Audiobooks for Adult Literacy? It’s Not a Myth!
Posted by Jennifer Vecchiarelli on March 29, 2018 in categoryFacts & ResearchcategoryMember Tips

Many educators are skeptical that audio books could help students improve their reading skills or prepare them to read in real-life situations. 

However, in the basic education classroom or tutoring environment, audiobooks have traditionally been used to instruct English as a second language (ESL) learners, individuals with learning disabilities, and individuals who are either learning to read or are improving their reading skills.

Multiple studies have proven the benefits of audiobooks in education environments. Award-winning science writer Olga Khazan elaborated on this in a 2011 article about audiobooks and education. 

“A 1985 study found listening comprehension correlated strongly with reading comprehension—suggesting that those who read books well would listen to them well. In a 1977 study, college students who listened to a short story were able to summarize it with equal accuracy as those who read it.” 

Learners of all ages who use audiobooks to improve their literacy skills can gain confidence in their ability to learn and accelerate the learning process. The skills students develop while listening to audiobooks help them get better at reading and understanding written text in diverse situations—this is especially true for adults who are learning how to read.

The Benefits of Using Audiobooks to Teach Literacy

There is immense value to incorporating audiobooks into the adult literacy classroom. Forget the many myths that audiobooks are “cheating,” or that students won’t learn to read well when listening to books. Here are five ways audiobooks help learners improve their literacy skills:

  1. Critical Listening
    Listening to audiobooks forces learners to focus on the sounds of words. In doing so, this builds their capacity to focus, and develops their critical listening skills. Additionally, chapter books and novels require longer periods of listening which develops a greater attention span.

  2. Comprehension 
    Learning to read with both their eyes and ears—or multisensory reading—improves learners’ comprehension skills.

    Decoding is the processes of learning the sounds that each letter makes as it is being read to establish the sound-symbol relationships. This is also known as phonics. By listening to an audiobook, and reading along in the book, decoding becomes simpler and quicker. This enables learners to apply their critical thinking skills and focus more of their attention on understanding what they are reading and hearing.

  3. Pronunciation
    By listening to and being able to consecutively replay specific sentences and sections, learners can practice repeating certain words out loud as many times as it takes to correctly and fluently pronounce them. By reading along while listening, learners can sound out the words as they read them. This simplifies the transition between learning to correctly pronounce and read singular words, and learning to connect and read them in full sentences. 

  4. Vocabulary
    Exposure to new vocabulary comes with independent reading, reading aloud, or listening to audiobooks. Audiobooks allow instructors to introduce more complex books at higher reading levels, which expose learners to new vocabulary. 

  5. Learning Experience
    Audiobooks create an enjoyable and effective learning experience. When using audiobooks to develop literacy skills, learners can move at their own pace. They can listen anywhere and at any time whether they are on their way to work, during breaks, or even before bed.

    Additionally, if there is something the learner doesn’t understand, it is easy for them to go back to the beginning of that section or sentence—they can do this as many times as necessary to understand what is being said and what they are reading.

    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 that incentivizes learners to overcome challenges. 

When a person reads, he or she is taking in information regardless if it’s through their eyes or ears. For new readers, audiobooks enhance critical listening skills, comprehension, pronunciation, vocabulary, and the learning experience. 

Our next blog about audiobooks will explore the benefits of audiobooks for adult ESL students. 

If you want to introduce audiobooks into your instruction, here are some great websites to start with: 

  • Audible: This is one of the largest audiobook websites. It’s owned by Amazon, and has over 150,000 books. It’s not free, but it does have a free 30-day free trial, and if you discover that you love audiobooks, it might be worth subscribing.

  • Project Gutenberg: If you’d rather not pay for audiobooks, you can look around Project Gutenberg. This website is known for its collection of free e-books, but it also has a nice selection of audiobooks.

  • Librivox: This is website of free audiobooks exists thanks to volunteers from around the world who recorded themselves reading books. It has some great books to choose from.

  • Local Libraries: Many libraries now have “digital libraries,” where you can check out e-books and audiobooks for free, just like regular books at a library. Ask your local library, or check online to see if you have access to a digital library.


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