The benefits of reading aloud last a lifetime

Telling stories to our children is one of the oldest and most enduring practices of parenting. Despite lifestyle changes, the advent of advanced technologies and the proliferation of devices, bedtime stories are still a daily ritual in many homes around the world. Today, audiobooks are enhancing this phenomenon, both as a supplement to in-person storytelling and as reading option that extends beyond childhood.

For small children, hearing stories read aloud stimulates the early acquisition of language, broadens the vocabulary and fosters a love of reading. When storytelling comes from a familiar voice, it also strengthens emotional bonds. All of these effects can be multiplied through audiobooks, which make listening to stories possible even when a parent can’t be there to read in person.

“It’s important to note that listening to audiobooks is not ‘cheating’. The main purpose of reading is to obtain information. It makes no difference the route by which that information reaches the brain,”says Jamie Martin, of the New England Assistive Technology Center (NEAT) in Hartford, Connecticut, who works with children whose learning disabilities affect their reading and writing skills. Martin notes that while children are learning to read and write, they direct their attention more to the pronunciation of words than to the attempt to comprehend what is being said.  “Audiobooks may eliminate the need to decode so that they can focus their attention on meaning,” he says.

Results of the study “Children and Young People’s Reading in 2019”, sponsored by the National Literacy Trust in the United Kingdom, point in the same direction. Based on a survey of 56,906 children and young people between the ages of 9 and 18 years, the study concluded that audiobooks foster the self-acquisition of reading in children.  

From the University of Salamanca in Spain, Araceli García Rodríguez and Raquel Gómez Díaz, authors of “Reading with your Ears?: Audiobooks and Literature for Children and Young Adults” (2019), analyzed the benefits of the use of audiobooks in educational environments, where they function as a complement to traditional reading on paper. They emphasized that audiobooks help small children to pay attention, amplify their emotional experience through the nuances of voice, and foster the development of cognitive activity through the creation of mental images based on listening.

By stimulating a child’s imagination as well as his or her language skills, recorded stories can play a key role in educating and entertaining children – with the added benefit that they can be listened to again and again.

Adults benefit, too

Despite being a firmly-rooted practice that has endured over time, the custom of telling stories to children is often interrupted when kids start to read fluently alone, or simply as they grow up. But take heed: both listening to stories and reading literature aloud provide multiple benefits to adults, too. 

In her book entitled The Enchanted Hour (Harper, 2019), the author Meghan Cox Gurdon explains: “It would be a mistake to relegate reading aloud entirely to the territory of childhood. Adolescents and adults that are read to aloud – though they receive scarce attention from the scientific community – unquestionably enjoy benefits of an intellectual, emotional, literary and even spiritual nature.”  In addition, says Cox, “for exhausted middle-aged adults, whose attention is divided over a thousand areas, taking the time to read aloud can be like applying a soothing balm to the soul. For the elderly, the effects can be consoling and invigorating, like those of a restorative tonic or a medicine.” For all of these reasons, it is important both to read aloud and to listen to other voices reading literature, and not only during childhood.  

In the words of Juan Mata Anaya, President of the Spanish Association Entrelibros, “It’s a pleasure to listen to others speak, read, interpret… It’s a primary pleasure. Our brains were hearers before they were readers, and the seductive power of the voice is immense. Moreover, the reading aloud of a text opens up meanings that are sometimes not apparent when one reads in silence, to oneself.”

 

It’s a pleasure to listen to others speak, read, interpret… It’s a primary pleasure. Our brains were hearers before they were readers, and the seductive power of the voice is immense”.
Juan Mata Anaya, President of Entrelibros