Everyone uses their vision to support their hearing. For example, if we see lightning, we know there will be thunder, or if we see something fall, we know it will make a sound. Even without sound, we can watch a football game and often “see” what an unhappy coach is saying to a player who fumbled the ball.
At one time, this was referred to as “lip reading,” but now the preferred term is “speech reading” since we use more than just mouth and lip movements to “see” what someone is saying. We use facial expressions, body postures, hand movements, and eye contact, along with knowledge of the speaker, linguistics, situational cues, and topic knowledge. A person we know well will likely talk about topics, events, places, and use names that are already familiar. That gives us a leg up.
The problem is that only about 30% of speech is distinctly identifiable.
For example, try saying the words “mom,” “pop,” “Bob,” “mop,” and “mob” while staring at your mouth in the mirror. Notice that they all look the same! The pronunciation and context of each letter allow us to confidently know what was said.
Here’s another fun one to try. Look at someone and mouth the phrase (without verbally saying) “olive juice.” It’s likely that the person will assume you said: “I love you.”
Here are some tips to get started:
- During a conversation, politely ask those speaking to keep their hands from blocking their mouths, face you when speaking, and provide you with the topic of discussion.
- Try not to focus on each separate word and mouth movement. Instead, try to “see” the whole message.
- Remember that some consonants (“b,” “p” and “m” and others like "f" and "v") can be challenging to tell apart. Context and topic cues can help with differentiating between them.
- Practice your speech reading by muting the volume during one of your favorite TV programs, and “see” what you can understand.
- Position yourself about six feet – or less – from the speaker to make it easier to see his/her face and mouth.
- Make sure there are no bright lights behind the person who is speaking to prevent shadows on his/her face.
Learning to “see” speech takes effort and concentration, but a lot of information will come naturally. If you have concerns about your hearing, schedule an appointment today!