Lip Reading

Lip reading is one of the most common ways for deaf people to communicate, though not as common as many hearing people think. The obvious problem with lip reading is that it is not a complete communication system in itself as it only allows the lip reader to understand and not to make conversation themselves. But if a person is good at lip reading then they will be able to follow conversations but, and this is a big but, only as long as we can see the people who are speaking clearly, and as long as the people are aware that we are reading their lips so they can slow down. Just as some people make good lip readers, some people make good subjects of lip reading but it so often just the luck of the moment who you get.

Concentrate & Watch

The uninformed have no idea just how much mental effort is needed in order to read lips. Like all communication, lip reading has some disadvantages. We lip readers can see our subject is forming words by their lips and in the face too. In fact, most of us do this on some level when talking face to face but rarely realise it. We lip readers base our whole understanding of what has been said on these movements but when word or letter is used which is made from inside the mouth, or in Dutch at the back of the throat where it is of vision for the lip reader. It has been estimated that as many as 44 % of Dutch words and 40% of sounds in English cannot be told apart from others just by lip reading. Imagine  having a conversation where you do not hear four out of ten words. This seems a daunting figure at first but to bridge this gap we use “context” of the conversation to fill in the missing parts.

Face to Face

As mentioned above, another disadvantage is that if a speaker’s face is obstructed, the lip reader will not be able to make anything out. This does not only extend to speakers who are turned away form the lip reader but also people who have moustaches, beards, head scarves, even facial piercings as this can obstruct the facial positioning.

In a group discussion, lip reading becomes very difficult because it is not easy to see the person who is about to speak next. By the time the lip reader trains their eyes on the next speaker they have already missed some words. Lip reading is a skill which takes a time to perfect. Its value is hotly debated amongst the deaf community for a number of reasons. Many of us feel we are compelled to learn lip reading by social pressure, it is almost “expected” of us by the hearing while at the same time the hearing make zero effort to meet us half way.

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