I’m often asked if I think that audio books are as good as reading and in many instances I think they are. An audiobook is a gift of a story, it requires nothing of you. It doesn’t even require you to stop what you’re doing: Driving, cooking, colouring, cleaning, even working! It lulls you with its measured pace. The uniquely soothing quality to the reader’s voice at once rivets and calms. The epitome of mindfulness.
‘But what about school set texts, surely kids should be reading those?’
Well, it depends. Ideally yes, but if a young person is stunned by a mountain of reading, or if they find reading arduous, which means they just can’t get into their class reader or exam text, then an audiobook is a really good idea. They can’t get anywhere at all if they don’t know what’s happened in the book! However, once they’ve got the story, they are quite capable of showing their smarts; their understanding and unpacking of literary devices; cross referencing texts and contextual backdrop; digging into their opinion. Children who struggle to read, and children who learn differently, won’t reach their potential if they never get to the part where they show their mind at work. And in the development of a young person’s mind should we be overly concerned with their process of study? Shouldn’t we be more interested in their ability to think, form, reason and present ideas?
Audiobooks may even have some advantages over reading. When a book is read aloud, most especially by an experienced reader, the meaning of complicated sections or unusual words is suggested by volume, tone, pace and by emphasizing words or surrounding sentences which support the meaning. Additionally, good audiobook readers read at the right pace for understanding and figuring out meaning. How many students reading a text are likely to pause and look up a word?
Hearing dialogue read aloud makes it clear how characters can be distinguished by how they speak. It might be an accent, expressions they use repeatedly, linguistic idiosyncrasies, or if the character is verbose or laconic. This gives the listener an idea of how they might use dialogue in their own writing to present their characters. Showing, not telling.
Listening also amplifies how tension and mood are created through the writing. That long, winding sentence that slows and meanders exemplifying a languorous mood or the gradual revealing of a landscape or scene. Short, sharp sentences. That raise our heartrate. That make us tense. We feel those literary devices at work in our own physical response.
Another huge benefit of an audiobook is that we can listen with other people which makes us more likely to discuss the book. We can question, answer, clarify and debate. This is helpful for parents trying to gauge their child’s understanding and wanting to get involved in discussion without seeming didactic or intrusive. We are equals as listeners, bonded, allowed to comment.
And because listening doesn’t require anything of us audiobooks can be perceived as a treat, something to look forward to after unpleasant tasks are completed. Stories become a prize, associated with relaxation and entertainment. And for a child who is simply too tired to read and for a parent who’s on their knees an audiobook can be a welcome bedtime story.