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Lipreading “I Love You”

My earliest ‘lipreading’ moment came in elementary school when a kid ran up to me asking me to lipread him; it looked like “I love you”. I was startled with the idea of lipreading and the possible proclamation. He wanted me to guess. I was hesitant. I knew it had to be WRONG. He insisted so I said it, “I love you???” The kid laughed and said, “No! It was olive oil,” and he ran off. Ha ha ha, the joke’s on me!

green stripey background. 
Similar Visual Patterns:
I love you
Elephant shoes
olive juice
white hearing loss live logo with 3 leaves.

I love you. We see it all the time (hopefully). It’s easy to see on the lips, even for hearing kids, like I used to be. This proves that hearing people use lipreading to some degree also. For Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be fun to write about how “I love you” can look like different things on the lips.

There are more misinterpretations, I remembered from an unrelated internet search on something which led me to this discovery. “I love you” also looks similar to “elephant shoes”. Instead of the “olive oil/I love you” that I grew up with, there’s “olive juice” which looks closer to “I love you” than “olive oil”. 

Go ahead. Look in the mirror repeating all 3 phrases without voice. There’s not that much difference.  

Lipreading Strategies

Here I am, all grown up and using lipreading strategies every day of my life for communication. Lipreading is not all lip shapes, hopefully you see why with those 3 examples. Too many words look alike and whole phrases can be misconstrued. Lip shapes are only one tool and they don’t play as big of a role as you might think. The name “lipreading” is misleading.

There are several other strategies being used for lipreading. It’s a process!

There’s an emphasis on the visual components of communication, of course, but knowing the topic is huge. Once we know the topic, we can line up all the possibilities for lip shapes, facial expressions, body language and gestures. Random topics and words burn extra brain power trying to find meaning with the few words we do see/hear. Short, single syllable words and random phrases thrown out are tough. Sudden topic switches also throw us for a loop.

Context is everything.
Make sure you know the topic! We fill in gaps in hearing with logic and guesswork. Because words look alike, we sometimes come up with something off the wall. Keep a sense of humor.

That’s not all. We also fill in the gaps with logic. Not only is our hearing whacked missing specific sounds of speech, but many sounds of speech are not readily visible.  Using logic plays out like this… 

Obviously my husband is not going to smile, open his arms and say, “Elephant shoes”. Now if we were talking about elephants first, that would give me some context and I might be able to tie it together. However, I might doubt what I hear/see; elephants wear shoes? Not likely. I’d need more clarification on that one. If I see olive juice, martinis would have to be the topic, or I’d see the gin and a martini glass. Most people would simply call it a dirty martini so even then, I don’t think I’d see “olive juice” in conversation. 

Logic and Guesswork

The more familiar I am with a topic, the more I can use logic. If I’m not familiar with the topic, I’d have to throw in guesswork as well. A hard of hearing mechanic would know the various makes and models of cars along with the different mechanical parts. As you can tell, I’m not as familiar with that so I’d struggle to follow this conversation. I’d use more guesswork here than logic. I am familiar with all words “hairdresser” and I could follow that no problem. The mechanic, on the other hand, might struggle with a hairdresser’s vocabulary beyond the word “haircut”.

Familiar Words
The more animated a speaker is, the better we can lipread. But don't do monkey lips. (over exaggerate your lips) White hearing loss live logo and a picture of a mouth with a tongue hanging out.

Speaking of familiarity, that goes with single words too (more than one syllable). Some words we see weekly, if not daily. We pick up on the shape of the whole word, not the individual lip shapes. Examples: mother, father, problem, morning (because of near daily “good morning”) and hello.

Those of us with hearing loss depend on body language for context. If you are a hearing person, you could smile, open your arms and say, “olive juice” in a near whisper and we might never know. However, we much prefer you sticking to the “I love you”. Don’t mess with our communication. Don’t blow our trust in you, we’ll just clam up. 

Learn More About Lipreading From Others

Learn more about lipreading & the strategies behind it with Hearing Loss LIVE! Read about our classes HERE. They start again in early April, watch for more information next month. Join our email newsletter to get information fast.

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