I too had that same thought. As the parent of a VERY bright child, a boy who was talking in paragraphs by the time he was two years old and who I expected would learn to read with ease, I was confronted with the world of learning disorders. When he was 3 1/2 he showed a very strong interest in learning to read. He was a bit young, but I went with it. Pretty soon, though, his interest in reading waned — I assumed that he was just young and didn’t push it. It wasn’t until three years later, when I took him to a new optometrist and luckily stumbled across someone who did more than test basic vision, that we discovered that he had a severe eye-tracking issue. So, when he tried to read, the words were bouncing around on the page.
Fortunately for us and for him, this was a problem that could be fixed and today he reads very well, but he never developed the habit of reading books (and we have a library of over 5,000 books as both myself and my husband love books). My son reads lots of articles and he reads about things he’s interested in, but getting him to sit and read a book is like pulling teeth. I think it may be that while the eye tracking issue has been taken care of, reading for any length of time is still a chore for him — fatiguing rather than enjoyable. So for him, to read a short or even a longish article is one thing, but to tackle a book quite another. And yet, he proofs audiobooks for me, reading along with the audiobook watching for errors and omissions. It’s a mystery.
Luckily, we live in an age when modern technology makes audiobooks very accessible. My son and I both started listening to audiobooks when he was six. I had been a snob about audiobooks until my son’s needs and my own exhaustion pushed me to try them. I was hooked after just one book — Melvyn Bragg’s “The Adventure of English,” which I highly recommend in audio, where you can hear the Latin, the Freezen, the middle and old English, etc. Soon, I noticed that I, an avid reader since I was very young, was retaining more when I listened to a book. I was gobsmacked!
I did what I do. I started researching and discovered that audiobooks are a big deal — or should be. Current literacy rates are not great. Many people are functionally illiterate and even among those who are functionally literate, many never crack a book. I think this may be because of issues like the one my son has — subtle learning differences that make reading a chore, if not outright impossible.
Audiobooks can improve literacy rates: they model reading and, like being read to as a child, can facilitate learning to read. They can help one build a better vocabulary, and, most importantly, even people who can’t read because of various subtle and not so subtle disorders (like dyslexia, for instance) can enjoy books.
Even avid readers can benefit from audiobooks. As we get older and our time gets filled-up with jobs, parenting, and other responsibilities, finding time to read can be difficult. Audiobooks can help one find time for books or add more books to one’s life, as one can listen while driving, walking the dog, gardening, cleaning, etc.
Audiobooks have been in the news a lot lately because they are growing in popularity, still, many see listening to a book as “cheating” or somehow inferior to reading. And while many teachers love audiobooks, some parents and teachers worry that children who use audiobooks might not become solid readers. I think the real problem is that too many people who have difficulty in learning to read are turned off of books, when they might instead become steady ‘listeners’.