by Jim Hodges
I’ve been recording books for 20 years now. My desire to record books was actually a selfish one. I loved reading out loud and thought that recording books would be a fantastic at-home business to start after I completed 20 years in the U. S. Navy. While I knew that listening to audiobooks could be fun, what I didn’t realize at the time is that listening to an audiobook has lots of other benefits to the listener. Here are the top five.
Benefit #1: Audiobooks Improve Time Management
One of the greatest benefits of audiobooks is that you and your kids can save a lot of time by multitasking—provided the other tasks do not require too much of your attention, of course! Times like when you’re driving to soccer practice, piano lessons, or church, at nap time or bedtime, or together as a family in the evening. Other times people love listening to audiobooks is in the gym, or while going for a walk, or while carrying out daily routines such as cooking or cleaning.
The best routine I’ve heard is from a homeschooling Mom in South Carolina: Every day at lunchtime, Mom puts on the next chapter of a G.A. Henty audiobook. Everybody gets to listen to a chapter while making and eating their lunch. Chapters are typically 30-40 minutes long so that works about right. After the chapter is over Mom gets to ask questions about the chapter. This makes sure everyone is following the story. She can also define new vocabulary words (or look them up!) or clarify relationships between characters or show on a map where the
action took place.
Once the book is completed and everyone’s had a chance to listen together as a family, there’s a drawing to see who gets to listen to it alone first, and then everyone takes turns listening on their own devices when it works for them. Everyone hears the story. Mom gets to ensure they all followed along and comprehended it. She also ensures that the moral lessons exemplified are clearly understood and emphasized and that there is a connection made between good morals and good outcomes.
Benefit #2: Audiobooks Improve Pronunciation and Fluency
As the narrator reads, you will notice and learn—quite passively and accidentally—the way he is pronouncing different words. Not only that, but you will notice his reading speed, his pauses, stresses, and intonations, which are crucial in having fluency and command over any language. What you may not know is that I spend nearly a month preparing a book for recording before I ever turn on a microphone. While reading the book quietly to myself, I’m underling words I’m not sure how to pronounce. Specifically, I’m looking at the names of rivers and mountains and cities and actual people from history.
I own a regular dictionary, a geographic dictionary, and a biographic dictionary which I use to look up unusual words, places, and people. It’s been a huge help to me. You can also do an internet search for “how to pronounce [insert word]” to hear how a word is pronounced.
If your children follow along in the text of one of my recordings, they will see that words often aren’t pronounced the way you’d think based on their spelling! Think of the word Versailles. It’s pronounced ver-SI. Who’d have thought that? Nobody, unless they were French.
Benefit #3: Audiobooks Are Wonderful for Struggling Readers
You may have noticed an increase in the number of people diagnosed with reading difficulties. Maybe, just maybe, it’s really that we are just better at identifying their issues. It is now widely believed that Thomas Edison, Nicolas Tesla, Leonardo Da Vinci, Alexander Graham Bell, and Jules Verne were all dyslexic. There was no diagnosis, of course, but all the evidence appears to be there.
Do you think they would have loved audiobooks? I’ll bet they would have! Do you have a child who is a struggling reader? Or who has been diagnosed with dyslexia or any related issue? What benefits would accrue if you included audiobooks into their day?
Benefit #4: You Get an Interesting and Lively Experience of the Story!
Not to toot my own horn (well, maybe a little!), but the personality of the narrator can really enhance the flow and feel of a story. My goal when I record a book is to translate the written word into mental pictures for you—of people and places and situations—and also help you to understand the plot better. When you are watching a movie, everything is done for you. Facial expressions, tone of voice, actual appearance of a character, seeing where the story takes place—no imagination required! On the other hand, when listening to an audiobook, it’s almost entirely up to the reader to take the words of the author and help you visualize all that in your head.
Of course, the author’s descriptions form the foundation of the story, and many authors are quite descriptive, which is really helpful—not only to the listener, but to the reader. If it weren’t for the author’s description, how would I know anything about the character? How am I supposed to translate that into their voice, their attitude, their story?
The narrator’s job is to get into the author’s head—to take the words of the author and accurately present the story and bring the personality of each character to life. I do this with character voices of course, but also by varying my inflections, emphases, pauses, accents, and cadences. So much of a story can be told with those elements, in addition to the actual words spoken.
When a narrator uses all of the tools available to him, it really does transform the words of the author into an interesting, lively, and fun experience for the listeners!
Benefit #5: Audiobooks Build “Critical Listening” Skills
Not surprisingly, listening to audio books assists in the development of listening skills. In life, it’s vital to be able to really listen when people speak. Whether it’s a teacher or pastor or parent or employer or friend or spouse, truly listening is one of the most important skills you can develop.
First and foremost, you want to ensure that you completely understand what is expected of you or what an authority over you has required of you or what your friend or spouse is feeling. If you haven’t developed the critical skill of listening, how are you going to know if you got the information right? Anyone can just listen to a story or a book. However, the purpose for listening—or reading for that matter—is not just to be a recipient of a story or information. That’s great for younger listeners, for sure, and what many people refer to as “pleasure reading” or “pleasure listening.” But eventually, we all need to develop the skill of analyzing the logic of the information being transmitted, determining if the author has “made the case” so to speak, and judging the accuracy and legitimacy of the information being shared.