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Enhance learning by listening to audiobooks!

SHAKIRA AKABOR | Educator, Johannesburg, South Africa

Shakira Akabor is an academic tutor and a PhD candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She has been teaching since 2003 in a mainstream classroom at primary school level. She is especially passionate about the ways one can include rather than exclude children in the classrooms, especially those learners with different learning needs. Shakira is the host of Schools Out, ITV Networks educational programme which airs on Saturday mornings in Johannesburg.


Audiobooks enhance the ‘teaching of reading’ and improve the literacy level in our intermediate phase classrooms and beyond. An audiobook is a digital or recorded version of someone’s voice reading out a story. It can either be used in conjunction with the companion book (which is a printed version), or can be an independent audio. Research has shown that audiobooks can be successfully used to rekindle the love of reading. They are not a new resource. In fact, they have been around for a long time, and can be used by teachers and parents to bridge the literacy gap of teaching English reading to learners in primary schools. As teachers and parents, we know that struggles with reading not only affect learners’ achievement in the languages, but across all subjects. By grade 4, reading is often seen by learners as a chore, rather than an enjoyable activity. In the foundation phase (­first 3 years of compulsory schooling), children learn to read. However, from the intermediate phase, children read to learn.

Thus, it is vital that children read with understanding. A great number of learners are learning to read English, which is often not their mother tongue. Daily reading at home does not always take place since parents have busy lifestyles. For some learners, their reading abilities lie below their grade level and others can read English, but they cannot read with understanding. Here are some of the challenges faced by teachers:

  • Teaching reading to children in overcrowded classrooms is dif­ficult with a single teacher.

  • The focus of teaching children to read is not always on comprehension and understanding.

  • Post-reading activities such as writing and discussing the stories being read, need greater emphasis in the classroom.

  • Children with learning disabilities (visual tracking issues, dyslexia,etc.) struggle to read and require interventions over and above what is ordinarily available in the classroom.

How do audiobooks work?

Audiobooks are recorded versions of a storybook or novel that is read out by someone, usually in a calm and easy-to-listen to voice. Audiobooks can be used across multiple platforms. This includes audiobooks in mp3 format that can be downloaded and used on kindles and computers, as well as the kindle app that can be used on any smartphone or tablet. There are also websites that provide resources for stories in English, and are free of charge as well. Learners will be able to download and listen to stories both at school using a kindle and a pair of headphones, or at home using a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer provided they have Internet access. Audiobooks are best used in conjunction with the companion book. As such, learners listen, as they follow running their fingers along the printed words. This assists with the pronunciation of words, which is very useful if the learner comes from a home where English is not the mother tongue.

Audiobooks allow for a convenient way of reading books when short on time. It can be highly enjoyable and a fun way to encourage reading in children. They can also be downloaded free of charge online.

How useful are audiobooks?

We need headphones, computers or laptops, and internet connectivity to make it possible for teachers to download these audiobooks.

  • Children ­find audiobooks fascinating thus rediscovering the joy of reading.

  • Audiobooks teach children the correct pronunciation of words, pacing and use of words in context.

  • It frees up the teachers’ time in reading aloud to the class.

  • Provides an opportunity for choice, immediately making it appealing.

  • It is a good example of extension activity, after the children have ­finished their classwork.

  • It is an inclusive way of reaching out to all children, even those who might have mild learning disabilities.

  • Parents can use audiobooks at home, while they are busy cooking, etc., or play audiobooks in the car.

  • Later on, they can discuss the books with their children, giving them an opportunity to recall and remember what they have heard.

  • It can be used to enhance the listening skills of children.

What does research say about audiobooks?

  • Students lose enthusiasm for reading in the intermediate years (grade 4 onwards).

  • Students whose level of reading is below grade-level, struggle the most across the board.

  • Audiobooks allow for both groups reading as well as individual reading activities.

  • Audiobooks improve fluency and comprehension as learners become familiar with the sound and sense of stories being read out to them. (Carbo, 1996)

  • Generating ‘renewed enthusiasm for reading will ensure enormous progress in all areas of schooling’ (Krashen, 2003).

  • Active engagement in reading (as provided by audiobooks) improves literacy levels of older children (Montgomery, 2009).

It is our hope to let every child discover the joy of reading. When children love reading, they love learning, thus we will be creating lifelong learners. In addition, their performance in every learning area being taught in English will improve as a result of being able to read with understanding and comprehension.

This article was originally published in magazine in the month of December, 2019.

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