Move Those Lips (So I Can Understand You)

Gael Hannan
October 12, 2021

Whispery voices. Lips half-glued together as they make words. Speed-talkers. Speech manglers!

It’s the classic struggle for the person with hearing loss: talking with someone who has ‘poor’ articulation. Even people with typical hearing can strain to understand when speech isn’t clear. For us, well-articulated speech is challenging enough to understand, let alone words with dropped consonants, too much breath and not enough volume. But if the conversation is important enough, we do what we can to bridge the communication gap. Pardon me? Could you speak up, or slow down, or move your lips a little more? (Truth? I have never asked someone to do the last one, alhtough I think it all the time.)

Most people deliver what we need, when asked. But not everyone is able to; it’s difficult to sustain what, to them, is an unnatural manner of speaking. Soft speakers feel like they’re yelling and fast talkers can grind to a halt if they’re asked to slow down too much.. But most people at least try, although not always successfully. Then, some people with hearing loss get annoyed, even angry, which is usually a cover for their frustration with not only the speaker, but their own hearing loss. Other times, we may retreat into bluffing because it just takes too much energy to converse.

And in today’s world, the wearing of masks has taken poor communication to a stratospheric new level.

But we have to keep trying. We must tell people over and over again that we need them to adjust, even just for a few minutes, the way that they speak because we are hearing as hard as we can.

A few years ago, I wrote this ‘poem’ after a frustrating coffee date with a friend.


If I Could Move Your Lips


If I could move your lips for you, I would.

We’ve been friends forever and I can read your emotions, easily.

But reading your words is tough because your lips don’t move,

Not much.

Sometimes friendships have not flourished

Under the strain of communication, but

You are my friend – I want to keep talking with you forever.


And today, meeting in Starbucks, I’m in trouble

As I watch, listen and interpret your lips,

Shaping words for me to see and making sounds for me to hear.

Your lips are smiling – but your eyes are not.

Your fingers drum the café tabletop,

Competing with the noise of a hundred coffee cups.

We could talk in a quiet, well-lit place,

But we love the atmosphere here,

And the lower lighting flatters our age.


So, whose fault is it – yours, mine or ours –

When for the ten thousandth time

I must ask you to repeat yourself.

I sense your invisible eye-rolling and

Immediately, I’m both apologetic and resentful

And I want to shout:

 OK, I’m sorry to ask you to repeat – again, 

But maybe if you moved your damn lips!?

I do everything I can to make it easier,

This café isn’t that loud, or that dark.

We’re sitting close and I’m wired for sound.

The only thing I can’t control is the way you move your lips.

I hate to say it, but you missed the “giving good lip” gene.

You’re just not good at it.

Sometimes I want to reach over and grab a lip in each hand and move them,

So that you can feel how the words should come out.


But I don’t say this, because it’s difficult to change how we speak, and I know you try.

We’ve been friends forever, and I love you.

But if I could move your lips for you, I would:

   Keep them pointed in my direction

Move them apart from each other

Slow them down

   Free them from food and fingers

Match their expression with your eyes

If I could move your lips for you, I would.

But I can’t.

So please tell me again, my friend

What you just said.



  1. An HOH friend and I were commiserating lately about speech patterns, especially among younger folks delivering lectures. Patterns of contemporary speech often make it extra hard for us HOH to understand and enjoy! My example was a recent online course I attended via Zoom at UC Berkeley; his example was an online Audubon lecture by 4 young scientists. In both cases their sing-song delivery dropped the end of every sentence, which often contained the KEY WORD! We both struggled throughout, although we liked the subjects and the teachers! Apparently speech is no longer a part of training to teach–more’s the pity.

    1. Melinda, for what it’s worth, you ought to be able to ask in advance for any Zoom meeting to be enabled with captions. Alternatively, you might also choose to open Zoom in Google Chrome, which can also be set up by you in advance to utilize Live Caption.

      (You have the right to request the provision of effective communication from UC Berkeley under the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

  2. “Speech is no longer a part of training to teach”. True. And what’s even more amazing is that speech is no longer a part of training to speak professionally on TV.

    I’m a liberal; I watch five news shows on MSNBC almost every night. The first three have younger anchors who I struggle to understand; I usually turn down the sound and read the captions. The last two shows have anchors over 60. I can almost always understand them because they speak slowly and clearly, aware that they need to be HEARD clearly. The younger hosts have apparently never given a second’s thought to pacing or enunciation. Their voices skid way up and down in pitch and volume; sentences are mangled in the rush to get in as many words as possible. I guess there is pressure to pack in mass quantities of ideas, no matter whether the words are intelligible.

    There was a while back a very popular local news reader who I often wanted to strangle, even before I started to have hearing problems. She would drop the volume of the last word of the last sentence of a story, almost whisper it, thinking, I guess, that it was a nice emotional touch, or added dramatic emphasis. What it did was leave the listener hanging, in bafflement and utter frustration. That soft, inaudible word was crucial to getting the gist of the report.

Leave a Reply