Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Difference Between "Hear" and "Listen"

Many of my ESL students are confused about when to use the verb "hear" and when to use the verb "listen." I wonder if this may be because in other languages (at least Spanish--escuchar), the same word is used for both English words.

"To hear" is used when a sound comes to your ears. For example, I hear loud music coming from next door. Or, I hear the dog barking outside. Or, I hear the baby crying.

"To listen" is used when a person wants to hear something and is paying attention to it. For example, I am listening to a wonderful new CD. Or, I am listening to my brilliant ESL tutor's explanation about verb tenses.

Compare, "I was listening to some music when I heard the phone ring." Here, I am actively listening to some music and the sound of the phone ringing was a sound that came to me without my taking any action.

P.S. I love the dictionary, Longman Advanced American Dictionary because it knows that students get these two words confused (and many others) and if offers examples of the differences.



Anonymous said...

When this comes up, and I think the student can handle a little more, I like to teach "overhear" and "eavesdrop" to further the concept. Other similar pairs: look/watch vs. see/catch a glimpse of/notice

Unknown said...

yoo sir thank you very much. i was soo long confused with these two verbs. hope this clears my doubts.