How print and audio can work together

Black earbuds lie across an open book.

While listening to an audiobook can be an enjoyable and educational activity in its own right, it’s also hugely beneficial when done in conjunction with reading.

The National Literacy Trust conducted a review last year, in which they explored the use of audiobooks and their link to wider literacy engagement for children. It’s perhaps to be expected that use of audiobooks would increase interest in print books as well, but the extent to which the two are linked together is startling. The NLT found that 52.9% of children who listen to audiobooks say that doing so has increased their interest in reading. Similarly, 40.2% of children who listen to audiobooks say that they read daily, compared with just 27% of their peers who aren’t audio users.

It’s therefore clear that as well as providing access to literature themselves, audiobooks also engage children’s interest in other means of consuming stories. But as well as being used as a stepping stone to print, audiobooks and print books can be consumed at the same time, to great benefit.

 Listening to an audiobook while following along with the text can aid comprehension, and speech. A 2010 study found that simultaneous reading and listening helps English language learners to connect visual stimuli, such as spelling, with auditory stimuli, such as pronunciation. The audiobook also sets the reading pace, encouraging and hastening fluency.

It’s well known that children’s listening level exceeds their reading level; in other words they can decode more complex language while listening than when reading. It therefore makes sense that a child would be able to read a higher level of book, if they can use the audiobook too. This would expose them to more advanced language construction and word choice, which would be beyond them in print alone. 

But it’s not just academic skills that benefit. Audiobooks are also useful for enhancing emotional wellbeing and understanding. ‘Emotional prosody’ refers to the non-verbal aspects of language that help to convey emotion. Think of the changes in tone, the pauses, the volume, that help a listener to decode the true meaning of a sentence. None of this comes across in print, and especially for young listeners who are still developing their emotional intelligence, hearing this emotional prosody while simultaneously reading, can be hugely helpful for understanding.

Language is extremely nuanced, and it’s easy to forget how much our children are absorbing and learning every day. Even more so for children operating in multiple languages. Using audiobooks in conjunction with print is a fantastic way to not only to improve reading skills, but also speech, understanding, and emotional wellbeing.


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