Reading a book is not the same as listening to an audiobook: commitment, understanding and presence of the narrator

Reading a book is not the same as listening to an audiobook: commitment, understanding and presence of the narrator

There is no doubt that in these busy times when multikasting abounds, an audiobook offers many advantages : we can consume it while driving, while running, while we are in bed with our eyes closed, or even while doing many other cognitively more important tasks.

However, there are some substantial differences between reading a book and listening to a book .

The commitment and presence of the narrator

Writing is less than 6,000 years old , insufficient time for the evolution of specialized mental processes dedicated to reading. We use the mental mechanism that evolved to understand oral language to support understanding of written language. In fact, research shows that adults score nearly identical on a reading test if they listen to passages rather than read them.

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However it is not always so. Audiobooks work when the texts are flat, simple, without complex metaphors, without cryptic images. Because there are more dense texts that require reducing the reading speed, and even rereading a fragment, or even being stopped in a word. Enjoy what evokes us as we delight in the taste of coffee .

So one study compared how well students learned about a science topic in a 22-minute podcast compared to a printed article. Although students spent equivalent time on each format, on a questionnaire written two days later, readers scored 81 percent and listeners 59 percent .

In other words: reading is something that is done, which requires commitment, while listening is something that happens, which can happen even if we are not committed to the task. Audiobooks progress with or without our participation . We can tune in, pay attention to the book while our mind wanders to another topic at hand, and still the book will move on.

In other words, an average reader will be less involved in an audiobook. It will process it less intensely.

Furthermore, the audiobook lacks an internal narrator: the narrator is the one who has been hired to read the audiobook. There is an imposed prosody, that is, a tone and a tempo. Because even though the writing lacks symbols for prosody, seasoned readers infer it on the fly . In one study , subjects listened to a recording of someone’s voice speaking quickly or slowly. They then all silently read the same text, supposedly written by the person whose voice they had just heard. Those who listen to the speaker speak fast would read the text faster than those who listen to the slow speaker.

Also, not everything is based on tempo or learning more or less. Even reading fiction, which on the surface only seems like a hobby, can have fruitful results on many levels , as you can see in the following video: