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We release research review on the benefits of audiobooks on literacy

21 Feb 2020

Girl listening to audiobook

Our new research review, released today, shows that engagement with audiobooks can benefit children's reading skills and enjoyment, as well as their mental wellbeing and emotional intelligence.

With audiobook sales predicted to overtake those of ebooks in 2020 and the popularity of the format amongst children increasing by 138% in the last year alone, we set out to explore existing evidence on the role of audiobooks in supporting children’s literacy inside and outside of the classroom.

Our review, Audiobooks and literacy, shows how audiobooks can widen children’s access to literature. Audiobooks offer easy access on many devices to a wide range of texts. They are also able to access more of a book than reading alone, as the listening experience deepens their understanding of tone, pronunciation, accents and dialects.

Our review also includes evidence that listening to an audiobook requires the same cognitive skills as reading in print, and also supports the development of skills that children need to read including language comprehension and the ability to understand and retain information.

Amazon Alexa

Some of the research we reviewed showed that listening to a human voice can elicit a stronger emotional response than reading a written narrative or watching a film, indicating that audiobooks have the potential to support a child’s emotional intelligence.

We also found audiobooks were effective at engaging reluctant, struggling and developing readers. Children are able to access a wider range of stories through audiobooks, where difficulty understanding a written text is a barrier, with stories beyond their reading level made accessible. The ‘cool factor’ of listening to stories on a digital device is also particularly appealing to reluctant readers.

The ability to listen to a book as a family was found to be an important way of getting books into the home. Audiobooks can also help parents who themselves struggle to read or lack confidence reading to share stories with their children. The rise of smart speakers has also facilitated the sharing of stories, with many services now launching storytelling apps.

“Audiobooks can be the key to unlocking a child’s love of reading. Their very nature enables all children, regardless of their reading ability, to access and explore the incredible world of stories, which are brought to life by a range of exciting voices, different accents and sound effects. One of the best things about audiobooks is that you can listen to them almost anytime and anywhere, and in the days of tablets, smartphones and smart speakers, listening to stories is easier than ever before.”

Emily Best, our Audio Research Lead

Read the full report and check out our new top tips guides to help teachers and parents make the most of audiobooks to support children’s literacy in the classroom and at home.

We’ve been working with partners including Audible, Penguin Random House, National Prison Radio and Fun Kids to include audio elements in many of our projects:

  • Audiobooks are a key part of our Puffin World of Stories programme
  • Audiobook poetry anthologies are created by young people as part of our Young City Poets programme
  • We’re using audio across all of our criminal justice programmes, including serialising Book Prize longlisted and shortlisted novels on National Prison Radio, setting up audio corners in HMYOI Feltham and training young people in custody on how to create podcasts. Contact for more information
  • We’re delighted to be developing a new children’s podcast with Fun Kids to get young people excited about books and storytelling. Contact for more information

We are also supporting the Axe the Reading Tax campaign, which is calling for the removal of VAT on all digital publications: audiobooks, ebooks, research journals, textbooks and educational materials, newspapers and magazines. Find out more.

Download our new audiobook and literacy resources.
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