Improve Listening Skills by Training Your Brain

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.

Communicating Effectively

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.

Could Hearing Loss be Related to Snoring?

If you sleep in the same room with a snorer, you know it can be an annoyance, and make you lose sleep. Recent research is also finding, however, that pesky noise can do even more damage than that. If you sleep beside someone who snores, you may be at a higher risk for hearing loss than someone who does not.

Researchers performed hearing tests on healthy middle-aged adults who regularly slept next to snoring partners. The analysis showed that each of the four subjects had high-frequency hearing loss in the ear closest to the snoring partner. This finding suggests that snoring can actually cause hearing damage. Snores as loud as 100 decibels have been recorded during sleep, and sounds of over 85 decibels have the potential to damage hearing.

It turns out the snorers themselves can also be in danger of hearing damage, but for a different reason. People who snore sometimes suffer from sleep apnea, a condition in which they stop breathing for a few seconds at a time. In affected individuals, they may experience these “breathing pauses” as often as 30 to 40 times in one night. Although it is unclear why, sleep apnea is associated with a higher incidence of high- and low-frequency hearing loss in addition to other health concerns. Evidence suggests that sleep apnea may injure a structure in the inner ear called the cochlea, which houses tiny hairs that transmit sound to the brain.

If you or your bed partner snore, it is important to see a doctor to evaluate the possibility of sleep apnea. If you share a bed with a snoring partner, ear plugs can block the sounds of snoring and protect your hearing. Be sure to have your hearing tested regularly as well.