Friday, September 10, 2010

To Read or To Listen: That Is The Question

On another blog a few years back, I posted a review of book I had read on audio. I was surprised to receive a response. I think an author that takes the time to communicate with his readers is a true treasure. Most of the time we can only guess about the person who created the stories we read. I find my students sometimes have trouble making the connection that authors are real people, because they never see or hear for them. (That's an argument for setting up author visits at your school.)

Back to the question. The author made an interesting comment. Listening to a book is absolutely not the same as reading it on the page. The author is absolutely right and it brings up an argument I hear from time to time. Listening to a book on audio does not count as reading a book. Dear, sweet Mr. Archer has actually made that statement to me. The author was right – Mr. Archer - not so much.

As far as I'm concerned and I know many educators who will agree, listening to a book on audio does count. Try telling a seeing impaired reader that their listening to the book does not count as reading it. What about children who struggle so much with reading comprehension because for whatever reason, reading is so difficult, but totally get it when they listen to the book? Audio books are a great way to get them to keep "reading." What about the bookworm who has way too many books to read and not enough time to read them? I would never get half the books on my "to be read" list read, if I didn't listen to some of them while driving.

It's important to keep in mind one thing when deciding between reading a book and listening to it on audio. Listening is not the same as reading. I love being able to hold a book. I like the feel and scent of the pages. If the print version has illustrations, you won't get them with the audio version. If you miss something important while listening to a book, it is not that easy to go back and find it. With a book in hand you can simply turn back the pages. With a book on audio, you have to search back through tracks – not always easy while driving down a busy highway.

I've always felt two readers can read the same book and come away with something different. When you read you create a mind movie and YOU are in charge of casting and set design. Reading a book is an intimate experience between the writer and the reader. Each brings something to the experience. When you listen to a book on audio, you add another person to the mix and they bring something to the experience as well.

Sometimes, listening to a book on audio may be the only way to "read" a book. Sometimes, when a book is moving too slowly, listening to it can help you make it to the end. But, sometimes, listening to a book on audio can ruin the experience. The reader's voice or choices of tone and inflection can turn off a listener. Of course there are times when the opposite is true. The reader's voice, tone and inflection can bring something valuable to the experience. I have yet to find an audio book done by Bruce Coville's Full Cast Audio that I haven't fully enjoyed.


Whether for enjoyment or for assistance with reading comprehension, I recommend parents and students give audio books a try. Many public libraries now have Playaways – sort of an individual book MP3 player. This would allow several passengers in the same car to listen to different books. Some libraries even offer audio books for download to your iPod. Give it a try. You can always turn it off and pick up the print version.

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