Since I’ve starting reading more blogs, websites and Facebook pages about hearing loss I’ve become aware of a wide range of attitudes towards, and experience of, lip reading and lip reading classes.
Some people seem to think lip reading is a miraculous “cure” for deafness. One organisation selling lip reading tuition online markets itself with the words “learn to hear with your eyes and never miss a word again”. Put politely, this is nonsense. Be assured, you can be an excellent lip reader and miss an awful lot.
Other people find the whole lip-reading-class-thing hopeless, and give up.
Still others are clearly very good lip readers but they have never been to a formal class. Into this category goes the popular American hearing loss blogger, Shari Eberts, who sometimes talks in her blog about playing lip reading games with her children. She is thinking about attending a class to develop her skills further, but she already sounds pretty adept to me.
I think we start to lip read instinctively when we lose our hearing. It’s why people will sometimes say they can’t hear in the dark, or hear without their glasses on, long before they identify themselves as “deaf”. It’s why I reached my sixties with quite reasonable lip reading skills despite not having been to classes for thirty-odd years. (I briefly joined a group when I was first diagnosed in my twenties). So if we don’t absolutely need to be “taught” to lip read, why bother?
I love lip reading classes for four main reasons.
- The camaraderie. Lots of people have hearing loss but we don’t talk about it very much in normal conversation. We don’t want to bore people with it. There are more interesting things to discuss. But it can be a great stress-reliever to sit down with other similarly challenged people, once in a while, and laugh at our misunderstandings, share our horror stories and have a good vent. Call it therapy, if you like.
- You get tips on how to cope with comprehension quandaries. Remembering that “fourteen” looks identical to “forty” can help you avoid making a numerical faux pas. You learn to ask “do you mean fourteen as in one four” and wait for a yes or a no. Don’t whatever you do say “is that fourteen or forty?” because that just takes you back in a circle to the word you aren’t sure about in the first place.
- My lip reading is better for understanding something of how it all works. When I know which shapes look the same it helps me guess what the word might be.
- Understanding how difficult lip reading can be helps me see the funny side of things. Knowing that it is IMPOSSIBLE to tell X from Y on the lips makes me feel better when I guess Y and it is X. It’s not my fault. I’m not foolish. It’s just not possible.
The other day I found on the Hearing Link website a link to a video produced by a US Company, ProCare. It’s a video quiz with seven lip reading scenarios, designed to raise awareness of the challenges that people with hearing loss face. You can find it here.
Have a go. Warning – it’s not easy. It took me three attempts and a lot of concentration to eventually get seven out of seven correct.
It was fun, though, and as it’s from the USA I assume the speakers have American accents, which makes things much tougher for us Brits. Different accents can make a huge difference to how easy it is to understand someone, because some sounds will make a different shape on the lips to the one we are accustomed to.
Of course, in real life people don’t repeat everything they say several times to help you get the right answer (well, at least, not unless you ask them to) and a pop up screen giving three possible options doesn’t display underneath their faces! (I wish, huh?)