A beginner’s guide to lipreading

What is Lip Reading?

Lip reading allows you to “listen” to a speaker by watching the speaker’s face to figure out their speech patterns, movements, gestures and expressions. Often called “a third ear,” lip reading goes beyond simply reading the lips of a speaker to decipher individual words.

Learning to lip read involves developing and practicing certain skills that can make the process much easier and more effective. These include: 

•Learning to use the cues provided by the movements of the speaker’s mouth, teeth and tongue 

•Reading and evaluating the information provided by facial expressions, body language and gestures in conjunction with the words being said

•Using vision to assist with listening 

•Using prior knowledge to fill in the gaps that can occur in understanding since it is impossible to read every word said. 

Interestingly, it is easier to read longer words and whole sentences than shorter words. 


Interesting Facts about Lip Reading 

•It is easier to lip read in a quiet environment without too many distractions. 

•Some people mumble or have difficulties speaking, therefore they are practically impossible to read. However, most people are much easier to read. 

•Because lip reading depends on visual cues, lip readers must have good eyesight. 

•Lip readers need clear light since it is impossible to lip read in the dark. 

•Lip reading is much easier when it involves the lip reader’s first language. For example, an English speaker will find it much easier to lip read English than to lip read Spanish. 

•Some of the shapes made by the lips when speaking look very similar, for example “th” and “f”, making them harder to decipher. This is why picking up subtle facial cues is so important.

Lip reading can become second nature for many lip readers. Even as you are learning to lip read, your understanding improves since you become more aware of the other cues needed to be successful with any type of communication. 


Benefits of Lip Reading 

•People often describe the feeling of learning to lip read as the world opening up again since they are able to communicate better. This ability to understand what is being said helps to build confidence and develop social and communication skills. Being unable to understand what is being said can lead to a sense of frustration and isolation. Communication is part of human contact and is essential for life. 

•Family members and friends of people who have difficulty hearing should learn to read lips since it provides them with an experience that allows them to be more empathetic with the challenges faced by their loved ones. It also makes them more aware of the needs of their deaf and hard of hearing relatives so that they can adjust their actions to help communication. 

•Communication professionals can also benefit from learning to lip read because it can teach them the tools they need to communicate more effectively with deaf and hard of hearing persons in both professional and personal situations such as business meetings, lectures, press conferences or even parties. 


Why Should You Learn to Lip Read? 

Studying to lip read can mean the difference between staying connected with the world and slowly isolating yourself from it. A result of being unable to communicate is a withdrawal from many of the activities that were previously enjoyable to a person who can no longer hear as well as they used to or at all. The frustration that comes with misunderstanding or losing the thread of what is going on can lead you to slowly retire from society and become a passive observer of life instead of an active participant. It can also affect relationships and opportunities. 


Learning to lip read is one way to maintain your connection to your loved ones, friends, community and the world in general. Being able to understand what your loved ones and friends are saying can prevent misunderstandings in these very important relationships. It is also an opportunity to learn how to deal with and act in social situations such as attending parties and events with bigger crowds since you will be more aware of the conditions you need to better understand the conversations around you.


Taking the first step to learn to lip read does not have to mean leaving your comfort zone. It is easy to open the door and be involved in the world by trying out a lip reading course online. This course can help you acquire the skills needed to become or remain an active participant in all the things you love to do. 

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