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Can you hear me now? The difference between oír and escuchar.



A Latin American linguist once said that in order to hear, we only need healthy ears; but in order to listen, we need to pay attention.  In Spanish, the verb oír is translated into English as the verb to hear, and escuchar is the English equivalent of the verb to listen.  The verb oír means that you perceive a sound through the ear, whereas escuchar means to pay attention to what those sounds mean.  Hearing (oír) is an involuntary action, but listening (escuchar) implies a deliberate willingness to understand.


Let's look at an example to clarify the difference: "No te oigo" (I can't hear you) means that I am physically incapable of hearing what you are saying or distinguishing the sounds coming from your mouth.  "No te escucho" (I'm not listening to you) means that I am not paying attention nor trying to interpret your meaning. 


The difference between oír and escuchar is similar to the difference between seeing (ver) and watching (mirar).  Have you ever caught yourself staring into space?  You might have been sitting in front of the TV for awhile, but you have no idea what the program was about.  Veo la tele, pero no miro el programa


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