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Reading vs. Listening – Which is More Efficient for Studying

Andrew Russo
Andrew Russo
Posted in Zoom Sep 4 · 7 Sep, 2022
Reading vs. Listening – Which is More Efficient for Studying

In our digital era, when audiobooks are more popular than ever, the question arises—which skill is better: listening or reading? Business professionals and educators argue about which method is more effective to learn and retain information: reading or listening. While this debate still lasts, you can be sure that you will benefit from using both of them. 

Given that reading was once the dominant skill, it may come as a surprise to learn that listening is just as efficient and productive as reading. In comparison to reading, which is a relatively recent development, listening has a much longer history. It is a skill that has existed since the dawn of time. 

Furthermore, futurists predict that in the near future, listening skills will overtake reading skills in terms of importance. In fact, in the twenty-first century, listening will be the most valuable skill. It’s not surprising, given that technological advancements allow people to listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and other educational materials while doing something else. 

The truth may surprise you, so read on to learn more about reading vs. listening. What do reading and listening have in common? How do reading and listening differ? What are the advantages of listening to audiobooks? How does the learning process work? And, is it true that audiobooks can replace printed books? But, let’s start from the beginning. 

What Are the Similarities Between Reading and Listening?

According to professor of University of California professor Matthew Traxler, reading and listening have similar effects on the human brain. Whether you are reading your favorite magazine or listening to an audiobook for entertainment, the same cognitive processes are taking place in the brain.  

Things become more complicated when you have to learn something new or understand a complex topic. Since the brain has to work harder to process new information, reading may yield better results. You will be better able to comprehend the material and remember it when you actually read it.  

The reason for this could be that people scan the material rather than read it. This ability helps them to quickly turn back if they come across something they don’t understand. While modern apps allow you to listen to audiobooks and rewind fast, it’s still not possible to go back and forth simultaneously. 

Furthermore, experts suggest that reading is associated with cognitively engaging processes, whereas listening can help you comprehend the material better. It’s usually the case when you’re listening in a relaxing, distraction-free environment. And it only works when you want to learn something new or are learning about a new topic for the first time. 

What Are the Differences Between Reading and Listening? 

The first distinction between reading and listening is that reading involves cognitive processes that occur on the left side of the brain. Listening, on the other hand, activates both hemispheres. This happens because, when listening to an audiobook, you need to process speech and its meaning simultaneously.

While reading and listening are processed in the same brain area, interpreting the speech takes place in different sections of the brain. This is why you can read a book while listening to music. You cannot, however, do the opposite. There is no way to listen to an audiobook while reading. 

Second, listening to audiobooks fosters empathy in readers. According to experts, listening to a story and narration makes the story more fascinating and the characters livelier. As a result, users become more engaged with the story, developing a greater understanding and affection for the main characters.  

In addition, there is a voice between the listener and the audiobook. It is a voice that gives the listener the impression that he is listening to a real person. Additionally, the narration includes some acting, which helps readers pick up on subtleties in the book’s tone. It improves their ability to recognize sarcasm and irony. 

Given that outstanding narration evokes emotions, it is no wonder that narration is one of the crucial aspects of a book. The author’s voice is what lets the reader identify with the characters. Thus, narration not only includes a social component but also provides readers with a better understanding of meaning.  

Reading, on the other hand, improves the retention of information. Experts believe that readers recall more details when they can orient themselves in the text or book. This is not the case with audiobooks or ebooks. And digital screens are shown to fall short of offering this experience to readers.  

Another reason that users can remember more information while reading is that they can highlight or underline sentences. There is no possibility to do this with audiobooks. So, for more complex subjects or new topics, reading is most definitely a better option.  

And most importantly, readers do less multitasking when reading. This is not the case with listening. Many people listen to audiobooks or podcasts while doing other things like running, dishwashing, or commuting. All these actions divert readers’ attention away from the subject. So, while these activities become more enjoyable while you listen to your favorite audiobook, recollecting complex information is more challenging. 

Scientists have discovered that people frequently wander mentally when reading or listening. And these little gaps are necessary to help the brain store information by providing space for it to think and retain the information that you’re consuming. Moreover, these short breaks allow the brain to better focus on comprehending material. 

Finally, speed is the last but significant difference between reading and listening. Reading is actually faster than listening. For example, reading 300 words takes an average of one minute, whereas listening takes 150 words per minute. Because of the speed, you may listen to an audiobook in one hour, whereas reading a book takes only 30 minutes! 

Advantages of Listening to Audiobooks

While we’ve already discussed some of the benefits of audiobooks, such as adding literary moments to your daily life and improving your empathy, there are many more. One of them is bettering your listening skills. The more audio content you consume, the better your listening skills will be. Practicing these abilities sharpens your hearing and enables you to understand diverse dialects. 

Aside from developing strong listening skills, enjoying audiobooks can help you expand your vocabulary, enhance your ability to articulate ideas, and improve your pronunciation of words and phrases. Listening to audiobooks is a great way to keep your mind active on the go and familiarize yourself with the topic you’re interested in. This will help you concentrate better on the subject once you start reading about it.  

Finally, one of the advantages of listening to audiobooks is their accessibility. You don’t need any additional equipment to listen to your favorite authors or study material if you have an app on your phone. You won’t need to bring any paper books, since the audio app allows you to bring hundreds with you. It comes in handy when traveling.

Reading or Listening: Which Is Better for Learning? 

When scientists studied reading and listening skills and their roles in learning, they found that the effectiveness of both methods was the same. It doesn’t change even when students switch to their preferred method of learning. In addition, a 2018 study from the University of Indiana showed that students rarely stick to their favorite learning style. So, it’s quite normal to use both methods interchangeably.

Reflecting on their findings, the researchers concluded that it could be because both skills involve some level of difficulty. Reading, for example, may impose visual challenges and boredom as a result of this activity. Listening skills, on the other hand, include real-time interpretation and comprehension, which may turn out to be difficult as well. 

Other difficulties are associated with audio and digital media in general. These challenges include their relationship with amusement, a lack of orientation in the content, and multitasking. They also involve an inability to swiftly turn back during occasional mind wandering or reflecting on a sentence in order to understand what the author is saying. This is typical for audio and video files.

But, listening skills are still an inseparable activity in educational settings. Their role is important because students need versatility and can listen to audio recordings during their commute time or while doing chores. Thus, parents and teachers shouldn’t be concerned about which one of these methods is better—reading or listening. Students need both methods to be incorporated into their daily activities since each one provides unique benefits that the other does not. 

For that reason, experts recommend using both skills interchangeably. They also believe that knowing when to use one or the other is a skill in and of itself. Listening skills are definitely useful for less intensive mental activities. They are particularly beneficial when learning a new language. When combined with reading material, students get the complete picture without having to spend so much time memorizing and learning new words. 

Then There’s Online Education, Too 

Virtual and flipped classrooms are becoming increasingly popular among universities. In a flipped classroom, lectures are first streamed online, and then, students complete tasks in person. Using this style of the classroom has been found to help students learn more effectively by boosting their involvement. 

The benefit of online learning is that students can listen to lectures in real-time while also having the option to watch them afterward at their own pace. More and more lecture recordings include a transcript, which helps students remember what was said during the lecture.  

There are many uses for the flipped classroom. It can be used alongside or in place of a conventional lecture. According to researchers, 32 percent of universities in the United States already use video clips instead of printed materials. They also claim that listening to audio recordings replaces an additional 15 percent of reading content. 

With this in mind, it is reasonable to say that technology is more prevalent in the educational system than at any time in history. Because of that, teachers need to be more versatile in using different teaching methods in order to improve student engagement. This means that in today’s digital world, integrating reading and listening skills is critical for success.

The Role of Transcription in Learning 

We’ve already discussed how important reading is when it comes to learning complex concepts. People retain information better when they read than when they listen, and reading is faster than listening. So, to help a student or employee learn more efficiently, transcription is essential. 

Transcription is also important for a variety of reasons. Video or audio quality issues, background noise, or a speaker’s accent or dialect are the most common causes that can be resolved by implementing transcription. To get the most out of your audio or video recording, you need a good-quality transcript.

It’s also worth noting that reading can increase one’s listening abilities. Reading the transcript while listening to an audio or video recording allows you to better focus on the content. By doing this, you can improve your pronunciation and spelling, as well as your understanding of the recordings. 

Whatever method you pick as a learning tool, the more you practice reading while listening, the better your comprehension and listening skills will get. So, make sure to turn on the subtitles if available and read along. This will help you gain knowledge more quickly.

The Bottom Line 

When it comes to reading and listening skills, there is no question about which is better or what skills should be employed to improve learning. What really matters is how much time and effort you’re willing to put into it. And, maybe more importantly, what are you hoping to accomplish as a result? Once you are clear about that, learning will become a more joyful activity. 

So, you should not rely on your listening or reading skills alone. Both are important. While integrating them may appear to be a good idea, actually, knowing when to engage certain skills is of the utmost importance. You should understand how these two abilities differ and how to use them to your advantage, and learn more effectively and quickly. 

What skills you need to apply when learning depends on the material and the purpose. To get the most out of this, you might want to use transcription services to help yourself, your students, or your employees learn from diverse learning materials. With GoTranscript, you can access professional, industry-leading transcription services from the convenience of your own home or office computer.