Friday, May 31, 2019

Audio Books Aren't Cheating

How many times have you had this conversation?
Person: How do you find the time to read so much?
You: Well, I listen to audio books in the car and at the gym--
Person: Oh, so you're not REALLY reading! Audio books are cheating.

Well. Have we got news for these people! AUDIO BOOKS ARE NOT CHEATING!

FIRST of all. Why is it "cheating"? Is reading hard work that we are somehow skipping? I sure hope not. If reading is supposed to be work, then I have been doing it wrong for years!

The Basics

Let's take out the part of the equation that beginning readers (up to about fifth grade) need to be able to read and process what they're reading, by decoding the words and comprehending their meaning. As adults (and also as teens), we don't need practice decoding; we are reading for comprehension and enjoyment. As such... what does it matter how the information enters our brain?

What I usually ask people, if questioned about this topic, is if they can understand what they have heard. Do they need practice reading? No? Do they enjoy the stories? Yes? Can they talk about it later? Okay then! They have successfully internalized a story.

We must also consider those who are unable to read print. Are books in Braille truly "reading"? Can a person with vision issues say they are an avid reader, when their books are audible? I would argue that, yes, they can.

The Science

If you look at this from a perspective of science, the brain processes a story that is read in pretty much the same way as a story that is heard. University of Virginia Psychologist Daniel Willingham, author of Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do, explains that, "for typical adults (who decode fluently) listening comprehension and reading comprehension [are] mostly the same thing. And experiments show very high correlations of scores on listening and reading comprehension tests in adults." So... yes, it's pretty much the same thing.

Dr. Willingham also objects to the often-chosen word, "cheating," in regards to reading. ​"Comparing audio books to cheating is like meeting a friend at Disneyland and saying 'you took a bus here? I drove myself, you big cheater.' The point is getting to and enjoying the destination. The point is not how you traveled." Hear, hear!

And Also

In his interview with CNN, Willingham also asks us to consider how the author wanted their work to be experienced. Newer books, such as Amy Poehler's Yes, Please are almost meant to be heard, and the inflections of the narrator (Poehler herself) add an extra element to the experience. Some titles, such as dense nonfiction, may be far more enjoyable to the reader than the listener, as they can easily flip back to reference previous passages. 

Of course, this leads us to the question of the drama: 
Is it cheating to read Shakespeare, when it was meant to be seen?

Let us know your thoughts here in the comments, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter.

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