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Hear me and understand me too

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

I remember my mother always saying “you’re going to have to follow me if you want to talk while I’m doing this”. I would roll my eyes in annoyance as I followed her around telling the story of my day. At the time, I didn’t understand why she couldn’t hear (understand) me talking to her while she was in another room. Now, after years of education about the auditory system and brain processing and daily interactions with patients, I understand. One of the number one complaints from patients is the frustration from hearing speech but not understanding it. Anyone can experience this, regardless of hearing ability. That’s why one of the first things I educate my patients on is communication strategies. The way we talk to people greatly affects how they will respond. I never understood the disadvantage I gave to my mother as I talked while she was walking away, doing the dishes, or in another room. Therefore, I want to give readers simple tips to make communication easier. Firstly, as you increase the distance between the speaker and listener, the volume and clarity of speech decreases. This is because sound is vibration and with increased distance the sound particles bounce around in the air, losing pieces of important information. That is why being within “a hand shake away” from the listener is the best distance for an accurate representation of sound. Now imagine walls and objects being in between; there’s a limited representation of sound for the listener to receive. I also recommend having face-to-face interaction. Visual cues help the brain by adding additional information about the sound. Facial expressions and reading lips lip cues help the brain fill in the missing pieces, especially if there is a hearing loss. Getting your listener’s attention before speaking will allow them to be more focused and ready to receive information. Additionally, eliminate background noise if possible. Noise creates a complex signal and if the listener has hearing loss, he or she is already at a natural disadvantage. Speak clear and at a moderate speed. Fast speech is difficult for anyone to distinguish. Finally, if someone asks you to repeat yourself, try rephrasing the sentence instead. The sentence was not clear the first time and will likely continue to be unclear to the listener. My mother never had hearing loss. Imagine the added complexity when hearing loss is present and the listener is missing speech sounds naturally, without any of these other limitations to begin with.

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