Hearing is not truly a function of your ears. It is instead, a function of your brain. There is a distinction between good hearing and good listening. Because of the relationship between your brain and hearing, it is important to train your brain in active listening rather than just hear the world around you.

Effective Communication

Listening skills are essential for effective communication. No matter how advanced hearing aids and technologies become, they will never be able to improve your listening skills, only your hearing capabilities. Listening improves when you block out background noise and allow spoken words to be truly heard.

True listening comes from your brain’s trained and consistent ability and from actively practicing communication. If your brain does not utilize listening skills or effective communication techniques, such as with old age or a hearing problem, this can greatly impact hearing. For that reason, your brain must be trained to listen and actively hear in order to foster plasticity and result in communication that works.

Hearing Versus Listening

Hearing is the act of taking sound into the body and recognizing its existence. For example, hearing a large noise that makes you turn your head or a whisper that makes you cringe are both incidences where you use your hearing ability. Experts call this signal-based knowledge or signal-based processing. In contrast, listening requires knowledge as well as hearing.

Listening skills are those that are derived when a message is understood or when words are heard and recognized for the messaged intent. Disturbances in hearing, such as due to hearing loss or problems in the ear, impact listening, but they should not be thought of as one in the same.

Learn Communication Strategies

As you age, the distinction between listening and hearing becomes more apparant. Older individuals often express that they can hear another, but they cannot understand what is being said. You can improve your listening skills with the right tools and information, as well as training. Training stretches your mind and builds your brain so it can both listen and hear at an appropriate level. Even if you use a hearing aid or other device, your ability to listen can be improved. Some strategies for learning communication include:

  • Have realistic ideas of what a hearing aid can do
  • Teach your social network “clear speech”
  • Employ communication strategies with your social network
  • Join a group that can teach you strategies of listening in a group setting
  • Use other helpful technologies
  • Use closed-captioned TV or movies Train Your Brain

You can prevent your listening skills from decaying over time and also improve your everyday function with the right therapies and technologies. Hearing aids provide a place to start, and they are necessary for certain individuals. Beyond these, cognitive and auditory training is important for everyone who wants to strengthen their brain, make it engaged, and improve their listening skills and abilities.

Education is an important part of this process – you do not only improve but also understand why and how the brain and hearing relate. Practicing different communication strategies helps you train your brain to listen.

Listening Exercises Here are three types of listening exercises for you to try:

  • Use the television to listen to a show in real time, and then evaluate your hearing by watching it again with closed caption on or in slow motion.
  • Read along with audio books.
  • Listen to someone else read a newspaper, and then read along with them as they talk. Try these in increasingly noisier environments to build skills.


The ability to hear does not mean that you have effective communication or listening abilities. Though hearing aids are wonderful, listening skills require both actual hearing and the ability to understand. Train your brain to listen by learning communication strategies and practicing exercises that promote listening abilities.