Did you know that most of the work of hearing is done not by your ears but by your brain? It’s true that sounds are taken in by our ears, and they must function properly for us to hear, but processing the sounds into meaning is solely a function of our brains. What is the difference between hearing and listening? We hear a lot, but we only process what we listen to, and that takes brain power. Thus training our brains to listen becomes essential if we are to engage with the world around us.
Communication is important: everywhere we go, we need to be able to communicate with people around us. Even the best hearing aids can only enhance your ability to hear; they can never replace or improve listening skills. To truly listen, it is important to block out distracting background noises so we can listen to spoken words in busy environments.
When we actively communicate with others, we are training our brains to listen. If we don’t practice active listening, even if it is as a result of a hearing issue or older age, we can lose some of our listening skills. Practicing active listening on a daily basis can actually help to improve hearing and communication over time.
The Difference Between Hearing and Listening
Hearing is the act of recognizing sound. Being startled by a bang or turning your head at an unexpected noise both indicate hearing ability. This is called signal-based processing. Listening, however, requires both knowledge and hearing.
Listening is only accomplished through hearing and understanding a message or sound. Recognizing a message in spoken words is listening; hearing problems can affect listening skills, but they are not the same thing.
Strategies for Communication
The differences between listening and hearing become more evident as we age. Older people may express that they can hear spoken words, but they do not understand what is being said. Listening skills can be improved with information, tools, and training. Training exercises your brain so it can listen and hear at a suitable level. Listening skills can always be improved, whether you use a hearing device or not. To improve learning communication, some strategies are:
- Telling others around you how to speak more clearly
- Understanding realistically what your hearing aid can do
- Using other technologies that can help with hearing and sound cancelling
- Joining a class or group that can teach you how to listen more effectively
- Using subtitles or closed captioning on the TV and with movies
Learn about new technology and therapy that can bolster your listening skills and prevent decline. Hearing aids are certainly a great starting point, and some people need them. Auditory and cognitive training is another important way to engage the brain and improve listening abilities.
It is important to educate yourself how the brain is related to hearing and listening skills. Listening exercises can help you to practice various communication strategies that help you to train your brain to listen.
Try these 3 listening exercises to train your hearing abilities and listening skills:
- Watch and record a television show without closed captioning, playing it back with closed caption to evaluate how well you heard and understood everything that was happening.
- Read a book while simultaneously listening to the audio-book version
- Have a friend read a newspaper aloud, then do it again, reading along with them as they talk
Try each exercise in gradually louder surroundings to build your listening skills.
Just having the ability to hear does not automatically grant effective communication or listening skills. Hearing devices can be a great help, but listening skills involve actual hearing as well as the ability to understand. Learn communication strategies and practice hearing exercises that train your brain to promote listening abilities.