Lip Reading Explained


Lipreading and speech-reading are strategies that hearing impaired people use to help decipher and decode speech.  Most all of us do it to an extent, whether or not we have hearing loss!  Our brains are very adept at using facial cues and mouth and eye movements to help us determine what someone is saying and how they are saying it.  However, lip reading can be studied and practiced to help a person with (or without) hearing aids to maximize his or her use of the devices and to help them assimilate language more wholly.



Every spoken sound has a place of articulation, a manner of articulation, and a mouth position.  However, some sounds are made in the back of the mouth or with the tongue and can be hard to see (like the “K” sound and the “G” sound), while other sounds look identical to one another and the only difference is that one uses a voice and one doesn’t (like “B” versus “P”, or “D” versus “T”).


If you see someone lipreading when you’re speaking, or you know someone has a hearing impairment or hearing aids, there are some things you can do to help them lipread more successfully.

  • Do not cover your mouth when you speak…many people do this without even noticing that they do so, but you are directly impeding the listener’s view of your mouth
  • Try to make sure the listener understands the subject matter. That means not suddenly switching topics randomly…the lip reader’s brain is working overtime to assimilate all the cues from the conversation, what they are picking up from the hearing aids, and integrating in what his or her brain is “reading” on your lips
  • Sit facing the listener and try not to turn your head/face
  • Stay in a well-lit environment. Beware sitting in front of windows or light sources as it can cast shadows on and around you, making it more difficult for the listener to see your face.

While lipreading takes much patience and practice, there are things that can help you.  Many community centers and colleges offer Lipreading courses, so it is worthwhile to check and see if anything is available in your immediate area.  Some hearing aid offices offer Lipreading as a type of Aural Rehabilitation with the purchase of certain hearing aids, so that is also something to check into, or to see if your local office offers classes on the side.  There are online tutorials as well as DVD/videos available for purchase that can help to hone skills.  Sometimes watching television (especially the news) or a favorite, oft-quoted movie with the sound off can be useful for practice as well.  After some practice, you may be able to more easily decipher what your loved ones are saying.  Give it a try!


Until next time,

Dr. Kristin