Why Can I Hear but Not Understand?

older woman in kitchen drinking coffee wondering why she can hear but not understand

Hear and understand; one word means to perceive sound the other to comprehend the meaning.  It’s possible to hear everything someone says but at the same time not understand what was said.  Imagine listening to someone speak in a foreign language you would be able to hear everything they said.  However, unless you spoke that language, you would be unable to comprehend what was said.

Having a hearing loss is similar in that you can hear when people are speaking but don’t always understand what the meaning of what they’re saying. Typically as the noise level increases the ability to hear worsens.   It is possible if you have a hearing loss to be in a situation where you end up hearing everything and understand nothing.

Hearing but Not Understanding Explained

It is common to lose the ability to hear higher frequency sounds before lower pitched sounds.  Many consonant sounds are found in the higher pitches.  Which means you can’t hear s, c, th, sh, f.    What you can hear are vowel sounds and lower pitched consonant sounds (for example b, g, n, p). Depending on the degree of hearing loss, you hear much less than 100% of each word.  There are times when you can piece together enough words in a sentence to understand what’s being said and times you can’t.

A less than ideal signal to noise ratio will also impact your ability to comprehend what you want to hear.  The signal to noise ratio is the loudness of what you want to hear compared to the loudness of what you don’t want to hear.  A poor signal to noise ratio means that what you want to hear is at or near the volume of what you don’t want to hear.  The sounds you were just able to hear before suddenly become much more difficult to hear.  As the signal to ratio declines so does your ability to understand what someone is saying.

For most people with a problem of hearing but not understanding, we have a solution.  A solution that will help you to both hear and understand.