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Lipreading or Speechreading

Lipreading (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 lipreaders can miss a good bit because only about 30 to 40 percent 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.

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:

  • "Speechreading: A Way to Improve Understanding," comes with practice exercises
  • "Speechreading in Context: A Guide to Practice in Everyday Settings" is a free paper from the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center. It includes speechreading activities.
  • Lip-Reading Principles and Practice
  • Lessons in Lip-Reading for Self-Instruction
  • I Can't Hear You in the Dark: How to Learn and Teach Lipreading

Video and Software Materials:

  • "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.
  • Speechreading Laboratory produces Read My Lips! a home study video series.
  • Speechreading Challenges on CD-ROM, A Multimedia Experience in Learning Speechreading Skills (1999) available through Harris Communications
  • Seeing and Hearing Speech from Sensimetrics (2001)

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

To make lipreading easier for people with hearing loss, there 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.


Johns Hopkins University page on deafness.
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