I don’t remember how many times a child has come into the library looking for a specific book, and when told that there are no copies of the book left but we have the audio book, has uttered the dreaded words, “My teacher wants me to read a book.” Really.
So kids, parents and educators, here are a few reasons why an audiobook can be a valuable aid to literacy and comprehension. And why it may be “OK” after all to “listen” instead of “read”.
Argument #1: An audiobook is not “reading”. It is true that listening uses a different skill set and physically a different part of the brain. There is research that shows that listening may be a more direct communication path for the brain using language to form images, as opposed to reading, which is a learned process of decoding symbols to form images. After all, humans learned to speak first before writing was developed. Although listening may not be reading, nothing else can help a child learn pronunciation of words and comprehension of narrative like listening to a story. In fact there is research that the human mind retains stories and poetry better when it is read or spoken aloud. If you want a very high rate of retention, add in a visual aspect (as with a storyteller) and these retention rates approach 100%. After all, why are we so easily able to quote from movies we love?
Argument #2: We have no time to listen to an audiobook. I have heard this so many times from parents. The truth is you can listen to an audiobook while doing any number of tasks. For example, try cleaning your room while reading a book. Or putting away the laundry. Also, taking an audiobook along on a long car trip really helps to smooth the ride. You may only hear, “Are we there yet?” twenty times instead of hundreds! And you can theme your audiobooks to fit the trip. Going to Disneyworld? Take along our audiobooks from Disney movie adaptations or Kingdom Keepers.
Argument #3: I’m worried that my child won’t read anymore. This argument bothers me the most. In fact listening to audiobooks actually increases the amount people read by 50 to 100% because you can use time that was spent doing other tasks and turn it into “reading or listening” time. Also, being an avid listener and reader myself, there are many times I have gone on to read the book once I listened to the audio. And that included all the rest of the books in a series and other books by the same author. For example, I was introduced to the works of Natalie Babbitt when I listened to the great audiobook of her “Tuck Everlasting.” Also many great stories have been performed on audiobook with full cast adaptations which only makes the story more entertaining for kids that are reluctant readers. Some of my favorites are the BBC full cast recordings like Peter Pan and King Kong.
Argument #4: I don’t have a CD player. Audiobooks are now available on iPod, iPhone, Android and other cellphones. You can download digital versions for MP3 players and use them on e-readers like Kindle and Nook. You can also download many for free from the Suffolk County Library System with Overdrive and OneClick eAudio. There are also many audiobooks available for free on the internet, like LibriVox, Loyalbooks and Openculture. Remember if you need help with downloading any of these you can come to the library, pick up a handout for your device or ask a librarian for help.
So try an audiobook soon. They are fun and they may lead you in directions you never thought possible. The only thing you have to fear is that you may be spending more time listening than you ever thought possible!
Sources and more reading: