How Lipreading Is a Valuable Communication Tool

Lipreading, also known as speechreading, is a skill that I could not live without. Reading lips lets one understand more of the hearing world, and reduces the need to write. For example, I can have short chats at work.

However, it does not replace written or visual communication. Even the best lip readers can miss a good bit because only about 30% of speech is visible. Many letters and words look the same on the lips, which can cause misunderstandings. For example, "p(ail), b(ail), and m(ail)" look the same.

Some children are natural lipreaders. Others need to be taught how to lipread. I was a natural lipreader but learned more lipreading skills from a speech therapist.

Deaf woman and daughter communicate
kali9 / Getty Images 

Learning to Lipread

Resources are available for both adults and children to learn speechreading skills. Local organizations or individuals that assist deaf and hard-of-hearing people may be able to refer you to local sources of lipreading instruction (e.g. an audiologist, the local library, or a speech and hearing center).

Print Materials

The following printed materials to learn or improve lip reading skills:

Video and Software Materials

The following digital resources offer visual instruction for lip reading:

  • "I See What You Say" is an instructional video program.
  • "Baldi" is a virtual instructor developed with support from the National Science Foundation. Baldi is in use at the Tucker-Maxon Oral School in Oregon. Suggestions from the students have been incorporated into an animated language learning CD-ROM product from the Animated Speech Corporation.
  • "Read My Lips" is an internet-based collection of lip-reading videos.

Tips When Talking to Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing People

To make lipreading easier for people with hearing loss, there are some things hearing people can do, based on my own experience:

  • Do not exaggerate speech or talk too loudly. Exaggeration actually makes it harder to lipread.
  • If a man has a mustache, either make sure it is thin or remove it entirely. I myself cannot lipread a man with a mustache.
  • Do use a lot of facial expressions. Visual cues like a facial expression or a gesture can go far in helping a hearing-impaired person to make sense out of what they are trying to lipread.
  • Stand or sit where there is good lighting. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I have to make sure that I get a table with good light.

However, not everyone with hearing loss can learn to read lips, as some hearing people may think. Many deaf people are not able to learn how to make sense out of "flapping mouths." That is why, when a hearing person meets a deaf or hard-of-hearing person for the first time, he or she should not assume that the deaf or hard-of-hearing person can read lips.

1 Source
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  1. Georgia Tech Research Institute. Deafness and hardness of hearing fact sheet.

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.