As a small child, I loved my toy record player. Like an actual turntable. What did I play on this record player? Books.
When I got a little older, we entered the world of cassette tapes, dual tape decks, and Walkmen. My mom bought us some of the best Disney cassette tape story books. Anyone else remember these? The soothing narrator who would kindly tell us, “Turn the page when you hear this sound. . .”?
Now as a high school English teacher, sometimes I have a brave student who will proffer one of the following confessions:
“I have a hard time with all the reading. I like all the books that we read in here, but I reading is hard for me.”
“I fall asleep when I read.”
“The words seem to jump around on the page when I read.”
“I read a page, and I can’t understand what I just read.”
I will then respond with,
“Have you tried audiobooks? Here are a couple of good ones for the book we’re reading right now.”
“How about the library? They have tons of great audiobooks for you to listen to. Have you tried that system? Here, let me show you how to use it.”
“Oh, I found a couple of audiobooks for that. Let me show you where to get them. See if either of them are any good.”
A lot of times, the student gives me a perplexed look and whispers, “Oh, is that okay? I thought that would be cheating.”
No. A thousand times no. What I care about is that they read the book. I don’t care how they digest it initially. We will be doing all kinds of work with it in class, and trust me, my students will have to practice their close reading skills with the actual text. How they initially experience what the book is saying does not matter that much to me.
I’ve mentioned before how I rely on audiobooks to help me meet my reading goals, but let me expound a bit more.
The Benefits of Audiobooks
The Personal Perspective
- Audiobooks allow me to read while I’m doing something else. I’m not a huge fan of housework, but hey, it has to get done. I guess. Anytime I have a task to do that doesn’t involve a lot of mental energy: cooking, folding laundry, cleaning, even crochet or exercise, I fire up the audiobook. The only issue with this is that somehow the audiobook is a magnet for other members of my household to try to talk to me right while I’m in the middle of a good part.
- Audiobooks are great for long road trips. Road trips, at least when I’m driving, mean audiobooks because I’m not the best at driving long distances unless I have something to keep my mind busy. On our summer vacation to Corpus Christi, my children listened to 5 or 6 Boxcar Children books. We just have to make sure to strategically sit close to the speakers in the minivan.
The Teacher (but Still Personal) Perspective
- Audiobooks take away the struggle of decoding and allow listeners to move into comprehension. Hearing someone read difficult words and names they way they should be pronounced helps with comprehension.
- Audiobooks help with fluency. There is a benefit to hearing how someone else reads a sentence or paragraph, where she pauses, what he emphasizes.
- Audiobooks help readers digest difficult text more quickly. So you tuned out a little. So you didn’t understand that paragraph. The point is that with an accomplished voice actor reading the story for you, you will move through the text perhaps more quickly than you would if you were sitting in your chair staring at the page. The same page for an hour, perhaps.
- An audiobook can facilitate the initial reading of the text. Every reading or literature teacher I’ve ever had has emphasized that reading difficult text requires multiple readings: an initial reading to simply get the gist of the story, and subsequent close readings to delve into author’s craft. I listened to The Aeneid one summer when I was driving back and forth to a conference, and there were several sections where I had no idea what was happening. However, what I did get was the overall sense of the plot and the characters: the coherence of the story was still there. Then, in my class where we were studying the epic, I was able to review certain passages and read excerpts of the text more closely.
- Sometimes you may want to divide your reading of a text, and an audiobook can help you do this. My husband read Anna Karenina a few years ago. Sometimes he would listen to the audiobook while mowing the lawn or cleaning the kitchen (yes, that’s one of the deals we have in our house). Other times he would read the actual book. The only trick with doing this is that he would have to commit to listening to an entire section before switching back to print, or he might get lost. In all fairness, though, this is Tolstoy we’re talking about.
What other benefits have you found for audiobooks? Do you use them or recommend them to students?