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.
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.”
When 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.