at http://www.Learn2.com is what I see being developed in the future to replace the traditional lecture class. Notice how this instructional program on FrontPage forces you to participate in a learning activity. A student cannot daydream or talk to his or her neighbor when using this type of instruction. Also, you can find good study skill tips at this website such as “Learn2 Stop Procrastinating.”


Grants are available from NIH to study oral reading skills in adults

Grants up to $250,000 are available from NIA and NICHD to study oral reading skills in adults. While I could be wrong, I seem often to notice that older adults frequently are lip readers and sometimes whisper while reading. Could it be these people (1) lost their intrapersonal reading skills or (2) never developed intrapersonal reading skills? These grants are available through February 1, 2004.


The National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) invite qualified researchers to submit grant applications for research projects designed to examine age-related changes in reading and language comprehension abilities and to develop interventions that prevent or compensate for declines. Late adulthood is associated with changes, generally declining, in the communicative abilities important for reading and language comprehension. Evidence suggests that factors associated with the development of reading and oral language comprehension skills (e.g., the age of acquisition, the proficiency attained in early life, diagnoses of learning disabilities and subsequent interventions) and ongoing experiences (e.g., education, occupation, leisure activities, social interaction) influence the skill levels attained during adulthood. Declines in comprehension abilities can interfere with competence on instrumental activities such as 1) taking medications and managing finances; 2) receiving accurate and appropriate medical, financial, and other types of complex information; 3) healthy social interactions, and 4) the establishment and maintenance of professional competence. “




I would offer the following suggestions to improve reading comprehension through intrapersonal communication.

1. Demonstrate to students the importance of using proper diction and intonation while reading orally. Explain why this is needed in order to have good comprehension of what is being read silently.

2. Have students practice proper oral reading skills in small groups. 

3. Have students silently read the passage in the textbook while listening to it being read by a trained speaker. Listening tapes could be made from selected parts of textbooks.

4. Instruct students in how to use context clues to obtain intonation, diction, and enunciation from the passage. 

5. Encourage publishers of web based instruction to include a sound file that a student can select to hear the information on the screen being read to him or her by a speaker using excellent intonation, diction and enunciation. This is currently done with some of the computer-assisted instructional and web based instructional programs.  However, students should be told they can read faster than they can talk and be weaned off of using this comprehension crutch as soon as possible.

6. Instead of filling in the time in college reading and study skills classes with such topics as Chinese history, introduction to computers, English grammar, reading novels, etc, it would be better to spend some time developing oral reading skills. In fact, it would be a good idea to combine or include parts of a speech class with a college reading and study skills program.

7. If you are telling students to stop subvocalizing while reading, stop doing this. I find it amazing how many college reading programs give this information to students. Subvocalizing is similar to RAM. Subvocalization is the process used by the human information processing system to transfer information to a person’s “hard drive,” which is referred to as the brain.

8. Emphasize that it is not possible to learn all of the information required to succeed in college at an oral reading rate. Silent reading is the quickest and best way to acquire information. Also, short-term memory limitations make concentration difficult at an oral reading rate because we can think much faster than we can talk. In order to concentrate it is necessary to bring in information almost as fast or as fast as one thinks. Only silent reading will bring in information as fast as we can think.

9. Research needs to be done to compare the oral reading skills of good and poor readers. This would be a great study for a dissertation.


I would be interested in your comments on this article.




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