Speechreading Tips from a Lipreading Mom

Gael Hannan
September 16, 2014

Shanna Groves, a fellow speechreading instructor, is my guest writer this week.

By Shanna Groves

My eyes were often my ears as a child growing up with an undiagnosed hearing loss. In college, I majored in Communication and took several classes that emphasized Voice and Diction. This exposed me to the importance of enunciation and clear speech. Through the years, I had become a master at reading people’s lips and didn’t even know it.

After developing tinnitus at age 27 after the birth of my first child, I received the diagnosis I had long suspected: progressive hearing loss. Learning everything I could about speechreading (sometimes called ‘lipreading’) became a professional interest and a necessity as my hearing deteriorated. I had two more children, and my hearing worsened. Reading my children’s lips at a young age gave me an appreciation of this skill, and I wanted to share it with others.


Speechreading Facts

A couple of years ago, I launched Lipreading Mom Communications to teach individuals with hearing loss how to speechread. Here are a few interesting facts about speechreading:

– Thirty to forty percent of spoken language is visible on the mouth area (lips, tongue, teeth, jaw, and chin).

– The easiest consonant sounds to distinguish are B, F, L, M, P, TH, and V. The lips visibly press together for B, P, M. Letters F and V involve the top front teeth biting the lower lip. For L and TH, the mouth opens and the tongue thrusts out slightly between the teeth.

– O and OO (as in ‘cool’) are the most visible vowel sounds on the mouth. The lips pucker and have a small round opening.

– Speechreading also involves watching the speaker’s facial expressions and body language to determine context and emotion.


Aids to Speechreading

It is important to note that speechreading is an acquired skill that may take months to perfect. In my classes, the following things are essential to mastering the skill:

– Some residual hearing along with the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants.  A person who cannot hear at all may have more difficulty distinguishing certain consonant and vowel sounds.

– Good natural or corrected vision — to clearly see the speaker’s mouth movements and body gestures.

– Sharp mental focus and clarity — to understand language meaning and context as well as to mentally fill in the gaps when speech is not clearly visible on the mouth area or in body language.

– Good lighting and acoustics in the speaking area — Choose a small to medium-size room if possible, preferably with low ceilings and carpeted floors to reduce voice ‘echoes.’ The area should be well-lit. When outdoors or near a sunny window, the speech-reader’s back needs to face the sun to reduce sun glare in the eyes. The front of a speaker’s body, on the other hand, should face the light to avoid being in shadow.


Hearing with the Eyes

When a person loses hearing, he or she naturally becomes more dependent upon the other senses, particularly sight. With hearing loss, the saying is, “Our eyes become our ears.” Learning to speechread is essential to a hard of hearing person’s understanding of spoken language. It is useful in one-on-one conversations, at meetings, in restaurants, at church, and in any professional or social setting. In class we not only learn to listen with our eyes and our ears, but we practice good communication traits, such as clear articulation and correct word pronunciation.

I have taught speechreading to hearing and hard of hearing adults, hearing spouses, and hearing caretakers. A husband and wife, both of whom have hearing loss, attended a class in order to speechread and better understand one another. Some people with normal hearing participate to learn how to enunciate clearly.

With my own family, I try to practice daily what I teach. My three school-age kids, who do not have hearing loss, make sure to face me and have my complete attention before talking to me. I remind them not to chat while chewing gum or food. Their mouths must always be in my line of sight when they want to have a conversation. A big no-no is attempting to speech-read my kids through the rear view mirror while driving, or to speech-read when I am cooking at a hot stove or chopping food. Speechreading requires full attention.

As a mom with hearing loss, my communication motto is “My eyes are my ears.”




shannaWhen Shanna Groves is not teaching speechreading or carpooling the kids, she enjoys conversations with friends and family, including her husband of 18 years, Ron. Her children are ages 13, 10, and 6 and love chats with their Lipreading Mom. Two of Shanna’s books, Lip Reader and Confessions of a Lip Reading Mom, share stories about hearing loss. She blogs about her hard of hearing adventures at LipreadingMom.com.

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  1. Gael – Thank you for the opportunity to guest blog. I appreciate,all that you do for the hearing loss community!

  2. Shanna, I love your story! As a fellow blogger (albeit a pretty new one thehardofhearingmommy.blogspot.ca) I would LOVE to get in touch with you. 🙂 Gael has my contact info, I think.

    PS- Love your blog.

    1. Absolutely, Monique. Please send me an email at LipreadingMom(at)gmail(dot)com. Hope to ‘chat’ with you soon!

  3. This might sound like a dumb question but is it possible for you to teach someone to speechread online? I don’t live close to you, but would like to take one of your classes and wondered if it is possible to Skype or otherwise teach the speechreading online,

    Lori Gillen

  4. Hi! I’m a big fan of your work. I was wondering if you were familiar with Cued Speech and how it complements lipreading? In fact, Cued Speech was designed by Dr. Cornett to take the ambiguity out of lipreading and improves comprehension from your quoted 30-40% to 95%+. That level of comprehension allows for more exposure to unambiguous lipreading and as a result, increases comprehension rates even with folks who don’t cue.

    1. And I should also mention that these percentages also occur even if an individual is profoundly deaf with no possibility of auditory feedback, like myself.

      1. Hi Ben – Thank you for commenting about cued speech, and yes, I am familiar with it. That is wonderful how cued speech enhances speechreading comprehension in those of us who have hearing loss or deafness.

  5. Hi Shannon.
    We’ve communicated briefly before. I just wanted to thank you once again for your articles. Very helpful. I have great difficulty in understanding my very you
    ng grandkids as they are not clear. However you seem to have success in hearing and understanding of your younger children. Once mine reach the age of 5or older things get a little easier. Keep the faith and all the best to you and your family.

  6. Started losing my hearing in my late 40s, and now at 78 trying to be an advocate for people with hearing loss. Have worn 2 hearing aids since then. Still teaching in a community college and being a productive part of community. Appreciate the blog on lip reading. For me it was a natural progression in my efforts to remain a part of the functioning world.

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