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Do experts think audiobooks count as reading?

Do experts think audiobooks count as reading?

Is listening to an audiobook really reading? We talk to experts about whether audiobooks count as reading

If you type into Google, "Do audiobooks count as reading?" you’ll find arguments both for and against. On one side are those who love the written word and never quite took to their audio counterparts. On the other are the audiobooks fans, who see it as a newly creative way to absorb a book. Or you have the in-between-ers, who go back and forth between both. 

"Experts say the difference between both is minimal"

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, experts say the difference between both is minimal—your brain works more or less the same way when processing an audiotrack as it does processing words on a page. 

And every expert spoken to for this feature said the same thing: audiobooks not only absolutely count as reading, but they can be essential, depending on who is listening to (AKA reading) them.

First, the science 

Man listening to audiobooks

“Even though the information is processed differently by our brain, the overall difference between reading and listening in terms of comprehension is negligible,” explains relationship psychologist Mairead Molloy. 

“While reading, the left frontal lobe of your brain activates to understand letters and words. The anterior temporal lobe then analyses the flow of words and their tense. Lastly, the limbic system activates emotions for us to accept and retain information,” she continues, adding audiobooks could help the brain activate more images than the written word, but there are advantages to both as reading mediums. 

"Audiobooks can help improve our comprehension and vocabulary"

“Our brains may actually be able to create more imagery surrounding a story when we listen. The visual processing centres in our brain are at work taking in the written word as we read, which leaves less room for images.”

Audiobooks can help improve our comprehension and vocabulary. Hearing new words—independent of or in combination with reading them—can significantly help with comprehension and vocabulary, especially for kids and second-language learners,” she adds. “They also help stimulate the auditory process in the brain that keeps the information that comes from your ear to those specific areas of the brain. This active listening process helps analyse the information and store it in our memory.”

Different needs 

Do audiobooks count as reading?

Reading words on the page has its own advantages from exercising the brain, to improved concentration, literacy, sleep and the ability to focus. Audiobooks offer different advantages, depending on the needs of the reader. 

“For readers diagnosed with anxiety and depression, listening to an audiobook can be a positive coping mechanism. Listening to a narration aloud can help reframe their minds to concentrate and focus on the content, and provide a healthy distraction from negative and anxious thoughts, which in turn helps to reduce stress levels, tension in the body and boost your mood,” adds clinical social worker and psychotherapist, Chase Cassine.

Emily Pye, membership and marketing assistant of UK charity Listening Books is another who believes it’s essential we actively class audiobooks as reading so that we’re inclusive of everyone, particularly those who are unable to read in the traditional sense.  “We are a UK charity, founded in 1959, who offer an audiobook listening service for people of all ages, who find their illness, mental health condition, disability or learning difficulty makes it more challenging to read print or hold the book,” she explains. 

"When it comes to reading, sweeping statements aren’t the most beneficial way to go"

“Obviously if you have a preference and prefer physical books to audiobooks, that's not a problem. But I think a lot of the time when when people say that audiobooks don't count as reading, they either aren't aware of, or maybe they're just not acknowledging the thousands upon thousands of people who have disabilities that would prevent them from accessing books any other way than with audiobooks.”

“Our members time and time again say that when people say, ‘Oh, audiobooks don't count as reading,’ it can feel incredibly demeaning to be invalidated like that. To basically be told, ‘You're not doing it right.’  Even if it's maybe the only way that you can read, or the most accessible way that you can read. And I think the idea that physical books are the ‘supreme’ form of reading is very arbitrary. For a long time, the only way of passing down stories in turn for your friends and your family was orally, long before books became common usage.”

When it comes to reading, she continues, sweeping statements aren’t the most beneficial way to go because the audiobook versus a traditional book is a very nuanced argument. “I think even if audiobooks aren't your preference, or you might not necessarily know people who would benefit from audiobooks, it's important to keep an open mind that maybe it could be the best option for someone rather than ruling it out.”

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