What is lipreading?

Why lipread?

Communication is so important to all of us and encompasses all areas of our lives, whether it is in our working lives, our social lives or just the everyday, simple interactions with other people.

Those of us who have a hearing loss often feel very left out when our family and friends are in conversation because we are unable to follow accurately what they say.

Sometimes we can become frustrated and depressed and even reluctant to join the group or to go out to events where we know it’s going to be difficult for us.

This self-imposed isolation doesn’t help us as it escalates, and our bad feelings get worse. We can feel miserable.

So, what can we do? First, we have to try to be (and look) positive – people will want to be with us if we are friendly and open.  Secondly, we need to find a way of communicating better and this will depend on our own personal circumstances.

For many of us lipreading can help. Whilst it is not a magic wand, lipreading can help us to better understand what we see and hear, enabling us to take a more active part in conversations.

What is lipreading?

An interesting question – some people think of lipreading as a set of skills, whilst others believe it is an art.

It has been said that lipreading is not precise because some sounds and words look very similar and because it relies so much on the lipreader’s own background knowledge of language and on the quality of speech of the speaker.

This may be true but for many of us lipreading has enabled us to function, much more effectively, in the hearing world.

We consider lipreading as a way of using your skills, knowledge and general awareness – using any clues to help you make sense of what you are hearing, or if you have no hearing, to understand and follow what another person says – to enable you to take part in the conversation.

This is not always easy, because however good at lipreading you are, there are some situations that are difficult to work in (lipreading is especially difficult in large, noisy groups and meetings and where you are listening to speakers with no loop system in place).

Overall though, lipreading can be a lifeline, enabling you to be more confident and to take an active part in many large and small group situations.  For most of us using sign language is not an option because we live in the hearing world where very few people know how to sign.

Tips to help you lipread

Learning to lipread never ends. There are different formations to learn, different dialects, and every face is different, dealing in its own way with words. However, the more you learn, the more your confidence will grow, enhancing and strengthening your communication ability.

  • Remember to ask people to look at you and speak clearly.
  • Ask them not to cover their mouth and to speak a little slower and clearly but with normal rhythm and intonation.
  • If possible ask them to face you and keep still.
  • If possible find a quiet place to have your conversation – soft furnishings, carpets and curtains all help to absorb noise and make it easier to lipread.
  • Make sure the room is well lit and the light is on the other persons face.
  • If possible be at the same height and not too far away from the speaker.
  • If you can tell people what is best for you – where you need to sit for different situations
  • If you cannot understand, ask them to rephrase, repeat or write it down. Keep a pen and paper with you at all times, or use a small, portable writing tablet.
  • Wear one of our lipreading badges or lipreading wristbands to make people aware of your communication needs, or find a selection of products in our Lipreading Awareness Kit.

Don’t be surprised if you feel tired. Lipreading requires deep concentration, and you will need to give yourself frequent breaks, especially at first. When you get the chance, close your eyes and relax for a few minutes. Take time out!

Free online lipreading exercises

Lipreading Practice is a free website with lipreading videos and exercises to try at home. Visit the Lipreading Practice website.

Webpage updated: August 2023

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