Lipreading empowers someone with a hearing loss to lead an independent and fulfilled life. Lipreading is often described as a 'third ear'.
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
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 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:
- 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.