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When Lipreading Doesn’t Work

Learning lipreading strategies and the visible lip shapes adds to our communication skills but it doesn’t always work. We’ll be honest; lipreading is not foolproof. There are conditions that go against lipreading which is why we lead the Hearing Loss LIVE! classes with Lipreading Concepts

In the Concepts class, we share the strategies that go with lipreading. Then, we teach people to evaluate the problems around communication and find the workaround. For those with hearing loss, these classes are a great way to level up for better communication outcomes. For those that have someone in their life who has a hearing loss, this class will help you too, giving you an understanding of the process. It teaches you how to set the stage for better communication, including how to become an advocate with your hearing loss partner. 

We all use lipreading to some degree.

We tend to forget how much visual information there is in communication; body language, facial expressions and gestures. Even hearing people will stare at mouths and faces more intently to find visual clues in noisy situations. We all recognize common words by the lip shape pattern (not the individual lip shapes so much). “Good morning” is a daily routine for many of us and something we can expect to see. We don’t have to hear “good morning” to recognize it. People with hearing loss navigate these simple routines like this on a daily basis. 

Lipreading Doesn’t Work on Bad “Hearing” Days
green background with green waves at the bottom. 
Text: Lipreading doesn't work when we are too tired to put it all together.
white hearing loss live logo of 3 leaves near the bottom right.
Text: @hearinglosslive.com

What if we had a bad night? Good lipreading depends on how tired we are. Lipreading has many working parts happening all at once. When we are tired, it’s harder to put two and two together. Brain power slows down. This is a good time to warn others, “This is going to be a bad hearing day.” Let them know your mind is mush and you need a quiet day, if possible.  

It also depends on if we are distracted. Does the other person have gum in their mouth? Are you following the blue piece of gum as it dances across their tongue and around their teeth? Yes, it’s that distracting. Noisy backgrounds can distract us from concentrating on lipreading/hearing/understanding. Is there a football game on TV while you’re chatting with someone else? That might pull away our attention too, especially if it’s our team. We can only do one thing at a time with hearing loss. Will it be football or listening/lipreading?

People Problems

Besides people chewing gum, lipreading varies person to person. Lipreading doesn’t work well if they don’t move their mouth. There are many mumblers out there! If they don’t move their mouth and articulate, it’s hard for us to find visible lip shapes and the pattern for common words. Some people might hold the corner of their mouth tight, like they have an imaginary cigarette there. Or a toothpick. Some people hold their hands over their mouth out of habit and others will bump the ends of their pens against their lips as they are thinking and talking. This makes it hard to lipread. (Hint: We can be proactive in our communication with them and ask them to lower their hands or their pen.)

Green background, green waves at the bottom. An outline of man in office attired, white eyes and big brown mustache. 
Text: Lipreading doesn't work with a mustache. Are there lips under that thing?
@hearinglosslive .com
white hearing loss live logo of 3 leaves right center.
Sorry guys, we know you love your mustache but it limits lipreading.

It’s also not our fault we can’t lipread when the person has a bushy mustache covering their upper lip and half their mouth. Lipreading includes tongue movement on and around the teeth. If all that is covered up by a lot of hair, bye-bye lipreading!

Another problem, people who minimize their facial expressions and body language. They are really hard to hear! If you don’t think so, ask another person with hearing loss for validation. Communication is visual and the less animated people are, the more we have to work. 

Lipreading Doesn’t Work When It’s Too Dark to Hear

Lighting makes a huge difference for lipreading/hearing. Some bars and restaurants like to dim the lighting to enhance the atmosphere. They think this is inviting but it can chase people with hearing loss off.  When it’s dark, there’s less visibility for facial microexpressions and lips/tongue/teeth placement. For better understanding, make sure the other person’s face is well lit.  

It’s Not Our Just ‘Our’ Hearing Loss

It takes two to communicate properly and it’s not always our fault we can’t ‘hear’. If the other person doesn’t do their part:

  • Move their hands
  • Spit out their gum
  • Articulate
  • Turn on the light

We can’t do our part. Our part involves a lot of focus with lipreading, watching body language and using our remaining hearing. Keep in mind, many people don’t know what they don’t know. We might have to educate others. (Do that in the nicest way possible.) Let them know what doesn’t work for you.

Do you want to double check what we are saying? Check out the WikiHow steps on lipreading HERE. Would you like to see Chelle & Julia in action? Watch this recorded video by the Peninsula HLAA Chapter in California. Chelle & Julia presented lipreading for them last November. 

Join one of our classes in April 2024. Two of our classes are also available in video format, if that suits your needs better. Here’s the LINK to learn more about our classes.

Learn More with Hearing Loss LIVE!

Here are a few other posts about lipreading:

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