Is Listening to a Book Same as Reading it?
“Is it cheating if I listen to an audiobook for my book club?”
Danil Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia posed this interesting frequently-asked question in his op-ed in New York Times to point out the effectiveness of reading audiobooks vis-à-vis reading the actual print.
Willingham presented that while listening to audio and reading printed books are both worthwhile activities, we cannot directly conclude that they are equivalent. The emphasis of the article revolves around the difference between the two in terms of comprehension and the reasons why people opt for one over the other. But Willingham concluded that “Our richest experiences will come not from treating print and audio interchangeably, but from understanding the differences between them and figuring out how to use them to our advantage — all in the service of hearing what writers are actually trying to tell us.” (NY Times, Oct. 8, 2018)
It is also good to note that engagement also sets the difference between listening to audiobooks and reading printed books. A reader of print has no choice but to actively engage with the material to understand what is written. They will even have to reread a statement to ensure that the message is well understood.
Willingham pointed out that books with “difficult texts” require more engagement.
Technical materials such as Math books require reading as well. Understanding the procedure of solving a Math problem, for instance, requires the reading and re-reading of the material to gain understanding.
Whereas, with audiobooks, the listener can be an active listener at one point but then can passively listen later on as they conveniently wait for the words to read themselves.
There is also an argument about tackling books that are considered “difficult” material. Some found it challenging to read a lot of information, evidence, and arguments from these kinds of books. Listening to it being read to them instead made the facts presented easier to understand. It is like listening to the author giving a podcast or a seminar which they find to be more effective and meaningful.
Another point to consider is the narrator who sets a distinct difference between an audiobook and a written text. The very tone and flavor that the author intends to cascade to its audience can be well depicted by the narrator. This is impactful for audiobook listeners. Narrators and even the author themselves give life to the reading material— as compared to having a different set of eyes who are reading and may interpret the material differently.
The aforementioned points build on the fact that spoken and written forms of books are fundamentally different, meaning, nothing is superior to the other. The benefits each medium brings will also depend on the time, purpose, and the kind of engagement one has with these books. For instance, if you are a type that wants to listen to something while you are driving or during a gym workout, listening to an audiobook will make a lot of sense; or if you are on to tickling your imagination, then reading the texts would be perfect for you.
So, listening to a book is not cheating at all. It really depends on the performance of the text. What matters is the time spent on tackling these materials and the purpose of your reading will be the factors that can affect your choice of material. Exposure to both audiobooks and reading books will give you the best of both worlds which will make you read books even more.