Audiobooks Boost Reading Skills

If audiobooks aren’t a part of your routine, consider the research on the effect listening to books can have on improving reading skills. Listening to books is a great way to help children – and adults – keep their reading skills sharp. As this list of articles and studies posted by Decoding Dyslexia Iowa shows, there is a lot of support from educators for using audiobooks to improve literacy.

Here are five literacy benefits audiobooks can offer listeners, from Jennifer Paulding on the Proliteracy blog:

  1. Critical Listening
    “Listening to audiobooks forces learners to focus on the sounds of words … this builds their capacity to focus,” said Paulding. By listening to a book the reader may be able to experience a book that is longer than what they could read in print. This can improve the reader’s attention span – as well as enabling them to enjoy works of literature they wouldn’t otherwise.
  2. Comprehension
    Comprehension – getting meaning from what is read – is one of the foundational skills readers need to develop.”By listening to an audiobook, and reading along in the book, decoding becomes simpler and quicker. This enables learners to … focus more of their attention on understanding what they are reading and hearing,” said Paulding.Research also points to an extremely positive benefit for learners who listen and read at the same time. Listening to text at the same time you are reading it engages multisensory learning, which increases the brain’s capability to learn new skills since more than one sensory pathway is being used. This is why something as simple as adding subtitles to television programs in India has resulted in increased literacy levels. It’s also why the library offers products like the Playaway bookpacks that allow adults or children to read and listen simultaneously with a special pre-loaded player that has the audio version of the book. Users can even adjust the speed of the book so it plays at a comfortable pace for them as they read.
  3. Pronunciation
    I’ve often felt the joy of being able to tell other book group members how to correctly pronounce a character’s name – because I listened to the audio version of the book. For some books with a lot of foreign words or that are written in dialect I find the audio version easier to follow. Hearing the words pronounced correctly has benefited me – and those benefits are going to be even greater to those learning English as a second language. I highly recommend audiobooks for language learners and if they can read and listen at the same time, that’s even better.”By reading along while listening, learners can sound out the words as they read them,” said Paulding.  She also mentions pausing the recording so that “learners can practice repeating certain words out loud as many times as it takes to correctly and fluently pronounce them.”
  4. Vocabulary
    I love words and when I see or hear a new one I want to know what it means. Often by listening to a word used in context the meaning can be grasped, even if there’s not a way to pause and look up its meaning.”Exposure to new vocabulary comes with independent reading, reading aloud, or listening to audiobooks,” said Paulding. This is often because the listener can enjoy a book at a higher reading level than what they could read in print.
  5. Learning Experience
    A lot of us enjoy listening to audiobooks because we can listen while driving, gardening, exercising and so on. You can download audiobooks from the library for free whenever you want and listen on your smartphone or other device. It’s so convenient.”Learners also have the opportunity to engage with new novels and short stories, different styles of writing, and discover new genres that they may not have known about before. Audiobooks open the door to an enjoyable learning experience,” said Paulding.

If you still think listening to audiobooks to work on reading skills sounds too easy, read this fascinating piece by Daniel Willingham – a professor from the University of Virginia. I found the information he shared about what happens in your mind while you are reading intriguing.

“We do hear voices in our heads as we read…sometimes this effect can be notable, as when we know the sound of the purported author’s voice (e.g., Kosslyn & Matt, 1977),” said Willingham.

Now think about reading a speech or quote by a celebrity who has a familiar voice, such as James Earl Jones. Does the inner voice in your mind read it in their voice? I know mine does!

I hope I’ve convinced you that listening to audiobooks can be a great activity for boosting reading skills, especially for those students in your household who are out of school during the summer. Here’s a list of some of my favorite audiobooks for family listening. Enjoy!

View complete list



Some of my many roles at the Library include: Tax Form guru, Collectibles collection promoter, Inspirational fiction evangelist, Adult Literacy promoter, Book Group in a Bag cheerleader, So Many Books book discussion group leader, Reader's Advisor and many more.