Encouraging literacy through audiobooks

by Kit Munro

As frequent readers of this blog know, I want folk who do not think they have the opportunity to read to realise that using audiobooks they may be able to create opportunities. Jobs, if repetitive, mind numbing, and solitary can create the opportunity, through the medium of audiobooks, for a lot of reading.

This post is devoted to other folk however. Not those who lack the time or the energy to read, but to those who lack the ability to read.

For people who cannot read, the medium of audiobooks makes an exposure to literature possible.

Historically the content of literature could only be achieved once reading was mastered. People have to work at reading before they can be rewarded with content. With audiobooks however a person can be given the content of literature before they have mastered reading.

A person who has never read would not have known what they were missing [a generalisation but for present purposes accurate enough] and quite reasonably may have had little desire to learn to read. A person who has never read but is given the content of a book they really enjoy would likely develop a desire to learn to read.

A more nuanced approach for semi-literate folk would be to give them only part of the content of a book in audio form and the rest in written form. If the change in medium could be at a cliffhanger in the book the desire to learn to read could be even more increased.

In this way audiobooks could be used to encourage reading in people who have difficulty reading or are illiterate.

Take this story from the New Zealand Herald relating to people in prison:

Up to 90% of New Zealand prisoners cannot read and write well, according to a 2010 statement to parliament by then Minister for Corrections Judith Collins. The Department of Corrections has since been busy embedding literacy and numeracy education into vocational training programmes.

Arguably there are many benefits to ensuring prisoners’ minds are kept active. Research published in the British Medical Journal in 2003 concluded that a lack of mental stimulation in prison contributes to poor mental health, frustration, anger, anxiety and even drug use.

Could audiobook reading programmes in prison improve inmates literacy or even instil a love of literature?

I do not know how true the below example is but the same story from the Herald refers to a prison reading program in Brazil.

The programme offers prisoners the opportunity to reduce their custodial sentences by reading works of literature, philosophy, science or classics. According to Reuters, the scheme is being rolled out in four federal prisons holding some of Brazil’s most notorious criminals.

…Brazil’s Redemption Through Reading scheme appears to have a different purpose than simply encouraging literacy or reading. The focus on texts of science, literature, philosophy or classics seems designed to encourage prisoners to challenge their mode of thinking or take a more expansive view.

Speaking about the scheme, Sao Paulo lawyer Andre Kehdi, who heads up a book donation project for prisons, told Reuters that “a person can leave prison more enlightened and with a enlarged vision of the world.”