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Speech Reading (Lip Reading): What We Should All Know and How to Help Facilitate

on June 19th, 2023

Three Lips In A Row by Marija Vukovic from

When it comes to understanding spoken language without relying solely on the sounds we hear, two terms often come into play: lip reading and speech reading. These two terms are often used interchangeably, with 'lip reading' being more commonly used in everyday language. However, the term 'lip reading' can be misleading as it suggests understanding speech by solely observing the movements of the speaker's mouth. However, there is much more to speech reading than merely watching one’s lips move. Exploring this in greater depth can lead to enhanced communication and more inclusive interactions.


In this article


What are Auditory Cues?

Auditory cues are the sounds we hear that provide us with information about the spoken message. For example, when you're having a conversation with a friend, the words they say, the tone and volume of their voice, and the speed at which they're talking are all auditory cues. These cues help you understand what your friend is saying and how they're feeling.

When you have hearing loss, auditory cues become less clear. This can make it harder to understand what someone is saying or how they're feeling. For example, you might not be able to hear the words they're saying clearly, or you might miss out on changes in their tone of voice that could tell you about their emotions. That's why people with hearing loss often rely on visual strategies, such as speech reading (lip reading), to fill in the missing auditory information.


What is Speech Reading (Lip Reading)?

Speech reading, is a comprehensive term that involves understanding speech by observing the movements of the speaker's mouth and face, nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, and body language. Regardless of hearing levels, speech reading provides additional information for processing speech. As hearing levels decline this strategy becomes incredibly important.

Speech reading takes into account the overall behavior of the speaker. It allows the reader to pick up on emotions, intentions, and other subtle clues that can help them better understand speech and enhance communication. It serves as a building block for understanding speech in situations where auditory cues, are insufficient or unavailable.


How Can We All Contribute to Creating an Environment Accessible for Speech Reading?

A first step we can practice in our daily life to create an inclusive and accessible communication environment is to be thoughtful about making it easy for others to speech read us. Some of the first things we can do include ensuring the speaker's mouth is visible and well-lit, not covering our mouths as we speak, and articulating our words clearly but not in an exaggerated way. It's also beneficial to maintain eye contact and use expressive body language to provide additional context. For example, if you work at a storefront, make sure people who need your assistance can see your face. Something as simple as that can make a world of difference and ease communication for everyone, especially for people with hearing loss.


Photo credits

Three Lips In A Row by Marija Vukovic from

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