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Listening To Books Or Reading Them – What’s Better Option?

There’s an ongoing debate among book lovers regarding reading and listening to audiobooks. While one group favours reading stories the other prefers listening. Which version of a book is better? The question remains unanswered as it depends on people’s preferences. However, it isn’t a bad idea to weigh the plus and minus of both versions. So, let’s get started!

The Comprehension Aspect

The debate is mostly centred around the comprehension of the information being read. While readers say they retain better as there is a physical stimulus, listeners have a different reason. Listeners experience better comprehension because there is greater clarity in the tone of every dialogue. Comprehension is affected because of multitasking. Audiobooks leave scope for multitasking while physical books demand undivided attention. People listen to audiobooks while cooking, working out or driving. This isn’t possible with a physical book. Comprehension, therefore, could simply be a matter of divided attention.

Dealing With Distraction

Be it your engagement with an audiobook or a physical book, distraction is natural. What happens after that differs in both cases. Getting back on track with a physical book is easier than with its audio counterpart. Talking about this, David Daniel, a professor of psychology at James Madison University points out the physical book’s advantage. Turning the page gives you a tiny break from the story. According to the professor, the break facilitates an opportunity to process information. Daniel Willingham puts forth another aspect of distraction. He says humans can wander more easily while listening to a storybook than while reading it. This is because listening is passive and reading is an active form of engagement.

Skill Addition

If you are looking forward to improving your listening skills, read more. You may have expected the recommendation of an audiobook for this. Steve Kaufmann, an expert on learning languages has some new information for all of us. He says the concentration used to read a passage can greatly enhance a person’s listening skills. Andrew Cohen says reading the information in text forms increases retention. This, however, was said specifically about learning a new language.

Who Finishes Faster?

Although there is no need for one group with another, it is a popular point of debate. Do readers finish a novel faster than listeners? Experts say yes. An average adult reads 250-300 words per minute. On the other hand, a speaker can say no more than 150-160 words with the best clarity. There is an exception of the auctioneers who speak 250 words per minute. But, narrating a story is never the same, is it? So, if you compare reading and listening with this variable, you’ll have read as a clear winner.  

Learning Is Better When You Read

When considering both forms for academic purposes, there is proof of one being better than the other. Professor David Daniel in his co-authored study of 2010 confirmed that reading is better. He said that students who did reading performed better than podcast listeners in a comprehension test. The difference in the performance of both groups is 28%. Emphasizing on terms or phrases is a challenge in audiobooks. Physical books can easily reinforce important information by changing the font or using pictures.

Brain Views Listening And Reading As The Same

Researchers who were curious about this aspect set out to see the brain functions. Research in the Gallant Lab in 2016 revealed that the brain created the meaning of words in the same way while reading or listening. There was no difference in brain activity for these two actions performed by the subjects. Although brain activity is the same, kids with dyslexia could easily adapt to audiobooks than physical books.

The Genre Matters

When reading or listening for pleasure, choose the medium with the genre in mind. A good narrator can bring the characters and the situations alive. This is especially true if you are looking at suspense thrillers or a horror story. A good narrator can paint a picture before your eyes. This is one benefit that is not available to the readers. Sure, they can use their imagination. It will not be the same though.

Pronunciations Are Better

Reading, as we all know, improves vocabulary and teaches you new things. Is pronunciation included in these new things? No. You may learn new words and their spellings when you read, but you’ll not know how to say them. To know the pronunciation, you need to hear someone say it. Audiobooks give you that opportunity. It may be argued that you’re losing out on spellings while focussing on the pronunciation. Turns out you have to choose either of them.

Rest Your Eyes With An Audiobook

Today, almost everything that we need to do has become virtual. There is a lot of strain on the eyes, don’t you think? Although bedtime reading helps you relax and sleep better, an audiobook may seem like a better option. After a long day’s work, listening to a story is more soothing than reading it. If your eyes need rest, an audiobook can come to your rescue. If you’re in the midst of a mystery novel, you don’t have to wait curiously while resting your eyes.

Audiobooks Provide A Deeper Meaning

Did you know that listening to a proverb leaves a greater impact on the mind? A research by Dr Art Markman from the University of Texas revealed that hearing proverbs makes our brain connect it with similar proverbs. When proverbs are read, the brain takes them literally. There is no correlation or lateral thinking.

Now that you know the benefits of both the mediums, you can make a better choice depending on the situation. Read your favourite story… or listen to it.

Kruti Beesam

Kruti enjoys blogging and listening to music. She actively tries to sensitise people towards disabilities and create awareness about the need for wheelchair friendly infrastructure. Being a foodie, Kruti looks forward to meeting new people and sharing a good meal with them.


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