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When we read a sentence, how should we pause? Is there any standard?

I pause the sentences below with each /, and I wonder whether it is right.

Welcome / to the VOA Learning English program. This is / America. This week / Barbara Klein and Christopher Cruise / tell / about several American actors / who were widely recognized / years ago. But / they now / are not big stars / or famous / like they once were. We ask them / how they dealt /with these changes.

  • Can you explain why you think there should be pauses in some of the places you've marked? – Steve Melnikoff Oct 31 '13 at 14:24
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    What sort of reading are you talking about? The reading style will be different depending on whether you are reading a story to a loved one over breakfast, your co-workers at the water cooler, or to a large group in public. Usually spoken pauses occur at punctuation marks, including commas, colons, semicolons, and periods. – Jonathan Garber Oct 31 '13 at 14:24
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    @Jonathan: That's a rather odd way of putting it. I would say "spoken pauses" usually occur quite naturally in speech, regardless of whether the speaker knows anything at all about the orthography of the language. So we usually use punctuation to indicate "pre-existing" pauses, not the other way around. – FumbleFingers Oct 31 '13 at 19:11
  • @FumbleFingers: You're right that putting it as a 1-1 relationship between punctuation and spoken pauses is incorrect. However, I know I certainly adjust how I read out loud based on whether I'm reading deliberately to one person, or informally to a small group, or formally to a large gathering, and there is not necessarily a correlation with punctuation. (Think of the speaking cadence of any politician on and off the microphone.) – Jonathan Garber Oct 31 '13 at 20:46
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    @Jonathan: Absolutely. We all sprinkle our speech with "unnecessary" pauses, some of which are irrelevant, and some of which are semantically significant and/or grammatically required. For example, I wouldn't normally expect to hear a noticeable pause after "Barbara Klein and Christopher Cruise" in OP's example, but it would be extremely likely if the two presenters were "Barbara Klein and the Pope" (because the Pope would be "stressed", and there's usually a pause before and/or after any really significant/unexpected term). – FumbleFingers Oct 31 '13 at 21:34
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Just like in everyday speeches, where you can speak the same thing differently to convey different subtle meanings, you can read in in many different ways. But to focus about pausing, there are a few rules of thumb I would like to suggest:

  • pause at every end of sentence
  • pause at every punctuation mark
  • pause at the beginning of a clause
  • pause it the same way you parse it

It is understandable that practicing reading aloud could be really frustrating at first. It is difficult enough to pronounce each word right, not to mention a sentence (or an entire passage). My advice is to make sure you understand what you read before you really read it aloud. Doing so requires you to parse the sentences correctly, and will help you know where to pause.

I tried recording myself reading it aloud. Here is how I paused:

Welcome to the VOA Learning English program. This is America. This week / Barbara Klein and Christopher Cruise tell about several American actors / who were widely recognized years ago. But they now are not big stars or famous like they once were. We ask them how they dealt with these changes.

I read it at my normal rate. It's 17.5 seconds long. Not particularly fast, but maybe a little too fast for beginners. Just remember to take it easy, and gradually build up your skill.

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Whenever words are to be emphasized use a pause before it. When you are trying to read a long sentence break into useful, meaningful understandable, bits of sentences, information. It is ok to pause at all punctuation marks.

In your example

I would pause it as follows

Welcome / to the VOA Learning English program. This is / America. This week / Barbara Klein and Christopher Cruise / tell about several / American actors / who were widely recognized / years ago. But / they now / are not big stars / or famous / like they once were. We ask them / how they dealt /with these changes.

note that i have changed the 2nd sentences pause as follows

/tell about several / American actors

because I am stressing about American Actors

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Although I can't pinpoint specific rules in order to come up with a best reading, I follow a few basic steps to make sure that my reading is easily understandable. Welcome / to the VOA Learning English program./ This is America. / This week / Barbara Klein and Christopher Cruise / tell / about several American actors / who were widely recognized / years ago. / But / they now / are not big stars / or famous / like they once were. / We ask them / how they dealt with these changes. It is better not to pause after a preposition and while reading, preposition should not be given much emphasis but rather merged along with the following part of the sentence.

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