Lipreading Is A Handy Skill

In 2002, when the Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, Utah, Wayne Gretzsky was the head of the Canadian men’s hockey team, and they won a gold medal. After the game, the crowd went wild, and Wayne and Janet Gretzsky were watching with pleased grins on their faces. I followed a part of their conversation by lipreading. I won’t tell you what they said, but I still remember it, because I learned something.

People mistakenly assume that when you have hearing loss, you automatically, and naturally, begin to learn to read lips.

Research tells us that this is not true.

Most people need explicit instruction. Fortunately, lipreading is easy to learn, and there’s lots of opportunities to practice in everyday life, so we can improve pretty quickly.

Lipreading, also known as speechreading, in combination with conversation therapy, can help us to understand conversations in noisy listening environments. In fact, visual cues such as lipreading, facial expression, and body language, can improve our understanding by as much as 20%.

In lipreading classes, you learn which sounds look the same, and which ones are not visible at all. You can then do some quick substitutions, in your mind, when the first thing you hear, or see, does not make sense. When you think you hear (and see) “Don’t try over spilled quilts”, you can quickly figure out that the person is saying, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”

At a noisy party, when even people with normal hearing are having trouble hearing, lipreading can help tremendously.

Recently I attended a dinner in a ballroom-type environment, with over 200 people in a smallish room. As people drank wine and loosened up, they spoke louder, and the noise levels became horrendous. I was seated at a table of 6-7 people. Across the table, our colleagues were having a discussion. The person sitting next to me (with normal hearing) said, “I have no idea what they are talking about!”. And I said, “They are talking about quitting smoking.” She looked at me, aghast. I could follow what they were saying solely based on visual cues! What a great feeling.

Lipreading classes are typically loads of fun, and they can go a long way in helping you to follow conversations in challenging listening environments.



  • Photo credit:  © Alan Fortune

    Sandra Vandenhoff

    Dr. Sandra Vandenhoff is an audiologist with hearing loss, founder of HEARa, Hearing Strategies coach, speaker, and Canadian author, who gave her GPS away long before realizing that it was a good brain-boosting move.

Scroll to Top