Lipreading Tips and Tricks
Most people (especially those who already have hearing loss) can lipread a little already. They just do not necessarily know that they are doing it! Much of the skill of lipreading involves developing an attentive awareness to what you are seeing, and translating that information into word possibilities. There are a few tips and tricks you can utilise to start lip reading straightaway.
Get Yourself Organised To Lipread
It may take a while to develop the confidence to do this, but it's a good idea to adopt the mindset of a lip reader with hearing loss sooner rather than later. This basically means, get the environment around you working for you! Some of the aspects you might try to influence are:
You cannot lip read in the dark! If you are in a room, having the room well lit will help enormously. It will be even better if the person you are lipreading is facing the source of the light, so that their face is clearly visible. Level, even lighting is best, shade and shadow should be avoided where possible.
Do not be afraid to ask people to move, if it means that they will be more lip readable. For most lipreaders, face to face is optimal. You will need to have a clear view of the speakers lips, and also be able to observe their movement & expression. Be prepared to shift around a little, yourself. Get comfortable, get to where you want to be.
If your first language is English, English is normally easiest to lip read. Then, there is the type of language to consider. Jargon, accents and acronyms can be particularly difficult. As usual, forewarned is forearmed and it makes sense to have as much of the following as possible…
Context is everything! It is probably the most important aspect of lipreading, and can give you a massive head start when you are trying to lip read a conversation. Going in "cold" means that you will be spending valuable time hoping to decipher the context. Once you have the context, you will find yourself recognising words within sentences much more readily.
Make no mistake, lipreading is rather tiring (especially at first). You will need to give yourself regular breaks in order to maintain useful comprehension. Hearing loss itself can be rather stress inducing, learning to lipread is supposed to reduce that stress, not add to it. Be kind to yourself.
Take a Lipreading Class!
This is the best way to learn how lipread. Whether it is a lipreading class in an institution, a local charity or private lipreading classes it makes sense to learn with a professional lipreading tutor. Most lipreading teachers have hearing loss themselves, so they have some idea of what you are going through. Group courses give a great opportunity to meet other people with the same issues.
It's Not Just about the Lips!
It's very tempting to stare very hard at a person's lips, hoping to spot the shapes you are looking for. This is exhausting, as well as limiting. The idea is to take in all the information available, that includes facial expression and body language. Leaning in, head tilting, eyebrow raising… all of these give an indication of what is being said.
Don't Look for Individual Words
It's generally agreed that only about 30-40% of speech is lip readable, so attempting to catch single words can be pure folly. Context can be gleaned from whole sentences, rather than isolated words. Whole sentences will usually contain more information, and it's the words within that sentence which will reveal themselves as you become more adept at lipreading.
Look for the Shapes
On any lipreading course, there will be a focus on the visible lip patterns. These are shapes on the lips which are easier to see. However, many of them look incredibly similar! By developing your awareness of these visible shapes, your brain will become better at further analysing the verbal possibilities, potentially figuring out what has been said. Example lip shape: B, P, M. In terms of lipreading, this would be Buh, Puh, Muh and NOT Bee, Pee, Emm. Which brings me on to the next point…
It's Not about Grammar Or Spelling
Lipreading is about recognising the shapes on the lips that words make, rather than the sounds that the words make. We are not too bothered about how words are spelled. It is the shape they make that is important. By recognising lip patterns within a sentence, we can work out the possible words that may fit the pattern, then fit the context around what we have seen. At no point do we worry about how these words have been spelled!
Use Any Residual Hearing
For those of us who still have hearing, this is essential. Lipreading with a hearing loss is not designed to replace hearing. Learning to lipread becomes part of your toolkit for living with your hearing loss. It is only in your lipreading classes that the tutor will completely "de-voice" (speak without using their voice). Outside of your lipreading course, it really isn't that common to do this.
Lipreading Is Not Supposed to Replace Hearing Technology
Hearing aids have revolutionised hearing loss! However, there are times when a hearing aid just does do the job. It is quite common for people with hearing loss to complain that their hearing aids are ineffective in a crowded room, or a place with lots of background noise. This is when lipreading becomes a superpower! The combination of good hearing technology, and lipreading ability means that you can pick up much more information than you would otherwise. Then, you're winning.