Need to Remember Something? Say It Out Loud

The key to remembering written words may be as simple as saying them aloud. The one-two punch of speaking the words and then hearing yourself speak them helps solidify the words in your brain's long-term memory, a phenomenon known as the "production effect."

Researchers from the University of Waterloo compared four separate methods used to learn written information: silent reading, reading aloud, listening to someone else read aloud, and listening to a recording of oneself reading aloud. They tested those methods on 95 study participants. Reading aloud—the method that generates the production effect—proved the best one for retaining written information. A study describing the research was published in the scientific journal Memory.

"It may be best to use when you want to focus on the important information in particular—you would then say that information aloud," co-author Colin M. MacLeod, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, told Newsweek via email. "In a course, studying the important information aloud should help you remember it better. We theorize that the enhancement due to production comes from information being made more distinctive in memory: It stands out more (against the backdrop of the information that you did not say aloud)."

MacLeod, an expert in human cognition and memory, told Newsweek that the research should benefit everyone. But it also should have practical applications that are especially relevant to seniors who are looking to keep their memory sharp.

A student studies legal textbooks in the law faculty at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. Adam Berry/Getty Images

"Plus, you make it personal by saying it aloud, which also helps," MacLeod explained. "And then you can often use the fact that you remember having said something aloud to help you be confident that you are in fact remembering correctly."

MacLeod and colleagues coined the term "production effect" in 2010, though the effect itself has been reported as far back as the early '70s. They named it after an encoding technique in which people either read a word or generate it from a cue. For instance, explained MacLeod, a cue for the word 'baby' might be: 'the tiny infant that sleeps in a cradle, begins with the letter b.' This helps people remember the word 'baby' far better than if they'd simply read it, a result known as the "generation effect."

"We chose to call the advantage of reading aloud the production effect by analogy to the generation effect (and because the word "generation" was already taken!)" MacLeod wrote. "[W]e also wanted to avoid loading the name of the phenomenon with any theoretical baggage before we knew what caused the production advantage."