by Julie A. Daymut, M.A., CCC-SLP
Lipreading (or speechreading) is a visual-communication technique. We “read” lips
when we look at people as they are speaking. We gather information about what they
are saying as they move their lips to form different sounds and words. We also pay
attention to their gestures, facial expressions, and body language to help us understand
what they are communicating. The rate and rhythm of their speech gives us clues
about what they are saying as well.
Some sounds are easier to see than others because we produce them in the front of
the mouth. These sounds include /p/, /b/, /m/, and /w/, where we put both lips together;
/f/ and /v/, where we touch the top teeth to the bottom lip; and /th/, where we
bring the tongue forward. Sounds that are made in the back of the mouth and vowels
can be more challenging to lipread. Another challenge of lipreading is that many
sounds look the same when we produce them. Knowing the topic, or context, of the
conversation helps us distinguish between sounds that look alike, “pop” versus “bob”
Learning to Lipread
Almost all of us lipread to some extent. We rely on lipreading even more when communicating
in noisy environments, such as being at a booming concert or in a noisy restaurant.
Individuals who have hearing impairments/deafness may especially depend on lipreading.
Even though we may lipread naturally to some degree, it takes much time and practice
to become proficient at lipreading. There are different ways to help improve lipreading
skills. These include: looking directly at the speaker’s face when he/she is talking;
making sure there is enough lighting to be able to see the speaker’s face; paying
attention to the speaker’s nonverbal information, like gestures, facial expressions,
body language; practicing lipreading with familiar phrases first (e.g., “Good morning”
“How are you?”); practicing lipreading with familiar people, like family members
and friends; watching yourself speak in a mirror; watching television programs or
videos with and without the sound; and taking a formal class that teaches lipreading.