Listening to Books


Audio Books Can Encourage Reluctant Readers

Not so long ago, a friend was talking to me about her son, who I will call Dan, although that is not his real name. She explained that when he was younger, she had found it difficult to understand why he didn’t enjoy books. She had done all the things that are recommended to parents who want their children to become enthusiastic readers: having plenty of books around the house; going to the library every week; reading stories to her son every day and showing that she herself found reading useful and pleasurable. Despite all this, Dan read only as much as necessary. He plainly didn’t perceive any joy in reading.

dyslexiaFast forward a few years and Dan was now in his first year at university. A chance remark was about to reveal a surprise. “How are you getting on with the assignment?” asked the lecturer. Dan replied that it was taking him a long time to read the set text as he had to place a ruler under each line. The lecturer asked why he did that. Next came the bombshell. Dan explained that he was using the ruler in an attempt “to stop the words moving around.” Further questioning from the lecturer revealed that, for Dan, words on a page always jumped around, meaning that reading was at best hard work and at worst extremely stressful.

Luckily, the lecturer knew enough about dyslexia to refer Dan for assessment. A prescription for tinted lenses has helped control the moving words and Dan is continuing with his studies. An additional bonus is that my friend now knows why her son did not find reading enjoyable and could not understand why it was enjoyable for other people.

Dan’s story is not unusual and it set me thinking how we can give children a love of books if reading is not a pleasure. Luckily, one solution is available in the form of audio-books or eAudioBooks.

Using audio-books to support reading

Learning Ally is an organisation which has done a great deal of work in the USA on the use of audio-books with children who have dyslexia. They report that audio-books can:

  • provide a good model of fluency, intonation and expression;
  • support the growth of background knowledge and vocabulary;
  • remove the struggle to read, thereby allowing children to focus on understanding and enjoying the story;
  • allow children to enjoy age-appropriate books, enabling them to join in when their peers are discussing the latest popular book.

Audio BookListening to audio-books should not replace reading but can give children a taste of the pleasure to be had from a good book. Experiencing that pleasure can be strong motivation for persisting with the effort required to become a competent reader. Dyslexia Action report that ‘Research has shown that people who listen to audiobooks improve their reading and also develop more positive attitudes to books.’ They also note that ‘Reading starts with listening!’

Audio-books enable children to listen to parts of a story or the whole book as many times as they wish.

Where to find audio-books for children

The first place to try is your local library where audio-books on CD will be available free or for a very small fee and you can also borrow eAudioBooks for download to tablets, iPads, or laptops. If you live in Cardiff and are a member of your local library, you can borrow eAudioBooks from the library website without even leaving your home. Other County Libraries have similar arrangements.

Another good source of free eAudioBooks is Oxford Owl which belongs to the Oxford Reading Tree scheme.

In addition, there are many companies which offer eAudioBooks for a one-off payment or a monthly subscription. One example is Audible from Amazon:

A final thought

To return to my story about Dan, it is easy to imagine that he would have benefited from listening to audio-books. Although they would not have solved his visual disturbance problems they would have given him access to all the pleasures of a good book without any stress. Definitely worth trying with any child who is currently struggling and not yet understanding that books can be enjoyable.

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For some children, reading feels like a cryptic code. We can help them crack it

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