Noisy Environments

Noisy Environments and Lipreading

Being somewhere with lots of background noise can be particularly challenging for people with hearing loss. Loud background noise and competing, overlapping sounds make it even more difficult to hear what is being said. It is by far the most common complaint made by lipreading students with any type of hearing loss. We generally agree that there is no type of hearing aid that has successfully solved the problem of effectively filtering out background noise. Learning to lipread can help a little in overcoming these communication barriers.

The Challenges of a Noisy Background

Auditory Overload: In noisy environments, such as crowded restaurants, busy pubs, or enthusiastic social gatherings, individuals with hearing loss often experience auditory overload. Many conversations going on at once, loud music, and other background noise create a complex auditory soundscape that can overwhelm & flood the auditory system with information.

Isolating Sounds: Hearing aids and cochlear implants will often amplify both the sound you want to hear, and the sound you don't. Without this directional capability, it's very difficult to narrow down your stream of attention to the conversation you are having. Not knowing which direction the sound is coming from is discombobulating, confusing and annoying. Not being able to isolate the source of a sound can limit your opportunity to obtain any kind of clarity.

Lipreading as Part of Your Hearing Loss Toolkit

Spotting Visual Clues: Lipreading involves visually interpreting particular movements and lipshapes that a speaker makes when they are talking. In addition, their facial expressions, and body language can also be taken into account. Being a good lipreader involves switching on your attentive awareness, and keeping it switched on when you need it the most. In noisy environments, these visual cues become especially useful, as they provide additional data to help you understand what has been spoken.  It's in noisy environments that lipreading really comes into its own, but often the biggest struggle is having the wherewithal to switch on your lipreading brain in the midst of all this sensory overload.

Word Recognition: With practice (lipreading takes lots of practice!) you will find that certain words become more familiar to you. These are often words which occur frequently in language, and frequently in your life. Familiarity is very useful  when learning to lipreading, especially with members of your own family & friends.

Context: This is the most important aspect of learning to lipread successfully. Context is everything. Obtaining the broader context of a conversation means you are not starting from scratch, and you will be able to anticipate the words you are more likely to see. In your lipreading lessons, the tutor will continually remind you of the importance of context. It really is a big deal.

Real-Time Repetition: The feedback you receive during conversations is in real-time. Words and phrases that were initially misunderstood may become clearer as the conversation progresses. This helps to maintain a smoother flow of conversation. Within the context of a conversation, the same words are likely to re-occur numerous times. If you missed it the first time, keep the faith, you might get another chance.

Overcoming Background Noise As a Lipreader

Adaptive Skill: Lipreading is an adaptive skill that empowers the individual as they learn to consciously adapt to noisy environments that make normal communication challenging. By switching on the "lipreaders brain", the speaker's lip movements and facial expressions will be invited to your attention, and you will start to see words & phrases you might otherwise have missed. As previously mentioned, the tricky bit is learning to switch it on.

Increased Confidence: Lipreading in noisy environments can boost an individual's confidence in social interactions. Even just spotting one word can feel like a victory. One word is often all you need to establish context, then you have the opportunity to join in. Isolation is a massive problem for people with any type of hearing loss, little victories are important.

Skill Development: Lipreading is a skill. It requires dedication, practice and training. Individuals with hearing loss can benefit most from lipreading classes when they understand that the process is slow. No one becomes an expert lipreader in a matter of weeks. Slow and steady wins the race. Opportunities to practice lipreading are all around you, they do not need to be deliberate, or convoluted.

Lipreading, in combination with all types of hearing aids and other assistive technologies, becomes part of the hearing loss toolkit which helps to bridge gaps in missed conversations caused by excessive background noise. Many people choose to turn their hearing aids OFF if there is too much background noise. Learning a little lipreading can help to fill in these gaps.

People in a Busy Pub
People in a Busy Cafe with Poor Acoustics
Busy Dinner Table with People Struggling to Hear What Is Being Said