How to Learn to Lipread?

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How To Lipread?

Learning to lipread is the same as acquiring any other skill. You need to be motivated, receptive and inquisitive. It's worth noting that hearing loss is great motivation! When our hearing starts to deteriorate, that is when most of us think it may be time to join a lipreading class. Really, we should learn how to lipread before this starts to happen. However, most people will join a lipreading group, or private lipreading class after they notice their hearing going downhill. But what are some of the things we can do to help us to learn to lipread, right now? What are some of the tips and tricks we will be working on in our lessons? What are some of the challenges of lipreading? What are some of the strategies we can put in place when we are learning how to lipread?

One of the first things you can do, is  influence and adjust your environment. Create an environment that is conducive to lipreading. Some of the things you may wish to look at include:

What's the Context?

Your lip reading tutor will constantly remind you of the importance of context. When lipreading, context is all. In fact, it is probably the most important part of learning how to lip read.  Always try to get the context first. Once you have the context of a conversation, you can make certain assumptions about the language which will be used, even particular words. Names, places & details can sometimes be anticipated, if you know the context.


It is very difficult to lipread in another language, unless you are truly fluent. If English is your first language, you will already be able to recognise certain lip shapes when you see them. In addition, the type of language must be considered. This might take accents into account, or workplace jargon. Acronyms in working environments are also highly specific, and very easy to confuse for whole words, unless you know and use them.

Lighting Is Important

You cannot lip read easily in darkness! In fact, it's practically impossible. You need to have the face of the person you are speaking with well lit, visible and not in shadow. Ideally, lighting will be at face level, or just below. If the person is in too much shade, you may not be able to see well enough to pick up certain nuances. 

Positioning Yourself & Others

If you have a hearing loss, you may need to get used to asking people to move. If you explain why, it should not be considered rude. For most lipreaders, sitting or standing face to face is best. Your view of the person needs to be unobstructed. Remember, it's not just about watching the lips! You want to be able to pick up on body language and subtle movements. Facial expression is also very important, you want to be able to see what the person is feeling. This means an unencumbered view of the persons lips, face and upper body.

Lipreading Can Be Tiring

Hearing loss is exhausting. Unfortunately, lipreading can be too. Maintaining attention and using your eyes & brain where others just use their ears can be rather tiring. Regular breaks can help, but that's not always possible. Especially when you are starting out learning how to lipread, it can be quite demanding. However, it gets easier. As you improve, you will find yourself entering a state of unconscious competence. It can still be tiring, but certain lip shapes will have become so familiar you might not have to think about them so much.  Lipreading new, or unfamiliar people is usually more tiring than people we already know.

Strategies for Learning Lipreading

Take a Lipreading Class!

Easily the best way to learn lipreading, is to get a professional lipreading tutor to teach it to you! This can be in a group lipreading class, or a private lipreading lesson. Classes are run all over the country, and are normally taught by an ATLA qualified and registered Adult Education Tutor. Most of these tutors have their own hearing loss, so you can be assured that they can relate to any difficulties you may be experiencing. In fact, most of these lipreading courses are actually titled: Lipreading and Managing Hearing Loss Classes.

Lipreading Is Not Just about Lips

It's important to remember that people who are lipreading, are not necessarily watching the lips! Learning how to lipread is partly about opening up your awareness, to take in all the additional information available to you. This might include body language, habitual movement & facial expression. Lots of detail can be missed if you become too focused on the lips.

Looking for Lip Shapes

Lipreading classes usually revolve around a particular topic, or theme in any one lesson. The topic could be absolutely anything. One week you might be learning about root vegetables, the next week Alexander Graham Bell, the next week Route 66 in the USA…

The topic is less important than the lip shape that is being practised.

Generally, the lip shapes being practised are usually the more visible ones (e.g. f/v). This is certainly true in beginners lipreading courses. As you progress, you may cover the less visible lip patterns.

We're Not Looking for Individual Words

It's very common when learning lipreading to have an expectation of picking up every. single. word.

It just does not work this way. In lipreading lessons, we are looking at entire sentences rather than words in isolation. Many of the shorter words will be missed (it, and, the) but it doesn't usually matter. The application of context, knowledge & anticipation will fill in those gaps and the operative terms will reveal themselves. It is often said that only 30-40% of speech is lipreadable.

Residual Hearing Is Useful

Most people who are learning how to lipread still have some residual hearing. It does not matter whether this residual hearing is a remnant, or if it is provided by hearing aids. It's perfectly okay to use it! It is the combination of residual hearing and lipreading which will give you a greater opportunity to understand what is being said. 

It's Not About Spelling or Grammar

Good news if your English grammar or spelling are lacking! On a lipreading course, it really doesn't matter! We are not so interested in the way words are spelled, but more in the shapes those sounds make on the lips. By learning to recognise certain lip patterns, we can make an educated guess about the sound being produced. Then we may be able to ascertain the words being spoken. Grammar or spelling have little to do with lipreading.

Hearing Technology & Lipreading Are Not Competitors

Hearing aids and assistive hearing technology have progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years. This has resulted in some truly high-tech interventions, which can be life changing for people with hearing loss. However, there are times when hearing aids do not always deliver. A location with a noisy background, is a standard example. Lipreading combined with hearing technology means that you are utilising your entire hearing loss toolkit, and are far less likely to miss what is being said. Lipreading + hearing aids should not compete, they are complimentary.