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!
Contact Lipreading Mom About Her Online Lipreading/Speechreading Classes
Readers—What Has Helped You Learn to Read People’s Lips?
I would love to read your stories. Leave me a comment below.
I learned to lipread naturally as a young child with severe hearing loss (but who was still able to hear vowel sounds). For me, I think my brain gets into a “gestalt” frame of mind where my brain is putting together information from a wide range of inputs to figure out what people are saying without relying too much on one source of information. I think there’s a need, therefore, to let one’s self relax while letting one’s mind observe lip movements, facial expressions, eye glances, and sounds so that the mind can piece them all together to make sense out of what people are saying.
I personally don’t usually find lipreading exhausting (unless the person is really hard to lipread), though I can get tired if I’m lipreading a group of people for a long time. Your blog does point out the need to be sensitive to how difficult communication can be for many people with severe hearing loss; I appreciate that.
Dana – Will you give me some of your natural speechreading ability? 🙂
One of the biggest challenges I have is to communicate effectively with my hearing family and friends about just how exhausted I do get being around noise all day (noise coming from people talking to or at or with me). It takes a lot of education to help hearing people understand that even if someone is not deaf but hard of hearing, like me, the sheer physical, emotional and mental exhaustion we you feel at the end of the day simply by having had to pay such close attention ALL THE TIME, well, it’s hard to explain. Just recently I was communicating something to my husband about how my 8 year old son seemed really surprised at my question about something hearing related, and he said “I’m not surprised, you are good at it” referring to me begin able to ‘seem’ normal hearing. My children (8 and 5) are acutely aware that I wear a hearing aid and can’t hear out of my right ear, but are they? They don’t seem to truly understand what it is I’m going through, and even my own extended family finds themselves ‘forgetting’ to face me, or be aware of my needs.
I am exhausted at the end of the day. And I find myself yearning to be alone in a quiet room (my bedroom) by myself at 8:30 pm watching tv with the sound off and only the captioning on because i cannot bear to have to listen to any more noise, talking, or conversation. I miss the ‘idea’ of having a conversation with my partner after the kids are in bed, but that would mean wearing the hearing aid, sitting to see his face, paying attention…and I’m just so tired. I just don’t want to. (I think he gets it).
I appreciate your blog and your posts on twitter. Thank you for educating so many people with your fantastic information.
Javamom – You certainly know what hard work is involved in being a Lipreading Mom. As I type this, my kids are asleep, and I I sit half zoned out in front of the TV. Hugs to you!