It’s true. Those of us with hearing loss rely more on our vision and mental processing skills than our auditory function. As a lipreading/speechreading instructor for late-deafened adults, I have researched this subject a great deal. Our brains and eyes require more muscle power than our ears in the communication process. Listening with our ears working 100 percent seems effortless. But when attempting to ‘hear’ with our eyes, brains, and ears that *can’t* hear 100 percent, we’ve got our work cut out for us.
Think about this: You don’t want to miss a speaker’s words, so your eyeballs remain wide open, unblinking, for a period of time. Meanwhile, all your brain capacity focuses on one thing only: deciphering the speaker’s words. This goes on for seconds, minutes, and sometimes hours without a break. No wonder you are tired!
Repeat after me: R – E – A – D – !
R – Relax
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to excuse myself from a conversation in order to give my eyes and brain a break. That’s because reading lips is exhausting work. Before attempting to lip read (speech read), make sure your eyes and brain are fully relaxed. At the start of my lipreading/speechreading classes, I have students breathe deeply five times in the nose and out the mouth to achieve a relaxed state of mind.
During conversations, take frequent breaks by:
1) Closing your eyes and massaging your forehead
2) Taking a brisk walk down the hall
3) Drinking a glass of water
4) Excusing yourself to the restroom
E – Eyes
Prepare your eyes for speechreading by minimizing any visual distractions in your environment. This includes moving away from bright sunlight to prevent eye glare and positioning your seat to where you are facing away from distractions, such as a TV, computer, window, or crowd of people. Open and close your eyes several times and rotate your eyes to exercise the visual muscles. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, make sure they are clean and ready to wear.
A – Attention
With your eyes ready to focus on speechreading, the brain muscle comes next. First, strengthen your mind by taking care of your health. Make sure you are well fed, hydrated, and rested prior to speechreading.
If you are dealing with mental clarity issues related to profound stress or depression, seek medical help. Lipreading Mom can’t encourage this enough, so I will repeat it. If you are dealing with debilitating stress or depression, seek medical help. Speechreading is just not possible without a clear head, and getting medical help in this area was one of the best things Lipreading Mom ever did.
With your eyes closed, massage your forehead in small circular motions to get the blood flowing. Breathe deeply in and out several times.
D – Decipher
Speechreading can often seem like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Each word that someone speaks to us must be processed visually, mentally, and through whatever auditory ability you may have. A speaker’s mouth might appear to be saying “Hello,” but the conversation has to do with her friend “Helen.” Therefore, you process mentally that the speaker probably just said “Helen,” not “Hello.”
This is where your brain, eyes, and ears (if you hear even just a little) work together to understand the meaning of speech. This is important, so I will italicize it: A person can only understand 30 to 40 percent of speech by sight alone. The use of hearing aids, cochlear implants, or assistive listening devices (such as FM systems) will help you understand up to 80 percent or more.
If you can’t hear at all and don’t wear hearing assistive devices, you might want to learn sign language or cued speech to enhance your speechreading comprehension. Make sure the speaker or an interpreter uses whatever communication method you need to decipher speech.
! – The cool exclamation point
Now that you are ready to R-E-A-D, the fun part comes in. Share all of this information with your loved ones. Educate them about speechreading and what it takes for you to understand them. Then ask them to follow the R-E-A-D steps with you sometime. I guarantee you that seeing their wide eyes and dropped jaws will be worth all the effort. You’ll be thinking, “Ha! Now you know what I go through every day.”
There’s More to the Lipreading Lasagna
The R-E-A-D-! is my short, catchy acronym for preparing our eyes and brains for speechreading. This is the bottom layer of the lipreading lasagna (bad analogy, but you get the drift). The meat, sauce, and cheese is everything else: how we perceive facial expressions; hand gestures; tone/volume of voice; how a speaker moves his or her lips, tongue, teeth, chin, eyes, eyebrows, nose, and throat when saying sounds and words.
Now you understand why my Intro to Speechreading Class is four-weeks’ long…but we sure have fun!
Readers—What Has Helped You Learn to Read People’s Lips?
I would love to read your stories. Leave me a comment below.