Move Those Lips (Please)!

Whether they realize it or not, most people read lips to some degree. People with hearing loss read lips to a large degree – almost every time they are listening to or talking with someone.

It can be a shock to discover, after developing hearing loss as an adult, that your partner, children and friends do not “give good lip” as I wrote about in a recent article.

It’s even more shocking when, after telling your loved ones about, oh, 6,423 times what you need for good communication, they still forget how to speak in a way that works for you.

But is that totally their “fault”? It’s not easy to change a lifetime habit of mumbling or speaking too softly or quickly. Especially when the only person asking for a change is you, the one person in their life who has hearing loss. In an internet discussion on how to stop mumbling, professional speaker Lisa Marshall says this about how to improve speech articulation: “Here’s the short answer.  Use diaphragmatic breathing. Relax your mouth and jaw. Stand up straight and make eye contact. Open your mouth wider to speak. Enunciate every syllable. Do daily vocal exercises to improve your enunciation.” The long answer by Ms. Marshall looks at the reasons why a person may mumble or speak quickly or softer, including nervousness, not really caring about being understood, and/or lack of focus on the conversation. 

People generally don’t speak as clearly these days as in older generations. In the rush to get our thoughts out, or the niceties out of the way, words are only partially pronounced. Wha? Howza family? Whatcha doin’? And this is spoken with lips held so close together that a piece of paper wouldn’t slide between them. Even the most sophisticated hearing aid can’t understand words or sounds emitted through a miniature blowhole.

Perhaps people with hearing loss – myself included – need to accept the reality of explaining our needs over and over again. Just as there will always be days of frustration. 

 

If I Could Move Your Lips For You

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.

Friendships with new people, wonderful people, 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 breathing 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 sighing.

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

Let them enjoy rolling around the vowels,

playing percussion with the consonants

           

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

But I can’t.

So please tell me – again – what you just said.

 

 

 

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

1 Comment

  1. This is one of my pet peeves, Gael. Thanks for highlighting it! I often state your opening line, telling partners “Most people read lips more than they realize…”. In fact many aspects of the face/hands are part of communication success, aren’t they? The tilt of the head, expression, eyes, the motion of the hands, etc. Speakers wearing sunglasses are another impediment to my ability to understand the spoken word. And of course this goes along with the inherent problems with one of your pet peeves, facial hair/mustaches! Keep up the good work, Gael!

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