Your Brain on Podcasts: Why Audio Storytelling Is So Addictive

“Research has shown that people who listen to the narration of a passage, like the audio storytelling found in traditional audiobooks, remember less information, are less interested in the content, and are more likely to daydream than those who read the same book out loud or silently to themselves.”

See, for example, this previous post here: Your Brain On Audiobooks: Distracted, Forgetful, And Bore...

"But anyone who has gotten hooked on a [storytelling] podcast knows that audio can be much more than just narration.

Emma Rodero, a communications professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, studies how audio productions retain people’s attention. Her work has shown that a dramatized audio structure, using voice actors who tell the story exclusively through dialogue, stimulate listeners’ imagination more than a typical “voice of God” narration.

Participants who listened to the dramatized structure reported that they generated more vivid images in their minds, and conjured the images more quickly and easily than those in the narration condition."

"Audiobook producers are catching on, and have started rolling out new types of “audio entertainment.” A novel by best-selling crime writer Jeffrey Deaver, called The Starling Project, has only been released as an audiobook, and features characters brought to life by 29 voice actors. "

"like reading, listening to audio allows people to create their own versions of characters and scenes in the story. But she thinks listening, unlike looking at a written page, is more active, since the brain has to process the information at the pace it is played.

“Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind …you’re creating your own production."

This gels with own experience-- the lingq “lessons” that I get the most feedback on are, invariably, the ones that tell a story - especially those with a number of people contributing to the dialog - for example here: Login - LingQ

I think “killer” content in language learning includes:

  • audiobooks particularly dialog heavy stories with different characters, and
  • chat podcasts or talk back radio (with transcripts) with people sharing personal stories.

If I was learning English, most of my lingq uploads would be content like the “Serial” podcast, along with its transcripts.


Very interesting, thanks for sharing

Some fascinating points here, some along the lines of what I’ve been thinking. A couple of thoughts based on my experience:

You’re spot on about audiobooks, especially dialog heavy ones, as being the best content. Everyday characters speech is usually more understandable, and the narration allows us to put it into context. And of course the written source is usually available to read alongside.

In contrast to this, in my experience, “dialog only” radio plays are actually one of the hardest things to really enjoy as a language learner. Why? Because the lack of the voice of God narration strips the events of their context and you are required to piece together the events of a scene, and the entire story, solely based on the clues provided by what the characters are saying. For a native level speaker, this of course becomes part of the fun, but for a language learner, this requires some extra effort – unless you have the transcript, which are harder to come by with radio plays.

Case in point for me are the Radio Tatort podcasts from ARD Germany. (Apparently radio plays are very popular in three.) This is a great podcast series that I keep coming back to, no transcripts are available, and the story really asks of you to piece together a mystery simply based on clues in the dialog. It’s fun, and it showcases many localized German dialects, but it’s a hell of a lot harder than just enjoying an audiobook. Of course this is only a question of time and practice, I do plan on working up my skills to Radio Tatort levels, but I think it’s really up there with watching un-subtitled movies at the “Boss Level” of language comprehension.