Deciphering, not hearing

Copyright: stuartphoto / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: stuartphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

It is hard to explain to someone with good hearing what “hearing” can be like for someone with hearing loss.  Back when my hearing was better than it is now I could just hear – without thinking about it.  Sound waves reached the ear, did whatever it is they do in there, got to the brain and, hey presto, I heard.

Sometimes I can still hear like that.  If I’m sitting in a quiet place, talking with one other person who is facing me, I’m not aware of trying to hear – I can just do it.  At other times I really have to concentrate. 

So, for example, if I go into a room where three or four people are talking I can hear the sounds of speech, but I can’t immediately make any sense of it.  If I decide to try (sometimes I just assume it’s none of my business) I need to start concentrating, get myself into a position where I can see the face of at least one of the speakers, and hope to pick up the thread.  Once I know roughly what they are talking about it becomes easier (context is everything in lip reading).

What is happening in my brain is a lot of mulling over of the sounds that reach me until I can make sense of them.  (Adding lip reading into the equation is a huge help).  Sometimes this is unconscious, but at other times it almost feels like a conscious process.  The brain whirs through alternative meanings so slowly I can almost feel it happening.  It feels like I am telling my brain “no, no, she can’t be saying that, it must be something else – try again.”  (Of course, by this time, in a normal conversation the other person has raced on to something else, which is why it can be easier to understand a small snatch of speech than a longer burst – in a longer burst I can still be working out the first bit and miss what comes next……)

Because it sometimes takes me time to figure things out I know I sometimes pause before I answer someone.  (I’m still working on the translation).  Mind you, sometimes people pause when they are speaking for any number of reasons so it can be hard for people to work out if I’m pausing because I haven’t heard or pausing because I’m pondering.  Sometimes I have to interrupt people repeating themselves by saying “sorry, I heard you, I’m just thinking about what you said.”

So if you are talking to someone with hearing loss and they sometimes seem slightly slow to respond remember that it is because we aren’t really “hearing” we are deciphering.  There’s quite a difference.






8 thoughts on “Deciphering, not hearing

  1. Hello Vera, I have just found out about your blog through your article in the magazine Action on Hearing Loss. I am amazed at how well you describe how hearing loss is as it is sometimes difficult to describe to hearing friends. So along with the Limping Chicken articles will welcome your blogs coming into my email in box.

  2. You just described perfectly what I’ve been trying to explain to people around me for the last several years since my hearing has declined so much. 🙂

  3. Hi Vera! Gosh.. I’ve just been introduced to your blog and the limping chicken website by the Captionitnz group in New Zealand. I’m like you and had good hearing up until my early 30’s when it started to detoriate and is now a bit scary! I cant lip read and hearing aids arent great especially in noisy situations. SO GOOD to read about someone else with similar issues, I’m going to troll through the rest of your blog now. And definitely sharing this 😀

    1. Hello Jo. Thanks for leaving a comment and I’m glad you like the blog. I’m really enjoying hearing from people in similar situations all over the world, so let’s keep in touch.
      Very best wishes

  4. Thank you for this Vera

    It helped that you could explain articulately what loss of hearing is .. I have this since birth and to distinguish the difference is hard .. My brain and education has not helped to write like you have and it’s useful insights will help me .

    The problem is the experience of loss of hearing in the hearing world where I belong to is to find or meet people like yourself ., I am not stoned deaf and don’t use sign language yet the so called partially deaf seemed like to relate or meet . I live in Cirencester and any deaf ones are very old people who I dont share much with,

    Any suggestions to how to meet ones with my type of hearing loss..


    1. Hello Robert. I’m really pleased that you liked the post. I can’t offer much help on meeting people with similar levels of hearing loss, I’m afraid. I have a couple of friends with hearing similar to mine, but I’ve met them both “accidentally” as it were; almost all my friends have good hearing. I’m finding it helpful to follow deaf blogs, like the Limping Chicken, and to follow groups like Hearing Loss Worldwide. Even if I can’t meet people face to face it helps to feel part of a bigger something. With best wishes and good luck for the future.

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