In the past people spoke of “lipreading.” The term these days isn’t “lipreading,” but rather “speechreading.” The change has come because we are really look- ing at people’s facial expressions, arm gestures, postures, etc. and not just their lips when interpreting what is being said.
None of us has much formal train- ing in speechreading, but many people do it to some extent. Speech reading is essential in two instances: in noisy places all peo- ple speechread regardless of their hearing status and people with hearing loss speechread on many occasions, noisy or not.
The following are some tips and activities for you to improve your speechreading abilities. In order to be able to speech read, we have to
be able to SEE the person who is talking. I know this sounds elementary but is much harder to communicate with a person who is standing in another room, talking with their back turned or talking while covering their mouth with a hand. If you cannot see the person who is talking, you will have to use some assertiveness to explain, “I have a much easier time un- derstanding you if you face me (or remove your hand from your mouth, etc.).”
You also want to make sure that you are looking at a person’s lips. I know I told you above that you are speechreading, not lipreading but facial expres- sions and gestures are fairly easy to see while lip move- ments are fleeting. You will need to concentrate on a person’s lips to catch the de- tails.
If you want to practice your skills, get a partner to mouth words to you. Start with a closed set of words like days of the week. When that becomes easy move to a larger set like months in the year or street names in your community.
Some people will be easier to speechread than others. If you have a good friend or family mem- ber who speaks without moving their lips much or who often speaks while smiling (very difficult to speechread!) then it might be worth it to explain that you need them to use more lip movement when talking to you. They may or may not be able to change a habit that has lasted a lifetime.
Your most important tool in speechreading is your hearing aids. Manysoundsofourlanguageare invisible on the lips. For example, say the word “key” out loud. You don’t move your lips at all to say the word. By using your hearing you can understand speech best.
Finally, I will encourage you to practice this skill. Have your partner select an article from the newspaper and tell you the subject. They read a sentence in their regular speaking voice and you repeat it. If you are unable to repeat the whole sentence then have your partner read it again in the same voice. If you are still unable to get it, then your partner repeats while emphasizing the words you missed. To make this exercise harder, turn on the radio or TV in the background.
Your hearing aids and your speechreading abilities will help you hear most people in most situations. We have to be realistic that we won’t hear everyone all the time. If you find you are missing out on too much, make an appointment to see your audiologist.