Do Audiobooks Count as Reading?
The debate when it comes to audiobooks seems to never end. Many disagree as to whether audiobooks “count” as reading. For example, while I attended library school, many looked down their noses at audiobooks as some sort of reading cheat. When I shared with a fellow student that I listened to the audiobook for the assigned young adult fiction book, she balked at the very notion. Suddenly, I felt caught out as if I committed an academic faux pas. Audiobooks were always a part of my reading life. As a child, I was a voracious reader of both print and audiobooks (then called Books on Tape). I even recall that my local library offered a selection of stories over the phone as a recording. Is absorbing information aurally so different from taking it in visually?
With the continued increase in popularity of audiobooks, do they really “count” as reading? According to researchers, the answer is, frustratingly, “it depends.” Recent research shows that if you are reading or listening to a book for leisure, then there is very little difference in comprehension between the two formats. However, if you are reading to learn, then traditional print books are better suited for learning. Why is that? Let’s break it down further.
Note: The use of audiobooks for accessibility purposes is beyond the scope of this post. If you would like to learn more about this aspect of audiobooks, email the librarian at email@example.com.
It is far easier for us to have a sense of progress in a book when it is printed.
“…like digital screens, audiobooks deny users the spatial cues they would use while reading from printed text.” – Are Audiobooks As Good For You As Reading? Here’s What Experts Say
About 10-15% of eye movement while reading is spent going back and re-reading words or phrases. This is a quick and natural part of reading and can help with overall comprehension. While it is possible to pause an audiobook and go back, that takes more effort.
Quite often while either listening or reading our minds wander. When your mind snaps back to attention, it is easier to go back and re-read a portion of text, rather than rewind a recording. If the work is particularly complex, it takes very little time and effort for our brains to re-read and increase our learning of challenging subjects. Also, the brief time it takes to turn a page allows our brain to store and mull over the information we just learned.
A 2010 study found that students who listened to a podcast of a lesson scored far worse on comprehension tests than the students who read the material. This indicates that for learning new subject matter, it is still preferable to read print rather than listen, or perhaps a combination of the two. However, there are still wonderful benefits to listening to audiobooks.
Benefits of Audiobooks
“…audio can/should be used to enrich existing practices rather than replacing them.” – Audiobooks and literacy: A rapid review of the literature
A recent literature review outlined several benefits for listening to audiobooks:
- Increased engagement – The convenience, ability to multitask, and the allure of technology helps to engage otherwise reluctant readers.
- Modelling reading – As we know, listening to a good reader can help with pronunciation and accurate tone. This will help with fluency and comprehension.
- Greater access – Readers with less confidence can have access to a wider range of stories when they are having difficulty decoding. This can increase the enjoyment they experience from stories.
- Emotional response – for struggling readers, audio may be better at increasing emotional engagement with the material.
Audiobooks have both drawbacks and benefits. But research shows that they can support literacy learning, as well as enjoyment for stories. So download those audiobooks and enjoy! To learn more, check out the resources and more in-depth research below.
- Audiobooks for Adult Literacy? It’s Not a Myth!
- Audiobooks or Reading? To Our Brains, It Doesn’t Matter
- Audio Books vs Reading – What Is Better? 
- Is listening to an audiobook just as good as reading on a page?
- Listen and learn: How audiobooks can support literacy development
- Notable Children’s Recordings – 2021
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