Hearing is not the same as understanding
Some time ago, I told participants in one of my workshops, that
“hearing is not the same as understanding”. After that I got the
feedback, that it would be better next time, to explain this sentence a
bit more, because not everyone had understood this sentence. When I
thought about this, I could of course understand it well and started
looking for examples to clarify this sentence.
In this contribution I would like to take a closer look at the concepts of hearing and understanding and why these concepts do not mean the same thing.
Through our ears we can hear. Our brains process an enormous amount of sounds, tones, voices and music every day. A large part of this process is mostly unconscious. An example is the following: you are walking on the street and you are in thought or even talking to someone. Around you there is a lot of talking and sometimes shouting, but you don’t perceive this. Suddenly a sound strikes a chord within you, you don’t know why, because you haven’t understood anything yet, but your attention has been drawn. You hear the sound one more time and then suddenly it hits you: someone calls your name. You turn around and you see an acquaintance waving at you.
In this example, you have most likely heard or caught the sound of your name before you have understood it.
Another, perhaps slightly easier example: you are at a birthday
party, lots of guests and background music. The hostess asks you if you
want something to drink. You can hear and see that the hostess is
telling you something, maybe even her body-language tells you that what
she says is a question. But that’s it, because you don’t understand what
she is saying.
Sometimes someone asks you “did you hear me?”, when he or she actually means “did you understand me?”
In short, we can hear and perceive, without understanding and comprehending what is being said.
Our brains are so smart that when we hear words as a child, in most cases we learn to understand those words and later complete sentences. That way we learn that a tree is a tree and a cow is a cow, that is how we learn language and later on writing. And even if we can hear badly or not at all, then there is the possibility to learn sign language by means of gestures. By means of (sign)language and writing, we humans can understand each other and communicate with each other.
Animals also communicate with us, in their own way and sometimes we
can even understand them. Through practice and understanding, for
example, we learn what our pets want from us humans (usually eating,
drinking and/or going outside). Through this interaction, we can learn
to understand them and communicate with them.
For example, I myself sometimes had whole dialogues with our cats who occasionally meowed back to me as if they understood and gave me answers.
We can understand each other not only by words, but also by gestures
or body language. When my husband wakes me up in the morning, for
example, he doesn’t have to say “I woke you up” or “you have to get up
…”, because I have already understood and comprehended that.
By lip-reading, I can also understand things without actually hearing them, although a combination of both is of course still best.
In short: understanding is not the same as hearing, it’s much more than that.
With this brief, non-scientific explanation, I hope that you, dear readers, have understood what I have said – and written – even without hearing me.