The Benefits for Children of Listening to Audiobooks
By Pauline Bird, Emily De Vogele and Cameron Phillips
When it comes to choosing children’s books, audiobooks are perhaps not the most obvious choice. However, listening to audiobooks brings a whole host of benefits to children. Here we explore just some of these gains.
As a practicing teacher, every day in class I work on developing my the literacy skills of my pupils. However, how literacy is conceptualised varies. For me, it is important to distinguish between teaching reading, and teaching literacy. Reading refers to the interpretation of typographic texts – decoding printed sounds and words and comprehending the written word. Literacy on the other hand involves taking meaning from a plurality of modes including written language on both screen and paper – oral language, visual representation both still or moving and audio representation including music and other noises. If you accept this conceptualisation, listening to audiobooks would therefore help support children’s literacy development. From a practical point of view, I can focus on minor classroom distractions when playing an audiobook rather than reading aloud myself, without having interrupt the story for everyone in the class if a distraction arises. Additionally, the skilled performance of the narrators and the sound effects added to the stories makes for a far more engaging experience than I manage (despite my best attempts!).
Both schools and the media often use standardised assessments to argue that illiteracy is a problem for certain groups and continually argue for the superiority of reading the printed word over interpreting other forms of text. This can lead to the stigmatisation of groups who do not value such texts. Just last week, I attended a school open evening for new parents where we were given lots of information on how to enunciate various sounds and recommendations of apps for children to use to help them decode words. Reading the written word was prioritised over interpretation of any other texts, and parents appeared to share this view as they keenly noted down the details. With these views in mind, I feel it’s important to share that listening to audiobooks can actually improve children’s ability to read written texts.
Recent research from the National Literacy Trust indicates that listening to audiobooks improves children’s reading skills including their reading comprehension. Since listening comprehension comes before reading comprehension, developing this skill through listening to audiobooks would potentially help ready the children for constructing meaning from written texts. If children are having difficulty reading written texts due to a limited vocabulary, audiobooks can help them to recognise and learn new words. Or, if reading comprehension is affected by the ability to read fluently then audiobooks can help by modelling reading with fluency. Children can then practise this skill when reading typographic texts.
I have less experience with audiobooks and children, but that is exactly why I think it’s so important. As a child of the ‘noughties’, audiobooks weren’t commonplace when I was younger. The only way to get an audiobook was to rent the mixtape from the local library and play it that way.
Luckily, my mum read to me as a child. I believe this was one of the most influential factors that lead to my love for books and literature. Most of the things I loved about being read to, can be found in audiobooks and I was pleasantly surprised to see so many of my childhood favourites available as audiobooks – including several of Jacqueline Wilson’s books!
There’s something incredibly special about hearing someone read one of your favourite books aloud, it feels like you’re sitting by the campfire listening to someone tell a story. And as a child, this focus on literature and reading is incredibly important.
As established by Pauline, audiobooks play an incredibly important part of a child’s development. One of the most important parts is the identification of the learning method. This of course differs from person to person, and that audible method is the subconscious choice of many. I however, briefly want to talk about the added impact on a child’s parents. From all accounts, parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and for many parents, working full time (and sometimes multiple) jobs whilst having young children is just not physically and emotionally sustainable. For young readers, there are few things better than being read a bedtime story by our parents, but for many parents it simply is not an option given the times we live in. The ability to listen to a book as a family has also been found to be an alternative way of getting books into the home environment. Audiobooks can also help parents who themselves struggle to read, or lack confidence reading, to share stories with their children.
The rapid availability of audiobooks makes for a promising future. Audible even boasts an impressive Children’s section, from classics like Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, to new releases as well. It gives children the independence to listen to what they want, when they want, giving them their first taste of preferences and self selected reading.