Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Lip reading classes

After writing my previous post about Tinnitus Awareness Week, I feel I want to say more about my lip reading classes as they have benefited me so much.
Before I started classes in 2007, I was struggling quite a bit in social situations and would often attempt to follow the conversation, eventually give up and then go home early feeling grumpy. If there's a fair amount of background noise, I can struggle to identify individual voices or noises and it all becomes a confusing jumble of sound.

I was lucky to come across a leaflet at the library advertising local free lip reading classes and rang the tutor (Maggie Short) for a chat. I suppose I felt like a bit of a fraud, as I don't have a hearing loss but she said I would be very welcome to come along. My employer was happy for me to make up my time later in the day.  

So, what happens in a class?
The tutor would use a variety of methods to help us learn how to recognise the different shapes of how a word, vowels or consonants look on the lips. For example, what our tutor called the green vowel group contains 'ear', 'ee' and 'i' which all mean the mouth moves in a sort of outwards sideways movement. Or we would focus on looking at words containing the consonants P, B or M as they look very similar on the lips. Maggie would use things like articles, poetry, recipes, group work and some times a 'guess what's in the bag' exercise to cover the basics and principles we needed to know. At first, I found it very hard work due to the amount of concentration involved, but it definitely got easier and I was moved from the beginners to the improvers class.  

I attended classes for about 3 years and they were always useful and fun as the tutor covered a broad range of subjects, ranging from the history of Spam to Thomas Hardy poems! 3 years may sound like a long time, but many words look very similar and it can really depend on how an individual speaks. For example, one fellow student naturally talked quite quickly and it could be very hard to lip read him. Also after a while, I thought I'd mute the sound on the TV and found I really couldn't pick up much at all on the news. As our tutor would say, it's often because you need the context of the conversation to be able to pick it up.

Here's a little exercise to try 
In front of a mirror, say the word 'sugar' without your voice and look at how your lips move.
Do you think you'd be able to pick up in a conversation that it was that word? I doubt I would, unless I was very confident about the context as what you mostly see is a forward movement and the second syllable is nearly lost altogether.

Things that help me when I'm lip reading:
  • The person speaks clearly and not too fast
  • They don't cover their mouth with their hands 
  • They face me when talking.
These might seem obvious, but when you're rushing around, it can be easy to forget and carry on the conversation when you've turned your head away from the person.

I think it's a fascinating subject, and studying it was a way to take action and not feel helpless and stuck in certain situations. It's also been helpful in some surprising ways. I used to sing in a gospel choir and when singing with a visiting choir, I didn't know some of the songs so well. As the person conducting normally sings along, I found I could quite easily lip read him and join in.


  1. Very interesting. My mom said that when I was little and learning to talk, I would watch people's mouths move, apparently fascinated by it all. I have to say that I find myself still doing this once in a while.

    Speaking from my own ear issues, I can say that even without hearing loss (mine was perfect at my last test only a few weeks ago), it can be difficult to hear and/or process what others are saying in certain situations. So I say whatever you can do to help yourself is great!

    1. Hi kanalt,
      I do think our ability to speak is amazing. I'm quite short-sighted & find I really struggle to hear without my glasses on! I agree that it can be hard to process conversations like that & I definitely felt better that I was taking action, rather than just feeling sorry for myself :)