Lipreading: Ann Thallon and Hearing Link Patron Stephen LloydLipreading empowers someone with a hearing loss to lead an independent and fulfilled life. Lipreading is often described as a 'third ear'.

Try our lipreading quiz for Lipreading Awareness Week 08-12 September 2014. 

Find a class in your local area.

What are the skills involved in lipreading?

  • training your eyes to help your ears
  • watching the movements of the mouth, teeth and tongue
  • reading the expression on the face
  • noticing body language and gestures
  • using residual hearing
  • anticipation

Of the eight to nine million people in Britain who have a hearing loss around 50,000 to 70,000 use British Sign Language as their preferred method of communication. Nearly everyone else will rely to some extent on lipreading.

A few facts about lipreading

Consonant shapes (p, f, sh, w) are:

  • Hard to hear
  • Easy to see
  • High frequency sounds

Vowel shapes are:

  • Easy to hear
  • Hard to see
  • Low frequency sounds

Lipreading involves:

  • Lipreading some of the shapes
  • Hearing some of the sounds
  • Recognising and interpreting facial expression, body language and gesture.
  • 'Putting two and two together' and guessing words that you can neither lipread or hear by using the context and common sense to help you
  • Putting them all together

Strangely enough, sentences are easier to lipread than individual words and long words are easier to lipread than short words.  This always impresses hearing people!

Here are some of the things that you can also improve while lipreading:

  • Confidence
  • Social skills
  • Communication tactics and repair strategies

Things to know about lipreading

  • Lipreaders cannot lipread in the dark
  • You need reasonably good eyesight to lipread
  • Lipreading is difficult unless you are lipreading your first language, e.g. an English person lipreads English better than they lipread French
  • Not everyone is lipreadable!
  • Some lipshapes look alike, for example, 'f' and 'v'
  • Special equipment is not required
  • Batteries are not needed
  • Since most people speak, most people can be lipread
  • Lipreading is not expensive
  • You can take your lipreading ability anywhere
  • When two words look similar, you can often tell which is the correct one from the context

An example of the 'lipreading process'

Take this example of an every day conversation between Jessica who is deaf, and Jonathan who is hearing.

Step 1: Interpreting expression and gesture 

Based on people in general and Jessica's specialised knowledge of Jonathan in particular:

  • Jessica recognises Jonathan's expression as one she has seen before
  • Jonathan touched his trouser pocket where he keeps his wallet, he is checking he has money with him, he wants to buy something
  • Jonathan's voice goes up so he is asking a question
  • Jonathan looks eager and he licks his lips – he is hungry

Step 2: Listening

Jessica is listening using her residual hearing.  She hears something like this:

  • __a__ _e __o_ _o_  _i__ _o__ee a__ a _a___i__

Step 3: Lipreading

She is watching Jonathan's and lipreading him and she lipreads something like this:

  • Ch_ll qu_ t_m v_r qu_k t_vv_nt_ _p r_j

She puts them both together and gets:

  • Chall que tom vora wick toffee anter am rich

Step 3: Calculating

First she tries to sort out the shapes that look the same

  • Shall we top for a quick toffee anter am rich

Then she applies common sense to fill in the gaps and correct misunderstandings

  • Shall we top for a quick coffee anter samwich (sic)

Now invisible letters and Queen’s English

  • Shall we stop for a quick coffee and a sandwich?

Then she thinks of an answer!


A lipreading conundrum 

A reader writes ... 'Last night, after croquet, eight of us were standing around with wine and nibbles, chatting. I suddenly realised that my guesses as to what was being said were wrong; backtracking was not really on. I'm not even sure who was talking when I first lost the thread. I couldn't really stop the conversation and ask for a recap. So what did I do? I did what I always do. I dropped out of the conversation and went into a daydreaming state. But I don't want to do that any more! Can anyone offer a way forward?'

Members and volunteers put forward their views ...

'Groups are so difficult. I sometime ask a friend or my wife what the thread is. I still find groups not easy as people will speak over one another. I was at the football last week with a load of friends in a very noisy pub. I couldn't hear much but a hearing friend told me he was struggling so I did not feel that uncomfortable. We had a good laugh and my team won, so I went outside where I could hear better.'

'Big groups are a nightmare and I admit I do the shut down' routine too. I don't have the confidence to interrupt, but I like the idea of "I've lost the thread"' maybe I will try it.'

'It would sometimes be easier to turn to someone and ask for a catch up than to interrupt the entire conversation.'

'I find it difficult to interrupt even when I think I am following the conversation. Lots of times I have started talking when someone else is already in full flow, and I haven't noticed.'

'It's hard to know when to jump in, so I don't. Also I am worried I will be repeating something that was already said and which I missed.'

'Try an entirely new subject of your own? Especially, if you have a chance to give yourself a few minutes to recover before doing so.'

'I find it easier to have a conversations with smaller groups of people. You'll need to adapt ... and that sometimes means losing certain things... But you can always win others. The most important thing is that you don't lose yourself.'

'Utilise the croquet mallet.'

What do you think? Post your comments below.

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 Margaret's new year's resolution - join a lipreading class

Hearing Link volunteer Margaret Canning blogs about hearing loss and living alone

'When I joined the class I was not sure what to expect but I was made very welcome and soon settled into the group. Our tutor, Morag was born deaf and she is amazing. Each week she has a different topic for us and we have learned so much.

The classes are fun and interesting and she always makes sure no one is left out.' Read more about Margaret's lipreading class.


Useful tips

Lipreading techniques 

Lipreading is easier in a room with soft furnishings

And in a quiet environment

Ask people to face you, speak clearly and a little louder

Have your back to the light source so that light falls on the speaker's face

Position yourself 3-6 ft away as lipreading is difficult if the speaker is too near or too far away

Try and watch the speaker's lips

Do not let yourself get too tired or tense as you will lipread better if you are relaxed

 Finding a lipreading class 

Lipreading tutors teach lipreading to hard of hearing, deaf and deafened people who have lost their hearing as adults. Most lipreading tutors teach in Adult Education Centres. The fees for the course will vary.

A lipreading class is full of people who have lost their hearing as adults. Apart from that, you may find you are all widely different from each other. There is no age limit and no qualifications are needed.

You will sometimes find lipreading classes run by NHS hospitals or charities. Some lipreading tutors will give private lessons. A good way of finding your nearest local class is to look on the ATLA website.

The professional organisation is the Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults (ATLA). You can either find and enrol in a lipreading class yourself, or get referred by a professional such as a Hearing Therapist or Audiologist.

Hearing Link Registered Charity Number 264809 Registered Charity Number in Scotland SC037688