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The benefits of audio books as a learning tool

26 June 2018

The shared experience of reading to children from babies helps engender a love of books that they will be able to carry with them throughout their life. Listening to the sound of a parents’ voice while unwittingly being introduced to the phrasing patterns of stories and language all contribute to creating a reference to associate words to once learning to read independently. Reading provides so much enjoyment; transporting us to secret worlds and far-off lands, hearing about people like us, and learning about those who are not.

It is no different for children with print disabilities. Not being able to read themselves should not extinguish the love of books or deny them equal access to what print offers.

There are many reasons why someone can’t read print – vision impairment or loss (there are over 25,000 children registered with a VI specialist service in the UK1); physical impairments including ME/CFS can prevent holding a book and reading print. Finally those with special educational needs, in particular Dyslexia, affects word recognition, reading fluency, spelling and writing. Audio books can provide access to books that people across all these categories wouldn’t otherwise have.

Why are audio books so important?

Aid to learning

Appreciating books and what they can teach us is essential for accessing education as well as pleasure. When children are learning to read, audio books can be really helpful. Did you know that over 85% of what we learn we do so by listening? Audio books should be viewed as a vital resource which can be used both as a replacement to reading print or to supplement it, enabling children to develop literacy skills and enhance their learning.

Therefore, the term ‘reading’ should refer to both the acts of ear reading and eye reading - neither should be seen as inferior, just a different way of reaching the same destination.

Enhance reading development

The process of reading starts with learning the sounds letters make (phonics) and putting them together to understand words (decoding). Children learning to read are often simultaneously trying to decode words and understand what the text means. When decoding is too hard it becomes impossible to string the words together to comprehend the sentence, since all effort is going into sounding out individual words.

Ideally a child should be able to decode 95% of the book they are reading in order to develop fluency. Reading along whilst listening essentially decodes for you so that you can focus on making relationships between the sounds and print rather than struggling to sound out words yourself. Repetition is key and regular ‘reading along’ will improve word recognition and increase speed. Without audio assistance this progress may not be attainable for those with print disabilities. Research has shown that children with reading disabilities showed far greater improvement with audio book assisted reading than those just reading print.

What you read matters.

Struggling readers often have a comprehension age higher than their reading age; in other words they can understand more complex material than they can read. This means that audio books can be an equaliser. Listening to books can raise a child’s reading age to match their understanding, so they can keep up with appropriate study material in class as well as with their peers. It is frustrating to fall behind and is understandably demotivating. But by bridging the gap between comprehension and reading levels, audio books can be a vital tool in a child’s growth.

“I cannot tell you how valuable Calibre is to my son. He is dyslexic and can get very demoralised at the reading material given to him at school. Calibre has enabled him to read books by a wide range of authors that are appropriate to his age and interest level. It has opened a world for him which he didn't think he would be able to access”

Reading books that children can relate to, about topics they find interesting, is important for social inclusion. Reading the same content as their friends increases the pleasure they get out of reading. They can talk about books and not feel left out. Not feeling ‘different’ or excluded through disability can help build a child’s self-esteem - which can in turn have a positive effect on their whole schooling experience.

Extended vocabulary

Being exposed to a broader range of books and genres by reading in this way, rather than remaining at a level aimed at much younger children, has many academic benefits. Being able to read more complex books increases the vocabulary heard and therefore used. Making relationships between what is heard and what is seen can improve spelling. Age appropriate books provide context for the grammar that is taught in lessons, challenging readers to learn and develop the language skills required to succeed.

Audio books mean they won’t miss out.

“I have used your service personally in the past for my son who is dyslexic; he is now studying for a PhD! Audio books were a life saver for him especially when studying at secondary school when he first started using them, he certainly would not be where he is today without them”

Calibre provides a leisure reading service for those with visual impairment or other disabilities that prevent reading books in print. There are 1500 books for young people in the library, grouped by key stage or study level for guidance on selecting suitable material. Although text books are not included many of the popular books from schools reading lists and set texts are, in unabridged form, enabling reading along whilst listening. Calibre’s books can be borrowed on CD and USB as well as streamed from the website or downloaded via the CAL Download app so they really can be taken anywhere.

Reading gives children pleasure, allows them to explore new worlds and increase their understanding of this one. Calibre gives children with print disabilities equal access to books so they can reap the same rewards from reading as those without.

How to Join

To join Calibre there is a one-off joining fee of £35 (£20 for under 16’s). There is no annual subscription to continue using Calibre’s service – once you’ve joined, it is free to use for as long as you like! You just need to sign a membership form which can be downloaded from our website or we can send you one: just call our Membership Services on 01296 432 339.

To choose your books you can go online and browse through our titles and add them to your reading list or simply steam. Alternatively, we can choose your books for you; in fact many members say they have really broadened their reading experience in this way.