Reading with the eyes – and ears?

In Sweden, audio books are becoming increasingly popular, and also in Finland the interest in audio books is growing. Listening to books is called “reading with the ears” in Sweden. Teachers and experts recommend audio books especially for people who are not used to reading, and to children and teenagers who are unmotivated to read and never touch a book. Instead of reading with the eyes, they are listening to books.

But does listening with the ears develop the brain as much as reading with the eyes? How does listening affect the reading skills?

Reading aloud is important for children’s language development, and even after they have learned to read themselves they need to listen to books, according to recent research. But an important difference between reading aloud and listening to an audio book is that when reading aloud, there is interaction between parent and child and an exchange of opinions and thoughts. This does not happen when listening to an audio book.

Reading aloud and discussing about a book is highly developing for the child’s language skills on all language levels, because different levels of language, language melodies, tones of voice and nuances are used. An audio book can also awaken thoughts and increase the vocabulary, but it happens without engagement or communication from the side of the listener. The listener is a receiver, not an active partner in the dialogue.

When a child is learning to read, the brain starts to build new structures and more brain mass is created. The eyes are coordinated with the processing of words and sentences in the brain. If the child continues to read and to train reading skills through different types of texts, also thinking and analytical abilities will be developed. The brain becomes faster in picking up information and processing it.

Reading skills are needed to function in society

Modern society requires citizens who can read. Persons with reading difficulties also usually have problems in managing their own affairs and function in society.

An increasing number of young people leave school with weak reading skills today. Those who do not want to read, or find reading too complicated, can be introduced to literature through audio books. But they should be encouraged to read paper books and e-books, too, and not only to listen.

Easy to Read books can support such readers to obtain better reading skills, because Easy to Read books make reading easier and more available.

Audio books showing the text on the screen, or which are being read parallel as a paper book or an e-book are a further possibility. Parallel listening and reading develops reading skills. Audio books prepared for persons, who are unused to reading or have reading difficulties, should not contain any extra elements like music or sound effects. They disturb the concentration of the reader.

Summary: it is not enough to just listen to books. Every person must also read in order to develop skills which are needed to function in society.

The project LäsLätt (ReadEasy) 2.1 for informing about Easy to Read is realised by Bokpil and Colorit ry.rf. and supported by The Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland.

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