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Do audiobooks Help or Hinder Children Learning to Read?

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Audiobooks Have Arrived.

Audiobooks may be the new kid on the block in terms of book publishing…but they’re taking over quickly. Goodreads reported that in 2020, Audiobooks out sold e-books for the first time ever, audiobooks having generated over $1.2 billion dollars while eBooks only made $983 million. For 2021, the amount generated by audiobook sales was estimated to be closer to $4.8 billion.

What do all these numbers mean? It means that audiobooks are here to stay. And, believe it or not, children’s books are one of the most popular genres in the audiobook industry. An Audible spokesperson told ABC in an interview that, “children’s content is the second most popular genre behind sci-fi and fantasy.”

But when it comes to teaching children…are audiobooks the bridge that will finally span the gap between learning to read and fostering a love of reading? Or is it just another road block for students to stumble upon?

Can Audiobooks Help Children Who Are Learning to Read

The prevailing consensus is that audiobooks provide a lot of benefits to students learning how to read. But how? Especially since children are not actually looking at words when listening to an audiobook?

Benefit 1:

The first benefit of audiobooks when helping children to read is an obvious one. Children can learn to love books through audiobooks, which will encourage them to want to learn to read.

If a student is struggling to learn to read, and is only ever given books at their reading level, they may eventually come to hate reading. They’re being forced to read books that may be perceived as ‘babyish’ and maybe even be made fun of by other students who are reading older books. Giving them an audiobook means they listen to books that they would struggle to read and enjoy the story. They can develop their love of books by listening to them. Then, that love of stories will translate into trying harder to learn to read.

Audiobooks allow students to listen to higher level books than their current reading level.

Benefit 2:

Listening to books helps children hear what words sound like in the correct context. It helps with the decoding processes and with learning to speak, which is why you’re encouraged to read to your babies. Irene Picton of the National Literacy Trust told Scholastic in an interview that, ‘If a child finds decoding or comprehension difficult, audiobooks can make literature more accessible.’ It gives them the opportunity to become absorbed in the story without the barrier of difficult text. They can also help kids who have trouble focusing on reading as they can listen whilst doing something else at the same time.”

Audiobooks can also teach critical listening, introduce new genres, help introduce new vocabulary and more!

Benefit 3:

Audiobooks can sometimes be the only option for children who have learning disabilities or vision impairments. Struggling through reading can be painful and frustrating and sometimes, kids just want to hear a good story. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, 55,249 U.S. children, youth, and adult students in educational settings were legally blind. "In 2020–21, the number of students ages 3–21 who received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was 7.2 million, or 15 percent of all public school students. Among students receiving special education services, the most common category of disability was specific learning disabilities (33 percent)," according to the COE. Those 7 million children, teens and young adults deserve to have access to stories and non-fiction audiobooks.

Final verdict

When I was an elementary librarian, I found that if I gave students a short story printed out, most of them (ages k5 to 6th grade) wouldn’t read it. I found them staring off into space, doodling on the sides of the paper, or sometimes even dozing off. But if I took a book and read it to them…I found I had more students engaged in listening to the book than when I’d had them read it for themselves. They were able to tell me what the story was and, if I made the character voices memorable, they could remember the characters and the roles in the story.

UK National Literacy Trust knowledge and research manager Emily Best told ABC in an interview that, “There are many benefits to listening to audio that mirror those of reading, and [these] really helped legitimize their place as part of a child’s reading journey.” (Read full article here).

So, whether your children are listening to help improve their vocabulary, spark their interest in books, or because they struggle to read or can't read due to a reading disorder or vision impairment, it seems that the prevailing school of thought it that...

YES. Audiobooks do indeed help children learn to read.

As a mother of one of those 7 million students who struggle to read, I can affirm that audiobooks have been an important part of helping my dyslexic, dysgraphic and autistic son learn to read. Thank you to all authors and narrators and publishing companies that help contribute to these communities.

What’s your take? Let me know in the comments.

Need an audiobook narrator? Check out my audiobook page!

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