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Audible will let you 'read' an audiobook while you listen

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Love listening to audiobooks? Would you want to read the book at the same time? 

It may seem like it’s beside the point. But that’s just what Amazon-owned Audible, the largest producer of spoken content, will let you do with a soon-to-launch read-along Audible Captions feature that’s meant to synchronously engage your ears, eyes and minds.

The education-driven feature will be rolling out through an upgrade to the Audible app for iOS and Android devices, in time for back to school. And Audible is offering select Captions-ready content free to public classrooms across the country.

For better or worse – OK, worse – many people just aren’t reading books anymore. Audible hopes the new Audible Captions feature can be part of the solution. The company’s ambition is partly to capture the fancy of the Gen Z and millennial crowd, some of whom turn on captions on other forms of media and who eschew typical reading.

Audible founder and CEO Don Katz says the company never accepted “the rote inception of what reading is,” dating to its origins in the mid-1990s. 

“We know from years and years of work, that parents and educators, in particular, understand that an audio experience of well-composed words is really important in developing learners,” Katz says.

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Students, as well as Audible members who typically pay $14.95 a month, will be able to enable Captions on compatible titles through the settings on their smartphones. 

Such reader-listeners will be able to adjust font types and sizes and choose to follow the words on screen through progressive type (it appears as if someone is typing), or via word-by-word or line-by-line visuals.

You can also tap on words to summon dictionary definitions, Wikipedia entries, or to translate them into more than 20 languages.

The benefits of reading and listening

Audible touts several potential benefits of reading while listening, including improved comprehension and vocabulary, word recognition, listening skills and motivation.

It also promises to help people who speak another language to learn English. And help people with dyslexia and others who struggle with reading.

Inspired in school

The Captions feature was born out of Audible’s work with students in its Newark, New Jersey, backyard, where the company provided 11,000 public high school students free access to the service. Audible plans to offer the follow-along feature to more than 150,000 students across the country through the next calendar school year. 

Students will be given access to audio bundles featuring more than 75 Captions-ready titles, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” (narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal) to Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (Nick Offerman). 

But Captions will be available on hundreds of thousands of audiobooks at launch to any Audible member.

The captions themselves are computer generated, with Audible harnessing Amazon Web Services’ cloud computing infrastructure and artificial intelligence to generate the transcription that accompanies Audible content.

The voice you hear will continue to be the author narrating his or her own book (Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” for example) or an actor performing someone else’s work (Samuel L. Jackson on “A Rage in Harlem”).  

Of course, you’ll be cautioned to only listen to – and not read – Audible material while driving.

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow @edbaig on Twitter

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