Hearing is Reading!

How audiobooks support young readers with dyslexia and other language disorders

Imagine with me, if you will, that you are in elementary school, learning to read, but struggling. You see all your friends breeze right through reading class. While they’re reading the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Goosebumps, every time you look at the pages, all you see are the letters jumbled up and sometimes even falling off the page.

It takes you so much longer to read than your friends that you just don’t want to bother with it anymore. You end up failing all the reading quizzes at school because it takes you so long. You know you are smart in other things, but reading becomes harder every day.

Then one day, you go to the library to find a really easy book to read and the librarian suggests audiobooks. You and your parents look at each other as if she must be crazy because no way did that just happen. Isn’t listening to audiobooks cheating?

I am here to tell you: Listening to audiobooks is NOT cheating! It’s reading!

As a Youth Librarian with an undergraduate degree in Speech Language Pathology, I can assure you that audiobooks can actually help, especially when paired with the print version of the book. It will allow children to see and hear the book at the same time, which can help them gain reading fluency and comprehension.

Similar scenarios happen nearly every week at my branch. Many times, it’s the parents who approach me without the child because the child is so frustrated with reading she doesn’t even want to go to the library. They tell me they know their child is smart and they want her to succeed, but nothing is working. They know reading is important, but have been told all their lives that listening to audiobooks isn’t really reading. Another concern voiced by parents is that print reading will suffer if their child listens instead of reading printed material.

Let me put your mind at ease and say it again: Listening to books helps your child stay current on oral language skills, specifically word knowledge and vocabulary, which can, in turn, aid your child in print (eye) reading fluency and comprehension.

Ear Reading vs Eye Reading

The International Dyslexia Association defines ear reading as reading using audiobooks or similar text-to-speech software; the verbal words are processed through the ears and eyes simultaneously and then processed in the brain. They go on to define eye reading as the more recent traditional learning letters and sounds to form words and sentences. Eye reading is processed solely through the eyes and then the brain. Studies show that when a child with a language processing disorder reads with his ears and eyes at the same time, his comprehension dramatically increases.

Side note: Reading as we know it today is a fairly recent language development. Learning, for much of history, took place when listening to others. Oral storytelling was the entertainment of choice until the past few hundred years for many cultures. I say all that to say we’re kind of hard-wired to enjoy hearing stories and to learn by hearing.

Fluency and Comprehension

Emerging readers and people with language processing disorders often read one word at a time. Listening assists them in forming coherent sentences as they read, which leads to improved comprehension. When children listen to books and see the printed words in front of them at the same time, they develop fluency in reading, and comprehension is greatly enhanced. Audiobooks provide another tool that parents have at their disposal to promote their child’s education.


Listening to audiobooks is an immersive experience that can help people with language processing disorders to develop their imagination and promote a love of books; it allows them to do other things while they read, like put away their laundry. Audiobooks can also help while the time away on long trips, because, let’s face it, you can only play so much car tag Bingo before you are bored out of your mind.

Even people without a language processing disorder can take great pleasure in listening to audiobooks. This format helps pass the time while exercising, cleaning, or even when just sitting on the couch with a favorite animal. They also can help you breeze through your reading list while you drive to work, are on a road trip or running errands.

Where to get (FREE!) Audiobooks:

Your Library! We have Audiobooks on CD, Playaways and digital audiobooks. We have several apps for downloading audiobooks to your device: CloudLibrary, Hoopla, Libby (Overdrive) and RBDigital. Please visit your local branch if you need assistance setting up these apps. We’re happy to help.

Bookshare (www.bookshare.org/cms) : It’s a service that provides audiobooks with the read-along aspect for free to qualifying U.S. students. It’s also available for adults for a nominal weekly fee.

There are also text-to-speech programs and apps to go along with Project Gutenberg (free out-of-copyright ebooks). These text-to-speech apps can also assist with transcribing written notes to an audio version of lectures.

If you or someone you know struggles with reading because of dyslexia, audiobooks might be at least a partial solution to the problem and worth considering. Who knows, you might discover you really prefer consuming books for fun by listening. I know I do!

Categories: All Kinds of Kids, Books and Literacy