What’s the difference between hearing & understanding?

Many people who experience hearing loss are not fully aware of the source of the problem until long after it has begun. This is mostly due to a misunderstanding of what hearing loss actually means. Often, hearing loss is not simply a general reduction in sound, like a stereo being turned down to a lower volume. In fact, rather than following this type of linear model, hearing loss tends to involve different facets of sound for different individuals.

People who get their hearing tested for the first time will often say that they can hear but have trouble understanding. This is because hearing loss tends to reduce one’s ability to hear specific frequencies of sound rather than all of them, and particularly those in the higher register. In everyday conversation, this can create a lot of problems. For instance, a person may have no problem identifying vowel sounds (A, E, I, O, and U), which exist at a lower frequency, but have great difficulty differentiating many consonant sounds that are at a much higher frequency. The vowel sounds indicate that speech is present and provide the building blocks for sound to become language, but it is the consonants that give that speech meaning and structure. A person experiencing hearing loss in the higher frequencies, commonly known as “sloping” hearing loss, may have no trouble hearing the main sounds of speech, but struggle to identify words that are differentiated by high frequency consonant sounds. Words like “grow” and “flow” or “blue” and “clue” become more difficult to discern when the consonant sounds are less distinguishable, forcing the brain to work overtime using context clues and visual cues to fill in the blanks of understanding. This problem is made worse by higher pitched voices, competing background noise, or a lack of corroborative visual information.

While scheduling a hearing test and, if recommended, being fitted for a hearing aid is typically the first step toward improving one’s hearing, its primary function is to increase the levels of sound that the ear can hear in a very sophisticated way that also aids in better speech understanding. This is critical to provide the listener with the basic tools (the sounds themselves) to hear, but is only half the battle when it comes to achieving effective communication. The rest of the work occurs in the brain, not the ears. This is why it is important to train your brain on HOW to listen so that sound can be interpreted into information.

Hearing loss can take many forms and affect many sensory and cognitive processes beyond just the ears, therefore it is important to be aware of the warning signs so that hearing loss can be accurately diagnosed and treated. A hearing test can identify the exact pitches of sound not being heard, and hearing aids can focus on those specific pitches, filling in the auditory blanks and providing a broader bandwidth of sound for the brain to interpret. This, coupled with active listening and communication strategies, ease the cognitive strain that can eventually lead to mental decline, and provides the brain with the full scope of auditory information with which to work.

If you’re ready to get started on the ready to better hearing – contactour office at (201) 928-0808 or www.audiologyassociatesofnj.com/contact/

Bricker, Sarah. “Hearing vs. Understanding”. 2016. https://www.healthyhearing. com/report/32039-I-can-hear-just

Office Hours

Monday: 9AM–6PM
Tuesday: 9AM–7PM
Wednesday: 9AM–6PM
Thursday: 9AM–7PM
Friday: 9AM–4PM
Saturday & Sunday: Closed


We will do our best to accommodate your busy schedule. Request an appointment today!

Call Us: (201) 928-0808

Our Location

Call Us Text Us