Since lip reading (or speech reading) is common for those who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing, what is it like for those who are unfamiliar with it and never uses it?
This post will explain my own personal experiences of lip reading plus look at removing the myths (like you can read lips from across the room 🙄) and also share some tips and advice on how to make it easier for the lip reader.
You can watch the video below…
…listen to the podcast…
…or read the transcripts below:
What is lip reading like?
If you know someone who is d/Deaf or hard of hearing, you may have heard of the word lip reading, or speech reading as it’s also known as.
And I get the feeling that there are a lot of assumptions and myths out there for those who are hearing. And they are familiar with lip reading but they just make assumption of what it can do, what it does and how it helps people, how it affects people.
So I want to take this opportunity to just let it out there, talk about my own experiences. Talk about all these myths and assumptions that people have and I want to get rid of it and just to help you understand a bit more about what is lip reading.
And what is lip reading like for those who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing. I want to talk about my own experiences of lip reading because, as always, everyone’s experience is a bit different.
But before we do that, I just want to clarify one thing.
Not all d/Deaf or hard of hearing people can lip read.
Everyone is different and it’s kind of like a skill to learn but it’s also dependent many other factors.
So take for example, my own experiences and people have asked me, “How did you learn lip reading and how do you do it?” I don’t have an answer for that, it just came to me.
I didn’t deliberately learn to do it. It just came naturally for me because I grew up in a hearing world, I grew up in a hearing family. I went to mainstream school, mainstream university.
And being surrounded by hearing people at my jobs. That’s just the way I’ve been living my life.
And because of that, I naturally tried to adjust the way I communicate with people and to hear people by focusing on their body language, their lips, their gesture, their facial expressions. All these things, they just came naturally to me.
And on top of that, I did have a speech therapist. I had to go through that process once a week. And also obviously go through audiologists as well.
And I remembered one time or many times actually, I do these tests, where not only they do their sound tests where you put the headphones on and you hear the beep and you click your button.
But they also liked to do another thing, where they cover their mouth and they read a word or a sentence and they ask me to just tell them what did I hear or not hear, if I can’t hear at all. I hated that test because I get it wrong a lot. And it’s a bit embarrassing at times. But it is what it is and I remember doing that, just didn’t like it.
But like I said, not everyone can lip read. It can be a skill to learn but it can also come naturally depending on your surrounding environment and how you grew up.
And it doesn’t matter how good you are at it and how long you’ve been doing it. It is probably almost impossible, if not impossible to get it 100% right.
Because it’s just not possible to be able to pick up every single word just by having the sound of and lip reading only, that isn’t us.
Because there have been studies out there where around 30 to 45% of the words that you can lip read are picked up in the English language anyway. It might be different for other languages.
But if you can only pick up 30% of what that person is saying by lip reading, it’s just not a lot at all. It’s nothing.
So that’s why lip reading is actually part of many other clues, it’s part of the whole thing when I try to communicate with another person, it’s part of the whole, again, facial expression, and gestures, and body language, their tone of voice and how they’re speaking. They all give me clues of what that person is talking about.
And it’s really, really important that people know that.
But one thing that you should be aware of and it’s so important that it’s exhausting to do it all the time, it’s so much concentration. You’re focusing on what that person is saying, and it’s exhausting. It can be very, very hard. Which is why, it’s another reason why you can only do it one-on-one. Meaning you can only do it with one person.
Which makes sense, you can’t look at two or more people’s lips at the same time. That’s impossible. So in a group environment, lip reading is pretty much impossible.
However, I do get the feeling that maybe the word lip reading is a bit misleading because people assume that you’re just staring at the lips and that’s it.
It might be true for some people, but for me, I switch between looking at the lips and other parts of the person’s face, because some people have that peripheral vision where you see your lip while looking at that person’s eyes.
And your eyes can say a lot of things as well, but the way I do is I don’t just only stare at the lips, I go up and down, I look at their faces, their facial expressions, or listen.
But it’s also something that you can see almost, corner of your eyes, while you’re looking at something else on that person’s face. So lip reading is correct in that term. But it’s not always correct because I don’t just stare at the lips.
But again, it’s different for other people. Regardless of all that, one thing that I should also say, and it’s kind of annoying when think that it’s true. It’s not a trick. It’s not a superhero trick. It’s not something that I can see from far away. People think that I can read other people’s lips from across the room.
No, no, that’s not how it works. It doesn’t work like that. So just bare that in mind, it’s not a party trick.
But like I said, it’s part of many clues and it’s not 100% solution. And a big part of it, is about understanding the context of what that person’s talking about. That also adds to the whole understanding of what that person is saying.
So for example, if you are reading the word on that person’s lips: “pear” and “bear”.
When you’re looking at that person’s lips, it looks exactly the same: pear and bear. But what does help to clarify what that person is saying, is if you can get a grasp of the context of that conversation.
So for example, if you’re talking to a park ranger, then you have a good chance that that park ranger is talking about a bear in a forest. So, you can assume the word is “bear”.
But maybe you’re talking about a person who enjoys gardening, growing vegetables, and has some fruits in the garden. And obviously then you can think, maybe talking about “pears”.
And then you connect the dots that way. Now yes, it’s possible that there could be a bear in a fruit garden. Yes, that could be it. But I think if you get a grasp of the context of that conversation, then you’ll quickly realise that it’s actually taking about this topic.
So is it “bear” or “pear”? I know it’s one or the other.
So context is a big, big part of understanding what that person’s talking about. Even if you are lip reading that person as well.
Type of people I can’t lipread
So there are a number of different people that I just can’t understand, for the life of me. I’m just not able to understand what they are saying.
- People with thin lips.
- People who mumble.
- People who have no expressions on their faces.
- People who talk too fast.
- People with big moustaches or beards.
- People with strong accents (kinda like me).
- People who laugh out loud while they’re speaking.
Things to be aware of when speaking to a lip reader
There are number of things that you should be aware of if you are speaking to someone who is d/Deaf or hard of hearing, when it comes to the concept of lip reading.
- Don’t stand with a light behind you.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full (well you should never talk with your mouth full anyway).
- Don’t speak too fast.
- Don’t speak too slowly.
- Don’t talk with your hands over your mouth.
- Make sure you face that lip reader in a well-lit environment as well.
- Don’t go into the next room when you’re talking.
- Where possible, try not to speak in a noisy environment.
- Don’t exaggerate your lips movement.
- Don’t shout and don’t spit.
- Don’t stand too close to the lip reader.
- Hipster beards are not so hipster.
- And finally, don’t be offended if you are asked to repeat.
Like I said, lip reading is not a solution, it’s part of many, many clues. And don’t forget, there are many, many different ways of communicating with people who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing.
You can check it out in the description. You can find more information there. And while there, I urge you to look at the video below:
This is a great video where it will give you an example of what is it like to lip read. It’s done very, very well. Very creative for them.
It just gives you an idea of what is it really like to lip read. It gives you an example of people speaking, different types of people.
And it shows that it’s not perfect. It’s not a solution. It’s actually more difficult than you think it is.
And even if you don’t want to watch it, all you have to do is just look at a video, watch a video, turn the sound off, and work out how many words can you can pick up just by looking at person’s lips.
Give it a shot. You might be surprised on how little that you can pick up. If you have any other questions about lip reading, let me know in a comment below. Because it’s important that we get the information out there is correct.
And it’s important that there are no assumptions on what is lip reading. It’s important to me to make sure that you know as much as possible. Just so that we can all communicate with each other as well.
So let me know in a comment, and while you’re there, just make sure you hit that subscribe button.
So that you don’t miss any episode of this amazing topic of d/Deaf awareness as well.
In the meantime, I hope to speak to you again soon.
- What is ‘audism’? Plus my personal experiences of facing audism - October 27, 2021
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- Deafness as a ‘hidden/invisible disability’ - October 6, 2021
M. Thomas says
Incredibly helpful piece Ahmed and well written and easy to read. Thank you.
Ahmed Khalifa says
No problem at all. I’m glad you found it useful 😊
Lea W. says
This was really interesting. As a high-schooler taking her third year of ASL, this was really helpful. I do have a question for you. Do you think that it is better for a Deaf person to learn to both sign and speak, or just one?
Ahmed Khalifa says
Hi Lea. I’m glad you found it interesting. With regards to your question, there isn’t a perfect answer for this. One person will say focus on speaking orally, the other will say just sign. Some will say do both. It’s all down to the individual.
But I would hope that the person will be exposed to various sources of honest information, people and communities to learn as much as possible. That way, they can make a better informed decision rather than to just assume or to listen to one source of information.
Thank you for your knowledge.can you help me for deaf how many minutes that you can take for a teacher to help learners to pronounce words while he or she is wearing hearing aids.
Ahmed Khalifa says
I can’t answer that because everyone is different, so there is no perfect number of minutes. Keep practicing and find the right teacher to help you.