Not much of us give a thought to ‘Overhearing’. By this I don’t mean eavesdropping but rather hearing parts of conversations which friends, family or colleagues are having around us. We are not actually included but we are not excluded either. For instance, imagine a dinner table. There are eight people sitting around the table. For a while one speaker commands the attention of all present, but after a while the conversation splinters and there maybe three conversations going on at once. Hearing people can concentrate on the conversation they are having but at the same time they will overhear words from the other conversations. Sometimes it will prompt them to say something like “I heard that!” or “I am listening, so don’t talk about me!” (smile)

Overhearing plays a major part in our language learning process. At first a baby responds only when spoken to, most often repeating the words they hear. But as time goes on they pick up more and more from conversation which is not specifically directed to them. We start spelling words to each other, (Shall we take him to the “P” “A” “R” “K”?). Even though we are not be speaking directly to the child once we start doing this it indicates the child has started to overhear as part of his learning process. He has yet to realise we are only voicing suggestions and may pick up on the word he knows and then demand we do it – so we spell the word to avoid this reaction.

It’s not only children who overhear. As adults there are so many places to overhear. Sometimes we pick up a word or two from a conversation and then may join in with an opinion. Other times we have the television or radio on in the background and we hear a key word or two. This may result in action – stopping what we are doing, turning up the sound and listen to what is being said. Key examples of this are when unexpected disasters happen – like the Boxing Day Tsunami in Aceh, a school shooting or the 9/11 twin towers. It happened for me the day Princess Diana was killed. I was out shopping with my son in a technology store and the news came over the radio in this store. I was totally deaf and didn’t overhear this announcement, but my son did and he alerted me to it, stopped and listened and told me about it.

A deaf person doesn’t have the ability overhear and as a result misses out on much of what is going on the world. Had my son not been with me that day I would have been oblivious of this horrendous accident. Indeed I would probably not have known for some days because it was before the internet, I didn’t have a television, couldn’t listen to the radio and rarely bought newspapers. Overhearing plays an important role in our social structure.

You Should Also Read:
The importance of language
The importance of hearing when acquiring language
Hearing vs Listening

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