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Did you hear me? Hearing VS Understanding

There’s a difference between hearing and understanding. Just because we hear someone doesn’t mean we understand them. As an example, hearing people can have a hard time understanding each other in noisy situations. Also while on phones, there can be too much background noise or weird acoustics (acoustics affect mechanical hearing) for them to understand what’s being said. Hearing people understand this but can forget that it especially applies to anyone with hearing loss. Even though technology has improved with hearing devices, these situations remain a BIG challenge for people with hearing loss.

Speaking of challenges, have you seen our post on Sensorineural Visuals? Sensorineural hearing loss (also called nerve damage) distorts hearing in varying degrees from person to person. That post gives visuals of how hearing loss affects speech. We hear certain frequencies very well and at the same time, aren’t able to hear other frequencies. It’s confusing! In the early stages we might question if we have hearing loss because we hear plenty of noise. It’s just not always what we want to “hear.” We know you’re talking so that’s hearing. We just can’t understand what you’re saying.

Bad Connection
Hearing VS Understanding. A bad signal interrupts the messages. 
A picture with an X above 5 bars showing that there is no signal.
Green background, white hearing loss live logo.

Our hearing devices help but there’s a common misconception that our hearing aids and cochlear implants ‘fix’ the loss. Hearing devices and phones have mechanical hearing. Consider this: Even if we have the best phone, a bad signal will make it hard to hear AND understand. No matter how much we turn up the volume, we’re going to have a hard time understanding the person due to the bad connection.

Now think of hearing loss as a permanent bad connection. Even the best hearing device won’t make it perfect. We have distorted hearing and that’s going to make understanding communication a chore. 

 Is it the same thing? 

Should we be saying, “I don’t hear you,” or “I don’t understand what you’re saying”? 

green back ground. An outline of two people talking, one has a dialog box with 3 horizontal dots in it. There's a lightning bolt between the two people. The other person has a dialog box with a question mark inside it.
It says, can't hear or can't understand?

According to Wikipedia, to hear is the ability to sense and perceive sounds. To understand is the cognitive process related to a message where a person is able to use the concepts. With hearing loss, the message is distorted so we can’t process it fully. We don’t have the ability to perceive all the sounds of speech. Perhaps it’s both: “I can’t understand you because I can’t hear certain sounds in speech.” Or as Chelle says in lipreading classes: “I hear enough to know you are talking but I can’t understand what you’re saying unless I’m looking at you. I use lipreading.”

Visuals Aid Understanding

Does understanding come only through auditory means?  No, understanding also happens through visual means. Everyone processes information through what they see. We all use body language, facial expressions and gestures to some degree. Visual cues compliment auditory information. When we are hearing, we take the visual part for granted. With hearing loss, we can emphasize the visual. This is a big aspect of our lipreading classes.  

What does it mean to place more emphasis on the visual? We can think of a few things right off the bat…

Green back ground, torn piece of paper that has two heads facing each other. They are eye to eye. It says, With hearing loss, emphasize the visual.
  1. Get our attention before speaking. You can do this by saying our name and giving us a little wave. 
  2. People need to face us when talking. We need all the visual cues we can get. When you face us, we can see your facial expressions and use them as confirmation for what we are hearing to enhance understanding. 
  3. Be within 6 feet because when we can see better, we ‘hear’ better. Don’t talk from other rooms. When we can’t see you, we are less likely to understand you.
Use the 3 Golden Rules

That’s our 3 Golden Rules all over again. These three things give us better visuals. Hearing communication partners cut back on repeats using the 3 Golden Rules. As Hard of Hearing people, we use the 3 rules as a communication boundary. 

We came across an article written by Dr. Sarah Sparks called Hearing and Understanding are Not the Same. As a deaf audiologist, she gets it. In her article HERE, she mentions it’s not just our ears that we hear with, we use our brains to process what we hear. What happens to processing when specific sounds are missing? We work harder to make sense of what we hear. Or we dismiss certain sounds as “too far away”. Sometimes, we may even miss it all together. 

This is why putting an emphasis on the visual is so important.

Let’s Talk Tuesday, a workshop

Join us for our Let’s Talk Tuesday on February 6, 2024 at 6:00 PM Mountain time. We have several other ideas that go with this post. Let’s Talk Tuesday is online, via Zoom with a live captioner (emphasis on the visual) and it’s free. We’d love to hear what you have to say about this.

4 replies on “Did you hear me? Hearing VS Understanding”

I LOVE this part:

“Now think of hearing loss as a permanent bad connection. Even the best hearing device won’t make it perfect. We have distorted hearing and that’s going to make understanding communication a chore.”

Clarity is so important to understanding. Hearing is not the same as clarity. Thank you for this very good article

How do I register for the Tuesday meeting?

What is the cost for your lip reading classes?

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