Difference Between Hearing and Listening (With Table)

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It is the ear which acts as a medium to absorb sound waves and pass them to the brain to perceive and decipher them. Without the ear, an individual cannot hear any sounds. Only when we have the ability to hear, it will help us in communicating back properly. Hence, the ear plays a vital role in the way we communicate with the outside world. And hearing is one of the most crucial sense which we possess.

There are two different concepts involved when it comes to the activity of perceiving these sound waves. One is hearing and the other one is listening. Hearing is the inherent ability of the individual to distinguish a sound. It is all about the inherent potential of the individual to recognize the sound. It may not be correct to say that the individual has understood the information conveyed on the context of hearing alone.

Hearing vs Listening

The difference between hearing and listening is that listening deals with understanding or perceiving the sound waves, which has an in-depth meaning. But this is not the case with the hearing because we are not aware of what has been conveyed.

Listening requires our focus and attention to understand the things which we hear. No effort is put by an individual to hear as it is an involuntary process but it requires effort to listen as this is a voluntary process done by the individual. The brain deciphers and understands the received sound waves and an appropriate decision is taken.

Comparison Table Between Hearing and Listening

Parameter of ComparisonHearingListening
DefinitionIt refers to the natural ability of an individual to receive and perceive the pressure waves (sound) with the help of ears.It refers to the conscious process done by the individual on receiving the sound by paying attention and understanding it.
ProcessInvoluntary process (passive).Voluntary process (active).
CharacteristicsIt is an inherent ability.It is a skill to be learnt which comes by practice.
Paying attentionIt is not necessary to pay attention as hearing happens naturally.It is essential to pay attention as the individual tries to understand and act on what is being heard.
Occurs atIt happens in the subconscious state.It occurs at the conscious state.
NaturePhysiological state.Psychological state.

What is Hearing?

Hearing is the natural ability of an individual to perceive and receive sound with the help of ear. It remains as a natural process unless an individual is affected by any hearing impairment issues. Hearing is one of the five senses which is important for any individual. Hearing is not a forced process. It occurs continuously without the intervention of the individual. It happens on its own.

Thus, hearing can be stated as an involuntary process. No effort is put by the individual to activate or reach the state of hearing. All it requires is our sense organ, i.e. ear to receive the sound waves. We hear different sounds and pressure waves in our daily life. But not all the sound waves are deciphered and recognised by our brain.

Human beings can hear sound waves of a particular frequency only. The audible range lies between twenty and twenty thousand hertz (hertz is the unit of frequency). The frequency below twenty is called as infrasonic and the frequency above twenty thousand hertz belongs to the ultrasonic range. Neither ultrasonic nor infrasonic remains audible to the human ear.

What is Listening?

Hearing acts as the gateway for listening. Listening is the process in which the sound waves are recognised and deciphered by the brain. This happens only when we start paying attention to the sound waves, we receive. Therefore, listening turns out to be a voluntary process. It is something which we need to consciously aware of, to interpret the sound waves.

Listening is not a continuous process. It requires attention and concentration on what we hear. Since our mind tends to get distracted easily for small things, listening can be acquired only through constant practice. It is a skill which can be learnt and strengthened as we keep working on it. Hence, listening can be termed as a voluntary process carried out by the individual.

There are two types of listening. One is active listening and the other one being passive listening. As the name suggests, the active listening involves active participation of the individual. The active listener not only listens but also contribute to the conversation by taking part in discussions, asking questions etc… Whereas the passive listener does not involve in any contribution to the conversation.

Main Differences Between Hearing and Listening

  1. Hearing is a primary process which gets carried out without any intervention by the individual. But listening takes place only when the individual put his or her effort by paying attention to the received sound waves.
  2. The hearing may or may not play a vital role in developing relationship. While listening is deemed to be one of the important factors for a healthy relationship and communication.
  3. Hearing takes place throughout the day as no action is required by the individual to sustain or continue the process. Whereas listening is a temporary state since a lot of effort is required to stay without getting distracted.
  4. Hearing is an in-born trait whereas listening is a skill which can be mastered only through continuous effort.
  5. Hearing requires only one sense whereas listening requires the action of one more than sense to understand the conversation or what the speaker says.
  6. Hearing is a physiological process which takes place with the help of the ear. Whereas listening is a psychological process, meaning that it takes place only when the individual is conscious of the activity.


Listening is dependent on hearing as the sound waves can be understood only when we receive it. Receiving takes place naturally as hearing is an involuntary process. Though hearing can be a common attribute, listening is a talent which gets mastered only by a few.


  1. https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/hearing-vs-listening/