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The Benefits of Audiobooks - An Interview with Emily Best

The Benefits of Audiobooks - An Interview with Emily Best

July 2, 2021 0 Comments

Here at Listening Books HQ we know all about the benefits of audiobooks. After all, we've been offering our audiobook lending service since 1959! But it's fair to say that this period in time is a golden age of audiobook listening. More titles are being recorded than ever before and they are easier to find. Downloads of audiobooks jumped by 37% in 2020 as more people turned to listening to stories during lockdown. To find out more about this, we spoke to Emily Best who works at the National Literacy Trust about their research into the benefits of audiobooks: 

 

Hi Emily! Can you tell us a bit about the National Literacy Trust and what your job involves?

Hello! I am Research and Knowledge Manager at the National Literacy Trust. I lead on audio research, covering anything to do with listening including audiobooks and podcasts. My work involves carrying out a range of research – from exploring reports and existing research to designing and analysing surveys for children and young people, parents, and teachers – in partnership with the rest of the research team.

The findings from our research are available for anyone to read on our website. In addition, these findings feed in to other areas of our work. 

 

 

Why did you want to research audiobooks? 

I’ve always loved hearing stories – as a child I would constantly ask for books to be read to me. Before working in research I specialised in children’s reading for enjoyment, first as a school account manager in a bookshop and then in the teacher development team here at the National Literacy Trust. Audiobooks are such a key part of reading for enjoyment and the developments in recent years, with digital formats being widely available, made me realise that it was a crucial time for us to be looking at the benefits of listening.

 

 

What has your research found about the benefits of audiobooks during lockdown? 

We were delighted to find that for many children and young people, audiobooks were a lifeline during the pandemic, with 1 in 4 children and young people saying that they listened to them more during lockdown[1]. In particular, where ownership of physical books is low and access to books via public and school libraries was limited, digital ‘borrowing’ of audiobooks (and indeed ebooks) was a great alternative – and is so often free![2]

 

We asked children and young people why they started listening to, or increased their listening of, audiobooks during the pandemic, especially when schools were closed. Having more free time was one of the most common responses but wellbeing also figured very highly, with 1 in 3 children saying that listening to audiobooks made them feel better during lockdown.[3]

Photo of a smiling child wearing earphones and holding a phone

 

 

 

 

 

Why do you think so many young people said listening to audiobooks made them feel better?

Firstly, reading in any format can have huge benefits on wellbeing: our research from 2018 found that children and young people who are the most engaged with literacy have better mental wellbeing than their peers who are the least engaged.[4] Audiobooks can only support that, and increase access opportunities, for example, for children who struggle with reading in traditional formats. Also, you can listen to an audiobook when completing other tasks such as chores or travelling, so it gives you more time to access stories that make you feel better.

In addition to this, though, responses to our survey found that for many children and young people, at a time when levels of anxiety were high for all sorts of reasons, audiobooks provided a distraction. Indeed, when children and young people were at home during lockdown, it might have been difficult for them to find a quiet space to read, so the ability to put on some headphones and tune out was very popular.

 

 

 

Your resarch found that audiobooks can help improve children's reading skills and enjoyment of reading. Can you tell us why this is and why it's so important?

Reading enjoyment, reading frequency and reading skills are inextricably linked – our latest research into this found that for children aged 11-14, those who enjoy reading are three times more likely to read above the expected level for their age than children who don’t enjoy reading.[5]

 

However, for many children, the journey towards this can be difficult if they are reluctant readers: they may not enjoy reading physical books, or maybe struggle to decode the words on the page. Audiobooks can offer a way in for many of these children: if audiobooks get them into stories they may be more inclined to pick up a book in the future. In addition, there are many reading skills that audiobooks can help support, for example comprehension and inference. In fact, hearing a story read aloud can help a child understand the tone and how a word should be pronounced, and where a range of different voices and accents are used in the reading it can help engage them on a personal level.

 

Photo of two children sharing a pair of earphones and listening to Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief on a phone

 

 

 

 

Both the National Literacy Trust and Listening Books are part of the Axe the Reading Tax campaign to remove the VAT on audiobooks. Why do you think there can still be a stigma attached to audiobooks? 

We’ve all heard people suggest that audiobooks are ‘cheating’ or ‘not real reading’, because the listener isn’t decoding the word on the page. But reading is about so much more than this process: it’s about accessing stories, getting to know characters and making connections. Also, recent research has shown that our brains respond to auditory stimuli in the same way as visual – that is, if you hear the word ‘dog’ your brain will respond in the same way as if you read it[6]. So it really isn’t cheating!

 

It’s also important to note that many see audiobooks as part of the world of digital technology, which can often lead to them being demonised. However, we know that the use of technology to support literacy has significant benefits, particularly in support struggling and reluctant readers.[7] The Axe the Reading Tax campaign has been successful in getting VAT removed from ebooks, which is a testament to this, and hopefully paves the way for the same happening with audiobooks.

 

 

 

 

What research are you working on now and how can people find out more?

We were delighted to announce recently that we are working with Audible on a new piece tracking the life cycle of the audiobook. We know from previous research that audiobooks can be a highly effective way of engaging younger reluctant readers, and we will be using the results of our latest Annual Literacy Survey to explore this further, alongside a deeper look into the power of audiobooks to support and promote diversity. Alongside this, we will be examining the popularity of audiobooks among older generations and how they can help support wellbeing, particularly in mitigating feelings of isolation and loneliness – a problem that has got worse during lockdown.

To find out about our research and other work with audiobooks you can visit literacytrust.org.uk/audio, and if you have any questions contact research@literacytrust.org.uk.

 

 

 

Thank you to Emily for speaking to us!

Listening Books provides an audiobook lending service for anyone in the UK who finds reading or holding books is impacted by an illness, disability, learning disability, or mental health condition. If you'd like to find out more about the Listening Books audiobook lending service, visit our website 

 

Author: Abbie Jaggers

 


References

[1] Best, E., Clark, C. and Picton, I. (2020). Children, young people and audiobooks before and during lockdown. London: National Literacy Trust.  

[2]  1 in 11 disadvantaged children in the UK say they don’t have a book of their own

[3] Best, E., Clark, C. and Picton, I. (2020). Children, young people and audiobooks before and during lockdown. London: National Literacy Trust. 

[4] Clark, C. and Teravainen-Goff, A. (2018). Mental wellbeing, reading and writing. London: National Literacy Trust.

[5] Clark, C. and Teravainen-Goff, A. (2020). Children and young people’s reading in 2019: Findings from our Annual Literacy Survey. London: National Literacy Trust. 

[6] Deniz, Fatma, Anwar O. Nunez-Elizalde, Alexander G. Huth, and Jack L. Gallant. ‘The Representation of Semantic Information Across Human Cerebral Cortex During Listening Versus Reading Is Invariant to Stimulus Modality’. The Journal of Neuroscience 39, no. 39 (25 September 2019): 7722–36.

[7] Picton, I., Clark, C., O’Keefe, S., Choli, M. and Gliksten, H. (2019). Improving the literacy skills of disadvantaged teenage boys through the use of technology, London: National Literacy Trust.

 

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