¡Oye! ("Hey!") -from the verb oír ("to hear")- and ¡Escúchame! ("Listen to me!") -from the verb escuchar ("to listen")- mean approximately the same thing. Kind of like the modern "Listen up!"and the old fashioned "Hear ye! Hear ye!" in English. And now that we've got your attention, let's look more closely at the two auditory verbs.
Escuchar generally means "to listen" in the sense of paying attention to what's heard. In contrast, oír means "to hear" in the sense of using your ears. Escuchar is a deliberate act, while oír can be passive. So, note that escuchar música usually means "to listen to music" while oír música is "to hear music." In other words, you might hear a band's latest album without really listening to the lyrics. Got that?
So, have you heard or listened to Antes que ver el sol by Coti? The refrain goes like this:
Antes que ver el sol... prefiero escuchar tu voz
"Before seeing the sun... I prefer to listen to your voice."
[Captions 9,10, (refrain), Coti > Antes que ver el sol]
In our video's subtitles, we translate escuchar the traditional way, as "listen to". But because the lyrics in this song are a little, um, opaque -as rock lyrics so often are- one could also argue that escuchar could be translated as "hear" here. You see, in popular usage, the dictionary definitions of escuchar and oír can be blurred, especially in various Latin American countries.
Case in point: In our video clip, Coti urges his vocal audience to sing louder by saying:
¡No se escucha!
"I can't hear you!"
[Caption 23, Coti > Antes que ver el sol]
So are escuchar and oír losing their distinctive definitions? Native Spanish speakers and observant English speakers argue the point on various message boards. See, for example:
WordReference.com > Escuchar / Oír
DR1 (Dominican Republic forums) > Oír / Escuchar
Wikipedia > Convenciones idiomáticas (Oír / Escuchar)
But the authoritative Real Academia Española upholds the difference in its Diccionario de la Lengua Española and we think Spanish students should listen to that.
As a final note, the instrument that does all of our listening and hearing can also be confusing for non-native speakers of Spanish. You see, "ear" is translated into Spanish as oído, which specifically means "the inner ear," -i.e., the part used for hearing. Meanwhile, "the outer ear" -i.e., the body part Vincent Van Gogh famously chopped off- is translated as oreja.