The 21st century has given widespread access to an array of digital technologies, which has redefined literacy to include negotiating online media in a variety of platforms, understanding visual and auditory messages, and recognizing which medium best suits both content and audience.

The exploding growth of high quality audiobook production, and the availability of affordable and instant downloads to any device, arrive at just the right time to delight young listeners and help with language understanding and fluency.

Listening comprehension

Children develop a wide, varied range of skills and experiences in their first decade, and audiobooks are able to address different learning styles as they develop. Since listening comprehension is typically two grades above visual reading skills, audiobooks can help meet the needs and developing skills of everyone from early print readers and young bookworms to delayed readers, tactile explorers and strong listeners.

Children who love the sounds and rhythms of language, for example, find audiobooks a compelling delight; they allow these children to explore rich language and repeat hearing stories that please them. Kinesthetic, or tactile-oriented children, can explore the story created in their mind’s eye through an audiobook performance while engaging in quiet play such as coloring. And at any age or reading level, audiobooks can positively impact vocabulary skills, pronunciation and reading accuracy.

“Libraries are reporting high popularity of free downloadable audiobooks in their collections, which are also expanding as digital access alleviates a library’s budget and space needs...”

Equal opportunity

Contemporary audiobooks drench young ears and minds in language, culture and imagination, all the reasons we value literacy skills. Audiobooks also help level the field between children with language-rich home environments and those with less family access to literacy. Like print books, audiobooks are available at public and school libraries. And libraries are reporting high popularity of free downloadable audiobooks in their collections, which are also expanding as digital access alleviates a library’s budget and space needs while also allowing for diversity and growth in accessible titles.

Audiobooks also offer children — and older listeners — a unique “reading” experience. Authors, narrators and production directors come together to create a professional performance that enables the material and format to fit together seamlessly. A wide array of performance techniques and artistic interpretation used by narrators and producers help convey the author’s voice and writing style. The listening experience, as a result, is quite different from reading the same book in print.

Cognitive, educational, and social researchers provide a wealth of data and stories about the power of audiobooks and listening literacy. Literacy initiatives that recognize the essential role of audiobooks have been developed and promoted by many national and international organizations, including the International Literacy Association, the National Conference of Teachers of English, the International Dyslexia Association, and Learning Ally.