What did I learn from lipreading lessons?

Lipreading is a skill which involves recognizing lip movements. Lipreading is when a listener uses speaker’s lip movements to see speech. Majority of people lipread to some extend but it is used more extensively by those who are hard of hearing .

How somebody lipreads differs from person to person. Personally, I lipread using a combination of lip movements, hearing, body language and context.   Without sound, I would struggle to see the difference between words with similar lip movements such as pat and mat. Knowing the conversation topic helps me scan for certain words related to the context which make it easier to follow the conversation. In addition body language such as facial expression and helpful gestures play part to decipher what is being said. It is easier to interpret the message if someone says “Who, me?” with a questioning face expression, open their hands and pointing at their chest.

In some cases when I meet someone new initially I struggle to lipread them. But this get easier with time as I get familiar with their lip movements. In rare cases there are those who I would struggle to follow even if they have been talking to me for a long time. The reason is not always clear it could be the accent or it could be something I did not pick up on. From my experience laughing and talking at the same time makes things harder. Other habits that make it harder is head turning and hands on mouth.

Lipreading is a challenge in a group settings as it is difficult to look at different speakers from one side to another. This means a lot of head turning to face the speaker. In a group setting I have to face the speaker before they speak.

In lipreading lessons we did an exercise in which the teacher would say sentences without voice and I had to repeat them back to her. These sentences were stories, rhymes and phrases. In addition to this we had conversations without speech.

In these lipreading lessons, I did not just get to practise to lipread, I also learnt a lot about lipreading theory as well as other communication tips and about deaf services ad equipment. Lipreading theory is about consonants which look similar on the lips such as M P and B. I also covered homophenes which are words that look similar on the lips. These include words like ‘most’, ‘post’ and ‘boast’ or ‘mat’, ‘pat’ and ‘bat’. In order to tell these apart again, context matters.

Most of the communication tips I learnt about, I had used previously albeit unconsciously. One of the most valuable tips is if you don’t hear something it’s best to ask closed question. For example if you are not sure if someone said ‘mat’ or ‘pat’ ask them. “Did you say mat?”, rather than “What did you say?” that way the receient will answer yes or no. If you ask them to repeat you might end up back at square one. This method resulted some amusing experiences were I would ask about a word completely nothing to do with conversation! Other tips include being in a quiet and brightly lit environment area. You should also face away from the light so as not to get the light into your eyes and thus can see speaker’s lipmovements.

Going to lipreading lessons has helped me to be more aware how I communicate with others. Firstly I am more assertive to reduce communications obstacles such as telling people that I lipread if they speak while looking away. It also made me aware of what works for me or what I struggle with.

If you are someone who rely a lot on lipreading and never been to a lipreading class before I would recommend them. If you are interested in learning lipreading here are some resources:

  • Lipreading practice is a free site is by Gloria McGregor who herself loss hearing in the 80s. The site is full of videos and practice exercises. The lessons are split into different consonants sounds and vowel sounds.
  • ATLAS  is website for Association for Teachers of Lipreading to Adults. On this site there is a timetable for lipreading classes.
  • The booklet Watch this face: a practice guide to lipreading is a good introduction to lipreading. The author uses pictures of lip shapes to illustrate.

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