Dennis Hampton, Ph.D
280 Mamaroneck Ave.
White Plains, New York 10605
(914) 761-4455

Hearing Better Through Lipreading
Dennis Hampton, Ph.D.

Have you ever heard someone say, "I hear better with my glasses on"?

Most people feel they hear better when they can see the person talking. That's because they're getting help from lipreading.

You probably get important help from lipreading too. Not as in some spy movie, where the hero understands every word from across a room just by watching the person's lips. Some sounds are impossible to lipread, so lipreading when you hear no sound at all is extremely difficult and of limited help.

On the other hand, many speech sounds are easy to lipread and most lipreading happens automatically. Fortunately, the sounds that are hardest to hear are easiest to lipread.

To illustrate: the sounds "th" as in "thin" and "p" as in "pin" are difficult to hear because they are such soft, high-pitched sounds. But with the help of lipreading, it's fairly easy to "hear" the difference between "thin" and "pin."

Vowels are louder and easier to hear-but harder to lipread. The vowels "o" in "toe" and "e" in "tee" are relatively easy to hear, but it's difficult to lipread the difference between the two vowels.

Some sounds are literally impossible to tell apart solely from lipreading. For example, the sounds "p,b,m" look identical, so you can't tell the difference in the words "pat, bat, mat" from lipreading alone. With just a little help from hearing, however, it's much easier to distinguish those words correctly.

If you would like an idea how helpful lipreading is to you, try this experiment: Set the volume of your television at a comfortable level. Now close your eyes. You can probably still hear the voices, but speech is not as clear, and understanding the voices takes more effort. Now open your eyes and see how much easier it is to understand the voices. That's the difference lipreading makes.

Lipreading tips
Lipreading was once taught in special classes as the major source of help for people with hearing loss. Today's hearing aids have made special training less important, although practice and training can improve your ability to read lips. For most people, the following tips should provide enough help to make lipreading as helpful as having a third hearing aid!
  • Make sure you can see the speaker's face. It's hard to read lips from another room, from more than 10 feet away, or if the speaker is turned away from you!
  • Watch the speaker's face, not just the lips; facial expressions and gestures give important clues.
  • Make sure there isn't bright lighting behind the speaker.
  • Concentrate on sentences and topics rather than individual sounds and words.
Finally, remember that you don't have to-and never will-
understand 100% of everything that is said. Instead, concentrate on how much you understand, not on what you miss.