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Reading vs. Listening to Books - Is One Really Better?

Looking to settle the reading vs. listening to books debate once and for all? Read this article to find out if listening to audiobooks is better than reading.


Everyone knows reading is good for you. It helps you learn new concepts and ideas, improves memory retention, and is a valuable part of healthy brain function. Not only is the process of reading an important aspect of daily life, but it also provides plenty of opportunities for mental and physical growth that can greatly enhance your lifestyle.

In recent years, the reading community has expanded to introduce a variety of platforms and technologies such as e-readers, digital libraries, and the most popular – audiobooks. Although the concept of listening to a book has taken the world by storm, many avid readers believe that listening to an audiobook should not be considered reading at all. After all, it technically doesn’t involve any reading, but it does allow you to consume literature in a more convenient way.

Despite the hesitation, studies show that people who read physical books and those who consume audiobooks are equal in terms of the level of comprehension they retain from their reading choices. Whether you prefer audiobooks or paperbacks, continue reading to learn all about the differences between audiobooks and physical books and how listening to a book can improve your lifestyle.

Key points:

  • Many readers believe that listening to audiobooks should not be considered the same as reading a physical book. Still, audiobooks and physical books share many similarities in their intended outcomes, leading others to believe that audiobooks can be a natural part of the common library. 

  • Audiobooks can have a number of benefits on your health, including improved language skills and a reduction of eye strain. In fact, listening to audiobooks may even be better than physical books in situations where you are less likely to be able to enjoy a sit-down reading session. The Headway app offers the best way to listen to audiobook summaries. Download Headway today to try it out!

  • Reading books may be beneficial for both mental and physical health, but it can be difficult for people with busy lifestyles to find the time to sit down and open a book. As such, the Headway app can serve as a great resource for those looking to build their mental skills and motivate themselves with short yet detailed summaries of the best self-help books.


Do audiobooks count as reading?

Let’s face it – reading a paperback novel and listening to an audiobook are two completely separate activities. However, despite their physical differences, audiobooks and regular books share more similarities than you may think. Although listening to an audiobook doesn’t require you to sit down and peruse pages with your eyes, both methods allow you to fulfill the common purpose of acquiring information from a book. 

The main difference between the two comes from the way the messages are decoded in your mind. Spoken language and written language are processed differently by the brain, meaning that you can receive the same information from two different sources, but they’ll be processed through different parts of the brain. To illustrate, listening activates the hearing center of the brain, while reading written text is processed by the visual cortex. 

This phenomenon also depends on the type of information being processed. For instance, a fiction novel being read for pleasure will be processed differently than a non-fiction book you are studying for academic or professional purposes. This is because you read fiction novels for entertainment, which can easily be forgotten afterward. Non-fiction is read for the purpose of retaining information for later use. In either case, whether you are reading a book or listening to one, the brain will process both fictional and non-fictional material and retain information, respectively.

Audiobooks and physical books may have their differences, but they share a common denominator: absorbing information from a book. As such, audiobooks can technically count as reading, as both outcomes are relatively the same. 

How can audiobooks benefit your health?

Audiobooks are more than just something to listen to — they’re a way for people to continue learning while on the go and to maintain motivation to practice self-care and improvement. To give you some idea of how audiobooks can benefit your health, here are eight ways that audiobooks can improve both brain function and physical aspects of your daily life.


Enhance language comprehension

When learning a new language, one of the primary focuses is usually placed on oral language – after all, languages are learned best by actively engaging in direct communication. Intrinsically, people learning second languages can listen to audiobooks in their desired lingo to improve comprehension. With constant exposure to new words and phrases, regular audiobook listeners may also experience more fluency and better pronunciation.

Many audiobook listeners may also find that hearing the credence and tone of a person’s voice helps them to attach more meaning to the words. In itself, this improves language comprehension by focusing on the context clues and notations to pick up on the vocabulary. Regardless of whether you are learning a new language or would simply like to refine your native vocabulary, audiobooks can serve as the perfect tool to do so.

Create meaningful imagery

Whether you are a visual learner or not, most brains are able to create more vivid imagery through listening to speech rather than reading it. In fact, several studies show that listening to audiobooks produces more of a brain response than simply reading words off a page. This is because speech filled with emotion and various tones allows more room for your brain’s visual processes to kick in.

Although reading a book in any format allows your brain to imagine scenarios and pictures in your head, listening to an audiobook will lead to a deeper visualization of the content through audio settings and descriptions. This is done through character voices, background music, and dramatic narrations. In the same way that a heart-wrenching movie is more likely to elicit an emotional response rather than reading the script, audiobooks bring a story to life by allowing listeners to empathize more with a story.


Build critical listening skills

Listening skills are taught at a young age by encouraging children to listen attentively while someone else is reading a story. This is because listening to books can help you become accustomed to learning through verbal communication. The more books you listen to, the more you will be able to focus on the words being spoken and apply these skills to your daily conversations and beyond. 

Critical listening skills are a foundational tool that helps you learn, get around on your own, and maintain healthy personal relationships. This is especially true for children whose brains are still being developed, and as such, using their acquired listening skills can help build vocabulary, literacy, and language acquisition. Audiobooks can therefore be a pathway for this tool by helping you develop active listening abilities by maintaining long-term attentiveness to a person’s speech.

Easier on the eyes

After a long day spent on the job, reading tiny fonts on screens and maintaining sharp focus for hours on end, your eyes can easily take the brunt of everything. This constant pressure on your eyes can result in uncomfortable eye strain, causing headaches and painful migraines. Not to mention, the blue light emitted from smartphones and TV screens can disrupt sleep patterns and make symptoms worse.

For people who read regularly or who would like to minimize their amount of screen time, audiobooks can help reduce the chances of developing eye strain. To avoid this, consider trading your nightly paperback or digital read for an audiobook recording. This will help keep your eyes off a screen and encourage you to relax your eyes before bed.


Improved reading ability

People who have trouble reading for various reasons, including people with dyslexia and visual impairments, may find it beneficial to make the switch to audiobooks. The reason is that reading a book often requires more mental resources than some people are capable of using. Audiobooks, on the other hand, eliminate the need for reading and allow you to retain information in a way that is much easier for your brain to handle.

Pairing an audiobook with a physical copy of the book and reading along with the recording can also be a great method for those who need a little extra help while reading. Using audiobooks with regular books consistently could even give you an extra push into the reading department by giving you the foundations of reading. After enough practice with paired audio, you may be able to try reading on your own and see if it works for you.

Better memory retention

It’s no secret that books can offer you a broad range of information, but reading a book doesn’t necessarily mean you will remember everything afterward. Although studies show that the average person’s retention of a physical book is no different than that of an audiobook, some people may find that they retain information better with audiobooks. This is because audiobooks stimulate memory and thinking skills to a higher degree by encouraging more imagination and visualization.

On another note, reading written text can make you more likely to experience reading regression – the act of glazing over words and returning back to previous sentences and paragraphs because you haven’t taken in any information. Since audiobooks are not as easy to reverse continuously, listening to an audiobook without reversing can essentially train your brain to retain more information quickly and efficiently.


Fast reading speed

Improving your words-per-minute (WPM) speed can have several benefits, including being able to finish long pieces of text in a shorter time span. Although the average reader can breeze through about 250 to 300 words per minute, the average rate of speech is only 150-160 per minute. However, the average listening speed is faster than the speaking speed, which means that people can still comprehend spoken words at up to 300 WPM. 

Since the average reading speed is the same as the listening speed, people with a lower-than-average reading speed can therefore use audiobooks to accelerate their reading. Additionally, the narration settings can be altered to read at speeds up to 2.0x. This means that you can potentially finish an entire audiobook in half the time it normally takes. Keep in mind that listening to higher narration speeds may make the words more difficult to resonate with emotionally, so this method is used best for texts being read for academic or professional purposes.

Increased productivity

The act of reading a book requires your full focus and concentration. However, audiobooks can be listened to at any time during the day, especially while running errands and completing tasks. As a result, listening to audiobooks can help increase productivity levels through the art of multitasking.

Consider listening to audiobooks that correlate to the task you are working on. For example, if you are cleaning the house, putting on an audiobook about home organization could offer you new ideas and motivate you to achieve superior results. Other types of books, such as self-help books about building confidence and creativity, may be best played during commutes to work or before an important presentation.


When is listening to a book better than reading one?

Contrary to popular belief, there are times when listening to an audiobook can be considered better than reading a physical copy. Here are some instances in which you may find that audiobooks are much more convenient than pulling out a book.

When you are busy

In today’s society, hustle culture is a real thing, and it can often deprive people who follow busy lifestyles of finding the time to sit down and enjoy some form of self-care. As a matter of fact, many people don’t have the resources to sit down and open a book to read for hours – in which case, audiobooks come to the rescue with a solution.

For busy parents, businessmen and women, or people with hectic schedules, audiobooks can offer you the opportunity to make time for what is most important in your life. If you find yourself struggling with setting aside time for self-improvement and mental development, consider playing an audiobook recording during times of busyness. This can either help calm you down and relieve stress, or it can simply allow you to accomplish more tasks at once.

When the audiobook is entertaining

Books are meant to be entertaining in their own right, especially fiction novels that tell interesting stories. Depending on the type of book you read, books are usually designed to keep a reader engaged with flashy imagery or striking opening lines. Nevertheless, some books can become dull or boring midway through and cause you to leave the book unfinished.

Think of an audiobook as an audio movie. Reading a book means that you are responsible for creating the visual and auditory show in your head, complete with character voices and narration style. However, if you aren’t equipped with an active imagination, this can make reading books simply unsatisfying. In this case, audiobooks take care of most of the imaginative work by using music, voices, and other sound effects to maintain a high level of entertainment throughout the book. 


When you want to wind down

After a long day of work, it’s easy to want nothing more than to mindlessly turn on the TV or scroll endlessly through your phone. Although it is certainly not a bad thing to let yourself wind down and lounge after work, staring at a screen for hours may not always be the best way for your brain to relax. 

As a matter of fact, too much screen time could make you more alert and increase your chances of insomnia or poor sleeping patterns. However, reading a book when you are tired or in a low mood can lessen your ability to focus on the words being read. In this situation, listening to an audiobook can help you relax in a healthy way that calms you down while gently stimulating your mind.

When audiobooks come in summary format

Full-length audiobooks can sometimes run for up to 10 or more hours – and sometimes, people simply don’t have the patience to sit and listen for long periods of time. Luckily, there are apps available that condense the most popular books into bite-sized chunks of information for your listening pleasure. For instance, Headway is a learning app that focuses on providing its users with short audio summaries packed with key insights from books.

Rather than spending hours on a single audiobook, listening to summaries of books lets you gain the same information you would from listening to a book, but in less than half the time. Whether you need to finish reading a book for tomorrow’s essay or you’re looking to complete a reading challenge within a set timeframe, audio summaries can be both convenient and efficient.

Listen to audiobook summaries with Headway

Audiobooks can serve as a way to help you relax after a long day, sharpen your mental skills, or even motivate you to become your best self. In fact, many scientific studies claim that audiobooks have beneficial effects on both mental and physical health. That being the case, setting aside time to build your skills and improve memory can still be difficult for the average person to accomplish. 

Using external resources like apps, for instance, may help you to manage a busy schedule while still focusing on self-development. In particular, the Headway app comes with features that allow you to track your performance goals, listen on the go, and read without limits. With this app, you can read and listen to books in bite-sized summaries, helping you to retain the most important parts of a book in less than half the time. Plus, the book summaries in the app are narrated by professional voice actors, and you can even listen to the summaries at different speeds to further increase your productivity.

Looking for a way to improve your reading comprehension and retain information without sacrificing too much time? Download the Headway app to gain access to a variety of 15-minute audiobook summaries.


Are audiobooks as good as reading?

The debate between audiobooks and physical books comes from the belief that audiobooks are unable to provide readers with the same benefits as reading – stress relief, memory retention, and useful learning resources, to name a few. However, audiobooks can actually be just as beneficial to the brain and body as reading. Although physical books and audiobooks may activate different parts of the brain, studies show that the comprehension rate of physical books and audiobooks are equal – meaning that audiobooks are up high on the scale next to regular books.

Is it better to read or listen to a book?

The preference for audiobooks over regular books depends highly on the person. Some people may prefer reading a book, as they believe it improves the brain’s ability to focus and concentrate. Others may find audiobooks work better for them since it helps keep their mind occupied during commutes or busy tasks. Regardless of the format you choose, reading or listening to a book are equally beneficial in their own rights.

Is listening to audiobooks considered reading?

Depending on who you ask, listening to an audiobook could certainly be considered reading. Many readers will tell you that audiobooks don’t count as regular books because there is technically no reading involved. At the same time, other readers would argue that audiobooks are still books because you are still taking in the same information you would acquire otherwise from reading the book, but in a different format. Whichever case, audiobooks can be considered a method of achieving the same outcome of reading – retaining information from a book.

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