One tactic that people living with hearing loss use during conversations is speechreading, which is also called lip reading. Speechreading is an interesting thing because we often use it without knowing it. People without hearing loss use it as well, especially in noisy environments. Here’s what to know about speechreading and some advice from the experts on how to improve your skills:

What is speechreading?

Speechreading is often called lip reading, though that term is not entirely accurate because understanding speech involves so much more than watching the lips. In fact, it includes lip movements, facial expressions, gestures and other (sometimes) subtle cues that our brains pick up on; oftentimes, we aren’t aware of these fainter signals, but they do a lot to inform how we interpret and communicate with others.

However, when people rely on speechreading to supplement their hearing, they might need some practice and training to improve upon their tactics.

Tips from Lipreading Mom

In her popular blog, Lipreading Mom, author Shanna Groves gives her tips for effective speechreading, something she has been doing since she was a child before her hearing loss was diagnosed.

Groves gives speechreading classes and makes her tips easy to remember using the acronym READ:

  • Relax: Because speechreading is tiring, Groves recommends taking breaks for deep breathing, drinking water, taking a brisk walk, closing your eyes for a bit and massaging your forehead to reduce stress.
  • Eyes: Prepare your eyes by minimizing visual distractions, which might mean facing away from the TV, a window or a crowd of people, or moving out of bright sunlight.
  • Attention: Get enough sleep, drink enough water and get help for any distracting stress to make sure your brain is ready for speechreading.
  • Decipher: This is the part you can’t really plan for. Deciphering happens when your observations, brain and auditory ability combine to help you process speech. But keep in mind that only 30 to 40 percent of speech can be understood by sight alone. This means that you should do your best but not stress out too much.

Other tips and tactics

Here are some other things you can do and be aware of to improve your speechreading skills:

  • Let others know how they can best help you. During conversation, be assertive by politely asking others to keep their hands from blocking their mouths, to face you when speaking and to provide you with the topic of conversation or write an important word down to boost your comprehension.
  • Know that if you’re just learning to speechread, it’s almost like learning to read a book and can take some practice. People just starting out may concentrate on each sound and end up missing the meaning. Do your best to read the message as a whole.
  • Remember that some consonant sounds, like “f” and “v,” can be pretty hard to tell apart – context here matters.
  • Practice to gain confidence in your abilities.
  • Lipreading is especially hard when the language you are trying to understand is not your first language.
  • Move yourself closer to the speaker – about six feet away or less – so that you can more easily see his or her face and mouth. If necessary, ask the person to move away from bright back lighting, which can cast a shadow on his or her face.
  • Realize that speechreading takes a lot of work – make sure to give yourself a break from time to time.
  • Consider taking a class on speechreading, renting a DVD or watching online videos where people with hearing loss explain their best tactics and help you learn to improve yours. Gallaudet University has a great list of resources.
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