Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Lipreading But Were Afraid to Ask

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As a Lipreading Mom, I spend most of my days attempting to read the lips of three young children. Difficult? It can be, but I’ve gotten lots of practice at it.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Csaba Solymosi with a site called Lipreading.org. The site, which offers online lipreading training, intrigued me for obvious reasons. If there were an online resource that could improve my skills at lipreading my three children, I’d jump at it! Wouldn’t you?

Csaba recently took time to answer my questions about the site.

Lipreading Mom: How did Lipreading.org start?

Csaba Solymosi: Lipreading.org was born from the frustration both a hard-of-hearing friend of mine, and I, suffered; there was no resource online for practicing how to lipread. Lipreading is useful to a lot of people: There are roughly 28 million people in the US with hearing issues and as we age and lose hearing, many of us will want to learn lipreading. (Estimates of Baby Boomers who will have any degree of hearing loss range from 20-60%!)

Inspired by sites like Coursera and Khan Academy, we both recognized the importance of deliberate practice – the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability. This was extremely hard to achieve outside of lipreading classes, but the interactive nature of the web presented a new approach to this.

Our vision was breaking the learning process down into simple 10-minute sessions, that anyone can include in their daily routine. Real hands-on practices by using simple games, with real people lipspeaking words, and sentences, allows one to make a mental prediction of what’s being said, and have immediate feedback on it. And finally, by personalizing the lessons to one’s current level of skill, we can make the best use of their learning time.

What is your personal experience with lipreading?

Going out to events in London, pubs, and restaurants are full of noise hazards: people can’t understand each other, let alone have productive communication. The feeling of helplessness, of missing out what’s being talked about, and the lost opportunities of making new friend was really frustrating.

I started researching how to read lips, faces, and body movements to make up for my shortcomings; but it made me realize there just aren’t many practical resources—exercises, tips, how-tos—on the web about lipreading.

So I turned to the scientific literature: the process of lipreading has been studied, and researched for 40 years, and there are tons of whitepapers on computer-based lipreading teaching; but the actual training programs are usually thrown away, got obsoleted, or simply unavailable after the study. Based on this, and interviews with experienced lipreaders, I started reproducing a number of training programs, and using it myself.

I started noticing early results on the second week, and the quality of conversations sharply get better after the second month.

Do you agree with the term speechreading or lipreading as a concept for reading lips and interpreting visual cues? Why?

A common misrepresentation of the fact, that only 30% to 40% of sounds in the English language are distinguishable from sight alone, is that lipreaders can only understand 30-40% of the spoken words.

Competitive lipreading shows an entirely different picture. At the annual lip reading competition by Better Hearing Australia, “The majority of people, even if they have learned lip reading struggle with the test and score somewhere between 40 and & 50%. However, there are a few skilled people who will score as much as 96%.”

How can they achieve such precision with this limited visual perception? One of their secret lies with meta-communication: by using both visual, and contextual clues, and doing some common-sense “guess work”, both content, and intention can be inferred. Occasionally, reading body language even goes *beyond* the verbal communication, by showing subtle clues of tiredness, or desire of the speaker.

I believe, that the goal of lipreaders is reaching mutual understanding with the speaker, and anything that can help reaching this understanding, is worth learning. Our ultimate goal is to give such holistic understanding, so that you don’t have to feel left out from conversations ever again.

What tips do you have for a person wanting to learn lipreading?

Probably the best method would be one-on-one training with an expert mentor; unfortunately, this also tends to be the most expensive. Another might be taking lipreading classes, but for one reason, or another, most people enrolling in lipreading classes fail to show up after 4-6 weeks.

Personally, I tend to learn best when immersed into a problem, by doing real hands-on practice, so I started deliberately paying attention in conversations to the speaker’s lips. This helped not only learning lipreading, but also gaining a deeper understanding on the topic. There’s something magical going on when others notice you really pay attention to them!

So my tip would be: Engage in conversations! Don’t let speaking take the better of you. Communicate your hearing needs, and don’t be afraid of asking the speaker to slow down, or articulate. Best learning comes from time, and practice.

And whichever method you choose, our course can complement on those gloomy afternoons when no one else is around, so you can stay in shape.

We have a handful of other tips available at http://www.lipreading.org/tips-for-lip-reading.

Any other helpful lipreading suggestions or background information about Lipreading.org?

Like language learning, lipreading training acts like a muscle: the more you train, the better you become. And while there is no good substitute for putting the hours into it, by investing 10 minutes twice a week, our adaptive training program aims to pack the most amount learning in the least amount of time.

For more information and to join an online lipreading course, visit Lipreading.org.


Readers — What Do You Think?

Do you have any questions or suggestions when it comes to the skill of lipreading? Comment below.


5 thoughts on “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Lipreading But Were Afraid to Ask

  1. Nice blog post and information on lipreadiong.org. I can appreciate your input, as an experienced lipreader in aksing and providning input on the answers. Yes, quite true a small percentage of english speech sounds being able to be discerned via visual cues. Thank you.

    • Rich – You are quite accurate about the small percentage of being able to discern spoken words strictly by visual cues. I find that a combination of lipreading, hearing technology, and sign language works well in understanding others. Thanks for your comment and for stopping by.

  2. Reblogged this on The Navigation of Kindness and commented:
    Since my diagnosis of Meniere’s Disease five years ago I started learning to read lips out of necessity. I wantto learn moreand my next goal is sign language. How do you feel about ASL for yourself and your family along with lip reading?

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