Children’s audiobooks are growing in popularity. How useful are they for kids learning to read?

(ABC Australia) For Gemma Beriman, nothing beats reading to her two sons, Hudson and Bodhi, at bedtime. She’s never been tempted to hand over those duties to a famous actor in a faraway recording studio.

But Ms Beriman, a high school teacher, does believe audiobooks can have a place in a child’s life.

“[They are] definitely useful in some situations, particularly if you’re travelling or have reluctant readers,” she says.

A booming audiobook industry suggests there are plenty of others who agree. But can the reassuring voices of Stephen Fry, Kate Winslet or David Tennant help young children to grasp the foundations of literacy? And could they ever replace the need to read physical books?

The rise of audiobooks

Audiobooks have come a long way from inventor Thomas Edison’s first recording of Mary had a Little Lamb in 1887.

UK National Literacy Trust knowledge and research manager Emily Best says there’s been an “explosion in the market” in recent years with increased use, and more providers and titles available.

Audiobook giant Audible says in 2020 its members listened to audiobooks for two-and-half hours each week, and in the same year finished on average 25 audiobooks each. That’s an increase of three books from the previous year.

A company spokesman said children’s content is the second most popular genre behind sci-fi and fantasy.

Ms Best says research by her organisation found audiobooks can act as “a way in to reading print books” and build literacy skills such as comprehension and vocabulary.

She says the research also shows using audiobooks isn’t “cheating” for listeners.

“There are many benefits to listening to audio that mirror those of reading, and [these] really helped legitimise their place as part of a child’s reading journey.”

She says some of the benefits include creating “excitement” about listening to famous voices at story time and opening up the world of stories written in English to migrant families.

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Publication:      ABC Australia
Author:             Sarah Scopelianos
Publish Date:   7.03.2021