Lucy Rand on the joys of audiobooks. It’s so much easier to follow the story.

Reading can be daunting for people with dyslexia. It can be hard work to get beyond the words and letters and into the meaning of the story, which is where the magic happens. However, who says books have to be read with our eyes? Since the pandemic, audiobooks have seen, and continue to see, a huge boom in popularity. With the rightful fading of the idea of audiobooks as a cheat or a shortcut, audio reading is finally being recognised as just another way to enjoy books. However, many of those who have been using audiobooks for longer—students who struggle to read, for example—still associate them with homework, or just another thing they have to do to improve their reading skills. It’s easy to forget how powerful audiobooks can be at instilling a love of literature that supports us through life’s ups and downs, far beyond the classroom.

Reading the written text while listening to an audiobook or someone reading aloud has been shown to improve reading fluency, but this practice has its limits too, especially when the student’s reading speed is slower than that of the narrator. When it comes to comprehending a piece of literature, engaging with the big ideas it explores, and developing our own opinions and discussion skills, listening to an audiobook by itself might be the best way. The narrator of the audiobook, often a professional actor, or the author themself, models excellent interpretive reading, which students can imitate in their own speech. The way the narrator reads certain words or sentences can aid comprehension, model pronunciation and highlight humour. In my experience as someone who struggles with older texts that are written in a less familiar language, audiobooks have helped me hugely in accessing and absorbing the content. For example, I’d always felt that Frankenstein wasn’t a book for me, but when I listened to it read by Daniel Philpott, Roger May and Jonathan Oliver, I found myself intuitively understanding words like ‘aver’ and ‘dilatoriness’, just by the tone and context, and was able to follow the plot just as easily as with a contemporary book.

I’ve spoken to various people who struggle with reading, and one person who is temporarily unable to read written text told me “I’ve found listening to audiobooks has helped improve my vocabulary, as listening to the correct pronunciation gives me the confidence to use [new words] in day-to-day life.”

Skipping the decoding stage
The extra work many dyslexic readers face when decoding can stop them from being able to fully comprehend the meaning of the text, leaving them at a loss when it comes to participating in discussion or simply engaging emotionally with the book. Audiobooks allow us to skip this step and focus on understanding and enjoying the story, feeling empowered to engage in reflections and discussions of the plot, the characters, the style of writing and the big ideas the book explores.

Access to higher-level writing
Audiobook listeners are also able to listen to much longer and more difficult books than they are able to read, giving them access to higher-level ideas, more sophisticated vocabulary, and more challenging topics. When a dyslexic learner is in the habit of regularly listening to audiobooks and being able to focus for meaningful chunks of time, this learned focus and concentration may transfer to reading written text and other activities. So yes, audiobooks are a great way to get students engaging with the literature they have to read for school, but
books are about so much more than school!

As anyone who reads regularly knows intuitively, reading fiction has the power to take our mind off whatever else is going on in life, gives us a sense of perspective, and, when we’ve found the reading format that best suits us, can pull us into a blissful state of ‘flow’.

Being absorbed in fiction can also raise self-esteem, boost mental health, ease anxiety, improve sleep, reduce stress (as such as both yoga and laughter!) and alleviate loneliness. It’s also a fantastic stimulus for the imagination.

While all forms of reading fiction offer us these benefits, audiobooks boast some extra ones! Research shows that listening to a human voice—whether through being read to in real life or listening to an audiobook—elicits emotions more effectively than reading written words. The audio format means those of us with busy hands can listen while doing something else.

It’s a great moment for the parents or teachers of children with dyslexia when at last they ‘see’ the point of reading and actually start enjoying it.

Lucy Rand
Author: Lucy Rand

Lucy Rand
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Lucy Rand is an editor at Audrey, an audiobook platform that pairs classic and contemporary audiobooks with a guide to make literature more accessible.

Instagram: @listenwithaudrey
Twitter: @readwithaudrey
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