Literacy and Education — How Can Audio Books Help?

Article by Bou Allem

The arrival of multimedia initially pushed the use of audio books as an educational tool into the background. Seen against the backdrop of a generation of young television addicts, it is hardly surprising that the already beleaguered literacy-related abilities of children were subject to yet another setback when audio books disappeared from the scene.

Several educators soon started adding two and two together, and came to the conclusion that in order to address the myriad of challenges associated with the decline in literacy, the underlying problem of listening skills needed to be addressed. As a result, audio books have yet again stepped to the fore and have regained recognition as valuable contributors in educational terms.

Many educators are downloading audio books from the web to address this issue. All the latest titles ranging from Narnia to Harry Potter are available as audio book downloads today. Because of the popularity of these stories, children need not be coerced into listening to these audio books. They look forward to story time – regardless of whether it is a part of the curriculum or whether it is the reward for a day’s work well done!

What is the educational value of audio books to children?

The very first value that comes to mind is listening skills. The first contact an unborn babe makes with the outside world while she is still in her mother’s womb is through hearing. After her birth, she uses hearing to acquire the skill to verbally communicate with others. This language skill she develops over the first few years in her life is her first step towards literacy.

The second contribution made by audio books, revolves around language ability. Children are bombarded with visual stimuli. Television, movies and the majority of educational toys available today, are all visual. In the absence of aural stimuli, such as those offered by audio books, listening skills become under-developed, impacting both language and literacy.

Audio books impose the need on the child to listen to the spoken word (language). In addition to improving the child’s grammar, it also improves vocabulary and elocution all of which underpin literacy. Audio books allow children the opportunity to create images in their mind’s eye. By stimulating a child’s ability to imagine, her ability for lateral thinking is also greatly enhanced.

The third benefit of audio books as an educational tool falls within the ambit of reading and comprehension. These are critical learning skills. Reading centers and laboratories report that as many as 80% of all students tested not only read at speeds 2 years or more below the levels required for their specific age groups, but also show a comprehension / retention of 65% and less. There are many different methods employed to assist enrolled students with recovering the ‘lost years’. Of note is the fact that some of these centers make use of audio books in conjunction with the readers they provide.

The students follow the written text in time with the audio books being played back to them. A visual / aural link is forged between the written word and the spoken word. Once this divide is crossed, tangible progress is made both in terms of reading speeds and comprehension. In addition to the hour or two spent at these centers per week, twenty minutes’ supplemental reading is required per day. Instead of issuing a student on the read-along program with a CD, many centers offer the student access to the appropriate audio book online.

How can parents help?

The answer is simple: Get them listening to audio books – sooner rather than later. Opportunities for listening to audio books abound. For smaller children, parents can play audio books in the car. For teens, consider allowing audio book downloads to their iPods and other Media Players. Compared against the printed medium, audio books procured in this way are relatively cheap. The range of titles available means that there is something for anybody. Even for the most ‘difficult’ of teens!

Although buying audio books may not be the biggest investment a parent can make in money terms, investing in audio books may well turn out to be the biggest in terms of value.

Bou Allem is a former teacher, now a successful internet marketer and published, owner of the sites: and