How Do You Expect Me to Understand You, If…..

We people with hearing loss are very fussy. Communication has to be just so, and if we don’t get it the way we want or need it, we can get grumpy. Especially if we’ve explained it a million times to someone before. We do go easier on strangers, but if they are challenged by our requests, our good humor is a time-limited offer

So, let me put it very clearly, in every-day language, what good communication looks like for people – who through no fault of our own – have hearing loss.


How the heck am I supposed to hear and understand you, if you do the following?


  1. You don’t face me while talking to me. It’s that simple: face me and talk, or face away and don’t talk. If we can see each other’s eyeballs, we can chat. If I’m looking at the back of your bedhead, you better not be saying words.


  1. You speak way louder than necessary, in the mistaken belief that ‘louder is better’. Because I need to use hearing aids, you think that speaking louder is good, right? Wrong. Here’s the thing – I’m using technology that already bumps up the volume – and too much of a good thing can be painful. And frankly, if you’re bellowing at me, your lips are distorted and hard to read. I appreciate your efforts, but if I need you to speak up, in a noisy environment, for example, I’ll let you know.


  1. Your words trail off, turning your sentence into a cliffhanger. Am I supposed to guess what was supposed to come next? Sometimes it’s hard enough to get what you do say, without having to take a stab at what you meant to say, or maybe decided not to say, or even just forgot. For example, when you say something like this: So, Lulu and I went to see that new art exhibit downtown and we both…you know…  Then, just quiet air. As I’m listening hard to catch every precious jewel coming out of your lips, your voice gets fainter, so I lean in closer and closer …and then the nothingness. You do see my problem, right?


  1. You talk with your mouth full. Just as a reminder, peeps with hearing loss are speechreaders. If you’re talking, we are watching you, regardless of what else you’re doing with your mouth. In addition to the visual horror of seeing food being chewed, it’s challenging to understand, because words are formed differently when teeth are grinding through meat and tongues are sloshing around the mashed potatoes. If you would be so kind, please swallow the food and clean up the leftover bits from your teeth and lips – and then speak. I will do the same, so that we’re fairsy-squaresy.


  1. Speaking of lips, you don’t move yours much. Are there invisible magnets holding them together? What are you hiding? I’ve seen your teeth, they’re good. So is your breath. I know it’s hard to change how we speak, but could you use your mouth muscles a bit more so that I stand a better chance of telling the words apart?


Really, that’s the main stuff. There’s a lot more to good communication, but this is a good start. It comes down to just you and me – a person who can hear well and a person who can’t – trying to have good conversations.  I’m interested in what you have to say and I’m doing all that I can – being open about my needs and using technology – so if you can work on these few points, we’ll have a much better chat.


Thank you. Truly, thank you.




About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a sought-after speaker for her humorous and insightful performances about hearing loss. Unheard Voices and EarRage! are ground-breaking solo shows that illuminate the profound impact of hearing loss on a person’s life and relationships, and which Gael has presented to appreciative audiences around Canada, the United States and New Zealand. A DVD/video version of Unheard Voices is now available. She has received awards for her work, including the Consumer Advocacy Award from the Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists. Gael lives with her husband and son in Toronto.


  1. In some ways, I’m processing a foreign language. I don’t hear high frequencies so your speech has distorted or no voiceless sounds (s, f, sh, ch, p, k, th, t, h). So this is what I hear: “E el e el a the e or” How long does it take to process that sentence?

    1. Translation of my Nov 3 processing challenge:
      “She sells sea shells at the seashore”.
      Were you able to process it with the high frequency sounds (represented by letters) omitted? I couldn’t “hear” it either.

      1. I should add that I’m a licensed Speech Pathologist. Speech Pathologist’s are certified by the same organization (ASHA) as Audiologists.

  2. Suggested strategies for my friends and family:

    Slower speaking is better than louder.

    Don’t start if I’m not looking at your lips.

    Get my attention by starting with unimportant words such as “I think…” “Ummmm…” “By the way…” “You know Pat, I…” or just plain “Pat”.

    In a group, give me time to visually locate WHO is speaking. It’s best to wait until my eyes are looking at you.

  3. Gael, I love your articles. They make me laugh while you make the point. (I love your wry sense of humor.) I have had hearing loss most of my life and am used to struggling with friends and family who don’t get it. But when my partner and love of my life started losing his hearing, I discovered that I am every bit as guilty of doing the “wrong” things when it comes to communication. (Especially the talking while turned away.) I have been so accustomed to the “whole world” hearing better than me that I was in the habit of just speaking out into the universe and being understood. This has been a humbling life learning experience and your article is a good reminder for ME. Thank you.

    1. Oh, the fun the two of you will have! You’ll enjoy my book “The Way I Hear It”, if you haven’t already read it. Thanks Deb!

    1. Liz, a person’s hearing loss becomes an issue for family and friends. and it’s not easy to remember all the time what we’re supposed to do better. You seem very sensitive to your partner’s needs, congratulations. The two of you might enjoy my book, “The Way I Hear It”, in which I discuss relationships affected by hearing loss.

  4. I disagree with Lorna. I loved this. Maybe I loved it because you put into words just what I would have said or at least thought.

    1. Thanks Sharon! In real life (as opposed to this somewhat tongue in cheek article), sitting down with someone we want to communicate better with, we have to be assertive rather than aggressive. Our hearing loss affects our family and friends. too.

    1. I’m sorryou didn’t enjoy it, Lorna. My writing over the years ipromotes this important message of self-identification in many different ways. This was a tongue in cheek article that regular readers would see as humorous, but I agree that not everyone might see it that way. Thenk you for your comment.

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