Hearing management

Updated 29 November 2017

Don't you wish you could read lips?

Reading lips is a tried and tested method of understanding what is being said, but it’s not as simple as you might think.


Lip reading is a coping mechanism that helps people all around the world, who are hard of hearing and deaf, deal with social isolation. It is a tried and tested method of grasping of what is being said but it’s not as simple as it might seem, with various senses and thought processes being employed.

Here is a rundown of the skills that you need to work on, and how to lip read, whether you are hard of hearing or not.

Read: Symptoms of hearing loss

According to UK charity Hearing Link, a good place to start is by working on the following skills: 

• Training your eyes to stay focused on the tongue, lips and mouth of the person who is speaking.
• Learning how to notice changes in the facial expressions made by the person.
• Being acutely aware of body language and what it means. For example: an excited and enthusiastic person might have an open stance and make more energised movements. 
• If you are experiencing hearing loss, using residual hearing can help you when starting to learn lip reading.
• Anticipation of what might be said next, based on what has been said before, especially because lots of words look similar on the mouth but might not fit in the situation. There is a video below that gives a good example of this.

Read: New clues to reversing hearing loss

5 tips on how to start lip reading

Challenge yourself and see how you do with these tips from Lipreading.org to start you off on the right path:

• Body talk: Position yourself in a way that gives you the best chance to see the person who is speaking’s face and body language. You should be no more than about six feet apart. It could also be beneficial to mention that you are lip reading and remind them not to turn their face away. 

• Cut yourself some slack:  Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to catch every word the first few times. Getting stressed out and frustrated can also stop you from achieving your goal. Try to stay calm and use the subject matter and body language tips to help you.

• Let the rhythm guide you: Most people have their own cadence when speaking, and this can help you to read their lips by picking up rhythmic pauses, or when emphasis is placed on certain words.

• Practice and determination can be the key to success: Lip reading is not something that you can pick up overnight, but rather a skill that takes plenty of practice so that habits can form and become second nature. The more you do it the better that you will become.

Read: Is inaudible noise making you deaf?

To help you with all of the above and to make it into a fun activity, here’s a fantastic video from the BBC called Charlie's Lip Reading Challenge:

Read: 1.1 billion youths risk hearing loss because of loud music

What to do if someone is lip reading while you speak: 

• Avoid covering your mouth.
• Do not exaggerate your lip movements.
• Instead of repeating your words loudly, rather rephrase.
• Maintain eye contact.
• Move to an area with lighting that does not cast a shadow over your face.

Read more:

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Hearing Expert

Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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