Understanding the Art of Lip Reading: 5 Things to Know

Understanding the Art of Lip Reading: 5 Things to Know

Read my lips! You may have heard that phrase when someone wants to hammer home a point, like a mother telling a child, “Read my lips. You're not having any more ice cream.”

While you usually might not think twice when hearing that phrase, for many hard-of-hearing people lip reading can be an invaluable communication skill.

Here are a few things you should understand about lip reading.

1. What is Lip Reading?

Lip reading, also known as speech reading, is exactly what you would expect. It’s the combination of using a person’s lip movements, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues to “read” speech.

Speech sounds that are hard to hear, such as the soft “p” in “sphere,” are easier to pick up visually, an especially important aspect for hard-of-hearing individuals. Phone conversations can be challenging due to the lack of nonverbal communication relied upon for lip reading.

Next time you’re out at a coffee shop or lounging at the park, take notice of how much all people rely on nonverbal communication.

2. The Confidence Boost

For hard-of-hearing people, lip reading can mean a world of difference in terms of their confidence in communicating. Some people feel embarrassed or frustrated when they have to continually ask others to speak up or repeat things. Lip reading can help hard-of-hearing individuals pick up on words or sounds they didn’t quite catch, meaning they can feel better about their communication abilities.

Communication confidence is vital in encouraging people to stay connected with family and friends and keeping engaged in the community.

3. Lip Reading Class

How can you learn to lip read? By taking a class, of course! Yes, you can learn to lip read by taking online courses, such as these free ones offered by lipreading.org. Another way you can learn is through your day-to-day communication. Just make an extra effort to focus on how people’s lips move relative to specific sounds.

With patience and practice, you can learn through everyday immersion.

4. Lip Reading Isn’t a “Complete Solution”

While lip reading can be incredibly helpful to hard-of-hearing people, there are many situations where it doesn’t suffice. It’s much harder to lip read in a dark room or talking to a man sporting a full mustache, beard and sunglasses, for example. Obscure angles and mumbling also hinder lip reading.

Hard-of-hearing individuals should ensure they have other solutions in mind rather than relying solely on lip reading.

5. A Few Other Things…

  • Some movements made by the lips during sounds such as “th” or “f” are very similar. Learning to pick up on other subtle facial cues provides valuable context.
  • Lip reading is easier in a person's native language.
  • Developing a thorough understanding of the language can help lip readers reasonably predict what words might be said next. For example, if someone was telling you “three strikes and you’re _____” could you predict what word completes the sentence?