As parents and teachers seek to grow their children’s reading skills, the benefits of audio books can offer an easy and entertaining means for doing so.
Audio books have experienced a recent boom, with a 37.1 percent increase in downloadable audio book sales reported in 2018 by the Association of American Publishers.
However, audio books are certainly not new, and they have been used particularly as a tool for struggling readers for years. However, according to the experts, the benefits of listening to audio books are not limited to struggling readers.
Does listening to an audio book count as reading?
First, many of us may wonder if listening to an audio book actually counts as reading. The answer depends on your perspective and on the goal you have in mind when you say “reading.”
For children learning to read, listening to an audio book, of course, does not give them practice in decoding individual words.
However, “understanding the message, thinking critically about the content, using imagination, and making connections is at the heart of what it means to be a reader and why kids learn to love books,” states an article about audiobooks on Reading Rockets. Of course, audiobooks provide opportunities for these activities in abundance.
Additionally, we should not overlook the importance of listening comprehension skills. “Before books became the main means of conveying information, spoken word was the vehicle for sharing culture, tradition and values,” states an article on KQED. “Being able to listen well and remember what was said was an essential part of the oral tradition.”
The article goes on to say that “research underscores the link between listening and literacy.”
Here are some benefits of audio books:
Model What Reading Should Sound Like
Audio books for children model what fluent reading should sound like. Children are able to hear text read aloud at a good pace—not too fast or too slow. They are able to hear accurate pronunciation of unfamiliar words. Also, the narrator will undoubtedly read the book with some expression, helping children further understand the tone of the story and the dialogue of the characters.
“Exposure to models of fluent reading has been shown to have a positive impact on children’s oral reading fluency,” according to a blog post from LeapFrog.
Another way children’s audio stories are helpful is that they can help expand a child’s vocabulary. Children can generally listen to books at a higher reading level than they can read themselves, giving them exposure to more advanced vocabulary and complex stories.
Listening to stories read aloud is beneficial for children who are behind in reading and lacking in vocabulary. However, children with more advanced skills can also benefit. “Even kids surrounded by articulate adults benefit from hearing the complex words and sentences found in novels and nonfiction; correct usage is often lacking in ordinary conversation,” according to an KQED. We tend not to utilize our full inventory of vocabulary in everyday conversation, but literature is often filled with rich, vivid words.
Enhance Reading Comprehension and Connection
Just as listening to higher-level stories can help build vocabulary, it can also help build comprehension skills. Books on tape have often been used and recommended for children who struggle with reading. Being able to read the words on the page is only one part of reading; the other part is being able to derive meaning from those words and understand and make inferences about an entire text.
For those students still struggling to read the words, an audio book can give them practice in the comprehension aspect.
Engage Listeners Emotionally
Reading requires hard work for young readers having to decode each word. Sometimes they may get so caught up in getting each word right that they miss some of the plot. When listening to an audio book, a child can focus on the actual story and connect more with the plot and characters.
Not only does listening to an audio book free up children’s minds to soak in the story, but also children may connect with the voice of the narrator, keeping them even more engaged emotionally. According to KQED, “Monica Brady-Myerov, who provides NPR podcasts to teachers through Listenwise, said that hearing real people tell their stories triggers an emotional reaction among listeners. ‘Empathy comes from listening to other people tell their story, which improves learning,’ she said.”
Improve Familiarity with Written Words
While audio books can be enjoyed anywhere without the need for the text in hand, there are also great benefits for children who follow along in a book while listening to the audio. Seeing the words while hearing them read aloud (and pronounced properly) “provides extra support for readers,” and enhances word recognition, according to Scholastic. “They learn to pronounce new words, hear fluent reading, and get to enjoy a new story. It’s a win-win!” Scholastic states on its blog.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Audio Books for Kids?
While audio books have several benefits for children, some children may respond better than others. In some cases, the text may be either too fast to keep up with or too slow to keep a child engaged.
A recent study compared how children’s brains responded to videos, reading aloud with accompanying pictures, and strictly audio. It found that audio accompanied by still pictures worked best for young children, allowing them to understand the story better than when they encountered video or strictly audio.
For young children, reading along with an audio book can be great reading practice, while older children might be able to soak in an entire story or novel with just audio.