Why do Deaf people lipread?

Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing learn to read lips, to make communication flow. Yet, let us not fool ourselves when we come across a deaf person who reads lips fluently.

Lipreading takes skill, time, practice, and patience to develop, in order to become a fluent speech reader.

A big white lips in a light blue background. Horizontally divided by a decorative border. In big bold letters, Why do deaf people lipread?
Why do Deaf people lipread?

People with Deafness and hearing loss have the choice of learning sign language or speaking. Throughout learning, we as a habit glance at the lips and face to pick up subtle cues and information. We learn to lipread with the support of assistants from schools for the deaf.


Yet, in the deaf culture, not all deaf people support lipreading. There have mixed views on lip-reading in the deaf and hard of hearing community.

I, as a deaf lipreader, first read lips from the time I learned to speak. It was no simple task to do. Most of the words in English look the same. As I progressed, I developed the expertise to distinguish the variation between words that looked the same.


To be frank, speech reading extends beyond reading the lips and working to decipher or make sense of what the speaker is conveying. To make the conversation smoother and effective, training to lip-read involves acquiring and applying certain skills.

  • Learning to identify the cues provided by the movement of the speaker’s mouth. The movement of the tongue, teeth, and lips is vital in lipreading.

  • Figuring out the information by looking at facial expressions and hand gestures while lipreading at the same time.

  • Make use of having good eyesight to assist with listening.

  • There may be occasions where you would find it challenging to read every word said. It is crucial to apply the technique of applying prior knowledge to fill the gaps to understand better.

People with hearing loss (mild-to-moderate range) might not be fluent in lipreading. Regardless, they need to look at the face to identify cues while the speaker is speaking. Keep in mind not all deaf people can lipread. Some Deaf people are proficient lipreaders since they have been honing the skills.


A fun fact is that, longer words and sentences are easier to lipread rather than short words and sentences. To pique your interest in lipreading. Here are some more fun facts. It will give you an idea of stress-free communication with your deaf family member, friend, or co-worker.

  • It is easier to lipread in a quiet environment without distractions. A fluent lipreader will lipread in a noisy environment, depending on their experience.

  • Some individuals do not open their mouths, making it challenging to lipread. In a cued speech, placing the tongue, the movement of the teeth and lips helps us recognize and ease lip reading.

  • Lip reading is visual. It is important to have good eyesight.

  • It is easier to lip-read in bright light rather than in a dark room.

  • It is more manageable to lip-read when it involves the deaf lipreader’s first language.

  • Most of the words in English look the same when speaking. Here is a fun activity- look in the mirror and mouth the words, bat, and mat. Notice the movement of the lips.

A person who is fluent in cued speech could pinpoint the difference. Thus, picking subtle facial cues is important. Try it with words that look the same on the lips.


For Deaf lipreaders and hearing people, lip-reading has become second nature. From my point of view, although I wear cochlear and hearing aids. I lip-read and use my audio input from the assistive device to fill in the gaps of what the speaker is speaking. Keep in mind that each deaf individual has different lipreading experiences and skills.


Lipreading is a difficult skill to master. Other factors affect lip-reading such as not all sounds are not visible on the lips. Words look alike on the lips. The speed the person is speaking and facial hair or obstructions near the mouth may also affect the process.


Most deaf people tackle lip reading in real-time interactions. We learn the skill of lipreading through trial and error.


 

Cued speech is like lipreading. The subtle difference between the two cued speech is enhanced by hand gestures, while lipreading only focuses on the mouth and lips.