Is An Audiobook Faster Than Reading? [Here’s the Truth!]

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With more and more fiction and non-fiction audiobooks available to listen to, the question arises whether an audiobook is faster than reading the hard copy. There are diverse opinions from pro and anti-audiobook users, but more formal studies give researched and proven information and data.

An audiobook is not faster than reading. The average reader reads 200 to 400 words per minute, while an audiobook goes at 150-160 words per minute when you listen to it at the recorded speed. Generally, a person uses an audiobook because of other conveniences offered and not because of the speed.

In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between reading and listening speed and why people sometimes perceive that an audiobook is faster than reading.  In our discussion, we will not look at children still learning to read or people who can’t read at least 150 words per minute. 

Note – there are still several reasons why you would consider using an Audiobook. If you haven’t used it yet, I highly recommend starting with Audible! Click on the link to get a one-month FREE trial of Audible!

Listening Speed vs Reading Speed

Humans have a higher reading speed than listening speed. On average, the listening speed of humans is about 150 words per minute (wpm). The fastest we can listen and comprehend is about 300 wpm. However, we usually read at about 200 to 400 wpm. Most experienced readers can read at 800 to 1000 wpm.

The typical human speaks at around 135 to 160 words per minute. This is roughly the word speed used when an audiobook is recorded and what you listen to at normal speed.

Generally, people who are listening to audiobooks for leisure, prefer to listen at the reading speed to pick up all the nuances and “atmosphere” of the book. 

But if you for some or other reason want to listen at a faster speed, most audiobooks offer the opportunity to accelerate the playback speed. The question is up to what speed your brain can comprehend what you hear.

According to a 2018 University of Washington study, the average person can comprehend around 300 words per minute of listening. This is about double the average talking speed of an American English speaker.  At more than 300 words per minute, most people can still understand the words, but they have less emotional resonance.

Because the listening speed of humans is normally faster than the speaking speed, and thus the recording speed of an audiobook, many people listen to an audiobook at 1.5 to 2 times faster than the recorded speed.

But even when you listen to about 300 words per minute it is the same as the average reading speed of 300 words per minute.  Moreover, if you are a good reader you can read about 600 words per minute, and expert readers read at around 1,000 words per minute!

How Much Longer Does it Take to Listen to an Audiobook?

If you compare the information on reading speed and audiobook listening speed, a simple calculation answers the question of how much longer does it take to listen to an Audiobook.

If you listen to the audiobook at the standard recorded speed, it will take you almost double the time than reading silently if you are an average reader. For experienced readers, listening to an audiobook can take over 4 to 6 times longer than simply reading the same book!

Even when you listen at 2 times the recording speed, and you are a good reader reading 600 words per minute silently, it will take double the time to listen to the audiobook.

Readers sometimes perceive that it is faster to listen to an audiobook than to read the book. The reason is that you can listen to the audiobook more frequently than reading the book. For instance, you can listen to an audiobook even when doing other activities like driving, bathing, or even exercising!

Thus, even though reading a book might take less number hours, you may end up finishing the same book faster when listening to an audiobook depending upon your reading or audiobook listening schedules.

Advantages of Using an Audiobook

According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Gallant Lab at UC Berkeley researchers had found that stories stimulated the same cognitive and emotional areas in the brain, whether they are read or listened to.

If you are unable to read a lot but have time to listen to audiobooks, an audiobook will give you the same advantages as reading the hard copy.

Some of the other advantages of using an Audiobook include:

1. Audiobook Helps you to Relax your Eyes

Adult Americans spend more than seven hours a day looking at digital screens. This leads to blurred vision, eye strain, and nearsightedness.

When you read your book your eyes don’t relax. This can often lead to headaches due to reading! By listening to an audiobook you allow your eyes and mind to relax.

2. Audiobook Improves Pronunciation and Fluency

Listening to audiobooks improves most people’s speaking accuracy and fluency. While the narrator is reading the book, you can notice and learn the way different words are pronounced.

To have good fluency and command over a language is crucial, especially when you have to make statements or speak to other people often. When listening to an audiobook you can learn from the narrator’s reading speed, the pauses, stresses, and intonations.  

3. Audiobook Helps to Improve Time Management

One of the most important benefits of audiobooks is that you can listen to your book in situations where you are not able to read your book.

By listening to an audiobook you can save a good amount of time by multitasking. If you are doing repetitive tasks not requiring much attention, you can continue listening to your audiobook.

4. Audiobook Gives You a Live Experience of the Plot and Characters

Another benefit of audiobooks is that the narrators help you to connect with the characters and plot in the book by using their tone of voice and the empathy in their voices.

You become a part of the book and share the characters’ feelings. By listening to a good narrator you understand the pain and grievances of the characters.

The personality of the narrator can enhance the flow and feel of the story and help you to create mental pictures of situations and characters.

Good narrators bring the story to life with voice inflections, humor, and mystery. And all this makes the story an interesting, lively, and fun experience for you as the listener.

When to Use an Audiobook over Reading

Even if you love to read a book in its hard copy version, there are times when an audiobook can be very convenient.

Here are a few examples when using an audiobook should be preferred over reading –

  1. Driving or commuting – You can listen to an audiobook when driving, especially on a long drive. If you are commuting every day between home and work it is a good idea to listen to an audiobook while on the train or bus.

    Some people cannot read in a moving vehicle and an audiobook might be the answer to enjoy “reading” while in a vehicle.
  2. Exercise – Another great way to listen to an audiobook is when you are exercising. You obviously can not be reading when you are at a gym, or out for a stroll outsite! This is a perfect way to utilize your time by listening to an audiobook!
  3. Bathing – If you are the kind of person who likes to spend a good amount of time on a decent bath, then you can definitely utilize this time with listening to an audiobook over reading!
  4. Cooking – reading a book is almost impossible when cooking. So, once again, you can definitely utilize this time by reading an audiobook.
  5. Cleaning – most of us don’t enjoy wasting time in carrying out activities like cleaning our house. However, listening to an audiobook can even make everyday chores like housecleaning more enjoyable!

    This is also a great way to catch up on a book that you friends have been raving about and make the most of your time!
  6. Grocery Shopping – in continuation to some of the other tasks, listening to an audiobook when outdoor for activities like grocery shopping can also be benefitial over reading a book and help you save time!

You can just about use any activity to listen to an audiobook that typically comes in the way of reading a book!

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