Reading Time: 4 minutes

Listening is a valuable skill and assumes official importance in one’s personal, academic and professional setting. With the increased use of computers, mobile phones and the internet, the importance of listening has increased manifold. Listening is an essential skill in language learning. Through active listening, students acquire vocabulary, grammar, and better pronunciation. Speaking skills also depend on listening because interaction involves both listening and responding. 

Listening and hearing are terms often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. They are two distinct processes related to the perception and interpretation of sound. Hearing refers to the physical ability to perceive sounds while listening involves actively paying attention to and comprehending the sounds being heard. Hearing is a passive process, while listening requires active engagement and understanding. In short, hearing is the physical act of perceiving sound, while listening is the active process of learning and responding to it.

Hearing

Hearing is a physiological process involving the perception of sound through the ears.

Hearing is the act of perceiving sound by the ear —if you are not deaf, hearing happens. Hearing is one of the five senses and involves the detection of sound vibrations by the sensitive parts of the inner ear, which are then converted to electrical signals and sent to the brain for processing.

Passive, Involuntary

Hearing is a physiological process. Sound waves reach your ears, triggering your eardrums, and the vibrations are sent to your brain. It happens whether you pay attention or not.

Limited to Perceiving Sounds

Hearing registers the presence of sound. You might identify specific noises, but deeper comprehension isn’t guaranteed.

Process

    • It is a passive activity that happens involuntarily.
    • Sound waves are detected by the ears and transmitted to the brain.
    • It is the first stage in the auditory process.

Involvement

    • Hearing does not necessarily involve conscious awareness or active attention.
    • It is a natural ability that occurs regardless of whether or not one is paying attention.

Example

You might hear a car passing by while engrossed in reading a book without actively processing or responding to the sound.

Listening

Listening is a complex cognitive and psychological process that involves actively paying attention to and interpreting what is being said.

Listening is an active and conscious process. It involves paying attention to the sounds that one is hearing. It requires concentration so that your brain processes the meaning of words and sentences. Listening leads to the understanding of facts and ideas. When you listen, you engage cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, and thought, to interpret and respond to the sounds you receive.

Active, Voluntary

Listening requires conscious effort and mental focus. You choose to pay attention to specific sounds, filtering out distractions.

Involves Interpretation and Understanding

You go beyond simply registering the sound. You analyze its meaning, intent, and emotional context.

Process

    • Listening goes beyond mere hearing; it involves focusing on and comprehending the sounds or spoken words.
    • It requires mental processing and interpretation of the information received.

Involvement

    • Listening is an active and intentional process that requires concentration and engagement.
    • It involves understanding, interpreting, and responding to the communicated message.

Example

Attending a lecture, actively concentrating on the speaker’s words, understanding the content, and possibly asking questions demonstrates listening.

Effective Listening

Effective listening is a skill that underpins effective communication. It includes not just the act of hearing but also giving attention to the speaker, interpreting the message, providing feedback, and retaining the information received. Listening can be refined into active listening, where the listener is fully engaged and interacts with the speaker through verbal and non-verbal signals, indicating comprehension and interest.

Listening Goes Beyond

Paying attention

It involves selectively focusing on specific sounds while filtering out background noise.

Understanding Meaning

You process the sound’s information, considering context, tone, and emotions.

Responding

You engage with the sound, whether through verbal or nonverbal communication.

Benefits of Effective Listening

Stronger Relationships

Active listening fosters empathy and understanding, leading to deeper connections with others.

Improved Learning

When you truly listen, you retain information more effectively and gain deeper insights.

Sharper Problem-Solving

Effective listening allows you to understand different perspectives and find better solutions.

While hearing is a biological and passive process that involves sound reception, listening is a more complex and active process that requires conscious attention, interpretation, and often a response. Listening involves the ears and the mind, as it requires cognitive engagement to make sense of the information being received. One might hear sounds without truly listening in various situations, but effective communication and understanding typically involve active listening.

Previous articleCollective Noun
Next articleIrony 
Devika Panikar
δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges under this directorate and is now posted at the Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of lecture notes she prepared by referencing various sources for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.

COMMENT