Lipreading In Paradise

Do you lipread? I do. Most of the time, I am not aware of it, but I know I must be doing it, because it annoys me terribly when people cover their mouths when they speak! I have gotten quite skilled at it over the years, because the other day at a meeting, a colleague across the table from me made a quiet comment to another person about a skill she had, and I “heard” it. When I asked her about it, she replied, “You must be a very good lipreader, because there is no way you could have heard what I said.” Interesting.

My children like to play lipreading games with me. It is good practice for me, because they keep making it harder and harder until I am stumped. That, of course, is their favorite part! One night on a recent vacation, they decided to try a lipreading-only dinner. The people at the tables next to us must have thought we were crazy, with the kids moving their mouths with no sound coming out and then me replying with my voice. Half the time the kids would burst out laughing at my response. It ended up being a lot of fun.

First off, the name of the restaurant was tricky. It was called Vista Mare, but I kept thinking they were saying, “Kick the ball.” They would ask me, “How do you like Vista Mare?” and I would answer, “What type of ball?” Peals of laughter followed. Eventually they pointed to the name on the menu so I figured it out.

Our discussion of the beautiful sunset went smoothly — “What a beautiful sunset,” and “Let’s take a picture,” were pretty easy, especially since it was a stunning evening in paradise. Talking about what we might order was also simple, since the menu was right in front of me to scan. Plus, my children always order the same thing at an Italian restaurant, so I didn’t even need to read their lips to know what they were saying.

But then we moved onto movies and popular culture. I could handle Star Wars and some discussion of the upcoming new movie — “Would Luke be in it? Was Kaylo Ren related to Luke? Should we see it on opening day?” Even discussing Matt Damon in Martian was fine, but then they moved on to Benedict Cumberbatch. To be honest, I didn’t even know who that was, but apparently he is a famous British actor that has been in many movies.

“Did what have an escape hatch? I asked. “Is someone walking down a lumber path?” I tried. I’m not sure what a lumber path is, but you never know. “Are they bending in a cummerbund?” Then it was my kids’ turn to have no idea what that was. I guess we haven’t taken them to too many black tie events.

They could not get enough of this hilarity, and there were no clues they could give me because I had never hear of this guy. (Sorry Benedict…) They eventually had to cheat and say it out loud.

Lipreading games can be fun, but they are also good practice. Lipreading, or speech reading as it is sometimes called, is an incredibly important skill for those of us with hearing loss, and one that I seem to rely on even more than I know. But as the games with my kids show, lipreading alone is not enough. It is the combination of the sounds and the lipreading that is most powerful. 

The games also showed how much energy those of us with hearing loss use in every communication situation. Not only are we using our ears to hear, but our eyes to lipread, and our brains to put it all together into something coherent. Once we figure out what the person has said, we are not done, because then we need to reply!

Nevertheless, I am very grateful for my ability to lipread and may take a class to improve my skills. And of course keep practicing with my kids.

Readers, do you lipread?

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50 thoughts on “Lipreading In Paradise

  1. For me Shari, the answer is absolutely, I’m pretty sure I’ve been reading lips to some degree for 20 plus years – or before I began wearing hearing aids. In the last 5 to 10 years my sensitivity to fricatives and sibilants – those sounds that make it possible to distinguish between words like borne, corn, torn etc., has diminished severely, Seeing lips doesn’t completely solve the problem but it does give us more than we would have without that direct view. Anything other than a direct view degrades those high frequencies which are the first to be lost in transit. You are fortunate to have a family that can have fun around such a sensitive issue.

    By the way – My implant date is May 6 in Boston. It’s all I can think about! I’m a basket case of nerves. 🙂 And excited as well. What to expect – what not to expect. I get next to nothing from my left ear so I’m betting on anything being better. We’ll see. Stay tuned.

    • You will love it! I have bi-lateral implants. I received my first one in 2002 and the second one in 2005. It was slow going at first but I adjusted and now have pretty decent hearing when tested! With the new technology it is much easier to adapt and enjoy! Good luck!
      Which device are you being implanted with? I am wearing the Nucleus 5 by Cochlear America and hoping to upgrade to the Nucleus 6 soon. If you have any questions I would be happy to answer them.

      • Thanks Terry – I am getting the Advanced Bionics Nadia Q-90 and some accessaries. The hearing in my right ear with a HA is fair. I am hoping for better understanding, specially in groups. That may not happen but as I have said, I get nothing useful from the left ear now. Seems like it has to be better. Thanks.

  2. I have been profoundly hearing impaired since birth with very poor speech comprehension even with my hearing aid. Now in my 70’s I totally rely on lip reading and I’m very good at it but it’s more difficult since developing cataracts this past year.
    Living in a 55+ community, I’ve met many people with hearing loss as they have gotten older and I’ve become more open about my difficulty understanding others especially in groups. When I was younger my family would tell me I should get a job with the FBI lipreading criminals undercover! Have you heard of Sue Thomas? She really did work for the FBI and many years ago there was a TV show about her called FB Eye. She was deaf and had a hearing ear dog to assist her as she specialized in undercover surveillance. It was a wonderful show and I loved that it showed that she could accomplish what her follow agents with perfect hearing could not.

    • Gail ~ We could be twins. I have been lipreading forever. I am a rubella baby. I wear one hearing aid & can’t hear out of the other. I Loved Sue Thomas. Deanna Bray (Sue Thomas) has a FB page. Check her out. If I didn’t lipread my comprehension would be about 18%. With it is about 80%. I am 70 so my eyes aren’t what the used to be and they get strained quicker. Anyway, just wanted to post.

      • Hi, Barb
        Thanks for your post on sharing experiences. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Will check on Deanna Bray’s Facebook page.
        Just came back from cruise with seniors from our 55+ community. Made 3 new friends and loved that they constantly reminded each other to face me so I could lip read!

  3. I think I lipread before I was diagnosed with a hearing loss. After my hearing loss I took a couple of classes teaching me to lip read and to learn to make substitutions for letters with same lip movement. I often amuse people when I tell them the things other people are saying in public without hearing them speak!

  4. Lip reading is pretty important to me too. Like you, I first noticed it when I realized how much it troubled me when people’s mouths were covered. The game sounds like a terrific idea.

  5. Lovely piece, thank you. Unfortunately, I think I am the odd one out! Although I have done lip-reading classes, I still feel I am a beginner. I suspect this may be because I am “too literate” (and also my hearing loss is moderate). As a writer and editor, I am very focused on words as they sound and as they appear on a page. But I will keep trying. Any tips gratefully received!

  6. Lipreading is a must for many of us. My family is also amazed when I can “read” what people are saying from across the room. Congrats to Jerry on your upcoming implant. Got mine (Cochlear) 2 months ago and I have NO regrets, better than anticipated (much better).

  7. I was practicing my lipreading yesterday on a United flight from Denver to Newark. The aircraft had a great in seat movie screen with lots of movie choices but none of them were captioned. I decided to watch the movie “Joy” with no sound and try to lip read the dialogue instead. I was surprised to find that I could occasionally read entire lines of dialogue and in the end felt I caught the gist of the plot pretty well. My positive experience with lip reading the movie doesn’t excuse the airline though. I intend to petition United for captioned movies as soon as I return from my travels.

  8. I didn’t realize that I was lipreading for years even though I don’t have any hearing loss. Maybe I’m preparing for the eventual loss (it’s in the family) or maybe I’m more of visual learner than an auditory one. That sounds like a fun game!

  9. Hi Sheri, I do find myself lipreading quite often. It is fun to do for me. I people watch alot and like to observe from afar. Which causes me to be creative. Me and my sister, (from another mother) took sign language in high school so we could speak in a coded language. My mother is recently went blind, so she is in a whole new world.

    Thanks For Sharing
    Celeste Sundragonlady Choi

  10. I am a newcomer to the world of Hearing loss. I have had my hearing aids for just 5 weeks now and am still getting used to them whilst they are slowly adjusted and tuned by my Audiologist. It wasn’t until I was tested and found out the extent of my hearing loss that I realised I had been struggling for some time to hear people clearly and that I was to a certain extent always looking at peoples lips when in conversation. So, there I was, totally unaware that I was lip reading, or attempting to. I am way at the start of my learning curve, but I now realise that hearing aids are exactly that, aids, and not a cure for hearing loss. I am also beginning to understand that lip reading is a skill that can be developed to compliment the use of hearing aids. I am going to see about getting some training in the future, when I am very comfortable with my hearing aids, and in the meantime, I will be engaging my family in some de-voice exercises, which you make sound good fun. Thank you for sharing your article.

  11. Hi Sheri

    What a great idea – to have a game of lipreading with family members. I can see the benefits of lipreading games are two folds: for fun and for improvement of lipreading ability.

    I never have the chance to learn lipreading. Your post may encourage me to take up the first step in lipreading.

    Have a nice evening!

    Stella Chiu

  12. I’m certain that I lip-read but, like you, I’m generally not aware that I’m doing it. There’s one dead giveaway though. Occasionally I’ll catch myself starring at the speaker’s mouth almost too intently. This can jolt me into realizing that my level of starring might feel socially unacceptable to the speaker. I then back off a bit from such intense lip-reading.

    Toward the end of your article you talk about the need for our ears, eyes and brain to all work together to generate understanding. That’s a really interesting observation to me.

    At age 73, I find that my brain is the laggard in that sequence. Sometimes it can take me 2 or 3 seconds to figure out what word was spoken after my ears and eyes have processed it. Often the processing delay is so long that I will ask the person to repeat themselves. Then before they can respond, the word they have spoken pops into my mind. It’s like my brain hears a word that makes no sense within the context of the other words that I have heard. My brain then starts sorting through a mental dictionary of similar sounding words looking to find a better contextual fit. Suddenly the correct word will pop into my mind.

    Your ability to use your hearing loss to have fun with your family is admirable. I admit to being somewhat more sensitive when other people laugh about words that I mis-hear. I understand that hearing “kick the ball” instead of “Vista Mare” can be humorous to your family in a game situation, but in ordinary settings it irritates me to have people laugh at those kind of mistakes. I try to ‘go with the flow’ and suppress my negative reaction but inside it bothers me.

  13. […] Her parents asked me how I was able to understand her so well and I was not sure. Was it the vibration pattern than I recognized? The cadence of the speech? Was I reading her body language or maybe her lips? Likely, it was a little bit of all of the above. These are the skills that those of us with hearing loss use everyday to decode the sounds around us. It can certainly come in handy when one of my children is “secretly” mouthing something to the other so I cannot hear. Sorry kids, I lipread! […]

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