How to Read Lips: 9 Lipreading Tips
Published: August 26, 2020
Updated: March 24, 2023
Lipreading is a helpful tool for understanding speech. In essence, it is one sense (vision) assisting another (hearing) to address the communication breakdown. For people with hearing loss, developing the skill of ‘how to read lips’ is very beneficial.
And it’s not just hearing loss—many factors can negatively impact the audibility of a spoken message, including the distance from the speaker, background noise, and reverberation (echoes). Everyone speaks differently as well, and individual traits—such as clarity, rate, and volume of speech or accent and dialect—play a role in the ability to understand simply by hearing.
Therefore, lipreading can be a highly beneficial skill for almost anyone—but like most things, learning how to read lips requires practice.
Let’s take a closer look at what lipreading is and some lipreading tips that can help you improve.
What is Lipreading?
Lipreading is the ability to understand speech by visually interpreting a speaker’s mouth, face, or tongue. Lipreading is an especially important skill for those with any degree of hearing loss to be able to understand spoken language. These skills become more crucial with increasing the degree of hearing loss.
Studies have shown the percentage of the English language that can be understood through lipreading alone to be around 30 to 45 percent. Therefore, lipreading—in conjunction with other forms of visual information like facial expressions and body language—can be very successful in improving one’s ability to communicate.
It may sound straightforward, but lipreading is a skill that requires patience and practice. Let’s learn a few lipreading tips that will help you improve your ability.
Focus on patterns
One of the most important—and challenging—aspects of learning how to read lips is understanding the lip movements or shapes associated with certain words or sounds. Finding patterns in these movements can be greatly beneficial, especially given that some may look very similar to others. Honing in on the details and identifying these patterns will provide the foundation on which your skills can develop.
Anticipating what words may follow others will help in understanding a speaker even if you don’t hear every word that was said. For example, if someone asks “Where did…,” you may anticipate what will follow. It may be that they’re asking where you went for lunch or if you know where someone is. Anticipating what someone may ask can help you discern the pattern of their lips and what they are ultimately saying. Context is an important factor in being able to anticipate as well.
Understand the context
Having prior knowledge of the topic or understanding the context of the discussion is advantageous. If you are not given information beforehand, the sooner you can identify the topic, the better. Once you know the topic of the talk or discussion, it will be easier to fill in the gaps where lipreading does not provide adequate information.
Practice common words or phrases
You may have already picked up on the lip movements associated with common words and phrases through your life, but practicing these—especially those that are more likely to come up in specific situations—can help. For example, if you’re planning to go to a restaurant, it would be helpful to identify common phrases such as “what would you like to drink?” or “what can I get for you?” Grab a friend and ask them to run through some of these phrases with you.
Ensure adequate lighting
If you have any control over lighting conditions, make sure that there is enough light in the room or area. If you are scheduling a meeting, for example, try to arrange it for a time and place where there will be sufficient lighting. If you are booking a table at a restaurant, ask for a table in a well-lit area.
Utilize all visual cues available
Lipreading is about more than just watching the lips and mouth. Utilizing all non-verbal communication at your disposal will help you put together the intent and emotion behind the message, which ultimately can help you determine the words being spoken. This can include facial expressions, hand gestures, or eye contact.
Get to know the language (and accent)
When you know what language the speaker is speaking, you will be searching for words within the vocabulary of that language, which will get you off to a good start, to begin with. If they are speaking English, it may also be helpful to know the dialect and accent of the speaker.
Tell the speaker you have a hearing loss
If the speaker is aware that you have trouble hearing, they may speak louder or enunciate their words better. The latter will help you to read their lips given that their lip movements will be more pronounced and clear.
Remember: the goal is to understand the message
Don’t put pressure on yourself to read every single word, facial expression, or gesture correctly. Keep calm and give the speaker your undivided attention so that you can get the most out of the exchange. It isn’t necessary to read every single word that is said.
Instead, focus on the topic and complete sentences, which will help you to figure out the rhythm of the speech patterns. Through awareness of the speaker’s rhythm, you will be able to pace yourself to essential clues.
This infographic summarizes tips for you to get the most out of lipreading.
This free, downloadable infographic will give you tips on how to get the most out of lip reading.
Communicate Better with Lexie Hearing
Lipreading is a valuable skill that you can develop, and as with so many things, practice makes perfect. Be patient with yourself, and remember it will get easier. As you become more accustomed to lipreading, it will feel more natural.
If you live with hearing loss and find yourself struggling to communicate, it’s important to also get the treatment you need. This starts with hearing aids. Lexie hearing aids are a great choice for those looking for an affordable, easy-to-purchase hearing aid that performs at a high level. Lexie hearing aids can be purchased directly online and comes with a risk-free, 45-day trial, ensuring that you will know whether it’s the right choice for you.