How to listen to an Audiobook

There’s a lot of misperception when it comes to listening to an audiobook or full-cast audio play, so here are some of my tips to help you on the way:

You Don’t Have to Catch Every Word

Someone once said: we listen to respond, not to understand. If this is true, then we’re not hanging on every word said to us in person or on the phone. We get the gist of the what’s said and can respond appropriately.

Listening to an audiobook or audio play is easier than a conversation because we don’t have to respond with reciprocal dialogue – although I have been known to exclaim a word or two when taken by surprise with a plot twist!

Clipart of the words blah blah blah...

The point is, you don’t have to cling to every word said. I drive, cook, exercise, clean house, hike and shop while listening. Well, okay, maybe not so much in the cleaning house stakes…

The distractions of looking down at my shopping list or glancing at the next instruction in a recipe does not make me lose the plot… so to speak. On the very rare time I do need to concentrate on a particular scene or go back over something, there’s always the rewind button.

Like a TV series, a good book will also refresh your memory on significant points leading up to the moment that you’ll need to remember it. For example, the hero’s wound might ache in the rain a few scenes before he has to face off against his enemy, so you go into the fight remembering that your hero is already weakened and hurt.

Vary the Playback Speed

Image of a Play/Pause buttonAudiobooks are read quite slowly. This is to help the listener with both clarity and comprehension. If your English is good however, you’re not limited to listening at the speed the book is read. Most modern players can increase the speed without increasing the pitch. It’s not like the good old days where everyone sounded like a chipmunk if you played anything faster than intended.

Each book and reader is differently, so experiment with your settings. I listen to most audiobooks at 1.25x and sometimes 1.5x. In rare instances, I’ve been known to set the playback to double speed too.

With full-cast audio plays, the action and dialogue can often be faster, and the clarity of the voices can be hindered by music and sound effects. I therefore recommend you begin listening to audio plays at the default playback speed and then slowly increase the speed if you need to.

Give Yourself a Chance to Get Involved

A man cooking in the kitchen while wearing headphonesLike a good book or movie, you need to give yourself enough time to get immersed in the story. Five minutes here and there may get you through the tale, but allowing a good chunk of time will drown you in the plot and make it much more enjoyable. You’ll also remember more of the details once you let yourself get involved.

Audio stories are no different. If you can find a minimum of half-hour chunks of time to listen to the audiobook or audio play, then you’re more likely to have increased focus and a far greater level of enjoyment.

Cut Out the Background Noise

Clipart of a jackhammerA good set of noise-reduction headphones will go a long way, but so will finding a quiet place! The difference between a quiet side-street and a busy main street is quite significant. Honking cars, construction sites and other loud noises are distracting and can drown out what you’re trying to listen to.

Pick your places, not just your moments and, if all else fails, spend those extra dollars on a decent set of headphones!

Try Before You Buy!

A collection of audiobooks in a libraryPublic Libraries generally stock audiobooks, and many online stores offer samples of their books too. If you’re new to audiobooks, try borrowing a few from your local library first, or search the web for free audiobooks and plays. Many modern libraries even offer digital copies of their audiobooks now, which can be downloaded to your phone or digital player. Imagine! You don’t even need to go there to borrow if you’re already a member!

One thing to remember – modern audiobooks are very different from older audiobooks. If you borrow an old one from the library, you’re likely to get the familiar, uninspired reading that was common in the past. Newer audiobooks often feature professional actors or readers who act out the parts with lots of emotion, different characterisations and a varying pace to suit the action. Some modern audiobooks even feature more than one reader, or some music and sound effects.

Choose wisely, and don’t be discouraged if your first few attempts aren’t as successful as you’d hoped. Over time, you’ll get to know which readers and distributors you like best. Keep an eye on their websites to stay up-to-date on new and recent releases.

Also look for Best of… articles, particularly around the end of the year when reviewers and distributors are releasing lists of their favourite audiobooks for the year just gone.

Got More Tips?

If you’ve got extra tips or tricks for listening to audiobooks or audio plays, please let me know. I can share your advice here and, of course, will give you credit for your suggestion.

A male, Asian student listening to something on his phone, wearing earplugs