Hearing Impaired and Speech Reading

Posted on December 9, 2013 by ECR Louisville in Blog, Hearing Loss

Jul 23rd, 2013

Peter PearlmanFeaturing Peter PearlmanHearing Impaired and Speech ReadingA hearing impaired patient of mine who wears hearing instruments recently asked me, “what is speech reading and could it help me to better understand speech?”First off, let us talk about what is speech reading? For many of you, the more familiar term for speech reading is lip reading.  The term lip reading conveyed the idea that someone would be able to watch another person’s lips and be able to understand what they were saying.  In truth however as we speak, many of the sounds of speech that we make are made in the back of mouth, at are vocal chords or in our nasal passages and are unable to be seen by watching someone’s lips.  In fact it is estimated that only about 30-40% of speech is actually visible through lip reading.Speech reading on the other hand is more comprehensive. Speech reading not only includes lip reading, but also all the other information that a listener can use to understand the conversation.

What do I mean by this?  When one enters into a conversation there are usually some expectations of what will be discussed, For example, one may go to a bank, grocery store, doctor, restaurant etc…and in each case one would have some expectations as to the direction of the conversation.  You would not expect to talk to your bank teller and have them discuss medical issues with you or go to the grocery store and have the clerk talk about your bank account.  When you see these individuals you already have certain expectations as to where the conversation is going to go narrowing your expectations of what is being said.  In addition, body language and tone of speech can play a factor in your understanding of speech.

Now the more important question may be for you is will speech reading help me to understand speech better?  The answer to that question is “yes”.

Speech reading is something that both hearing impaired and normal hearing individuals have always used to a certain extent whether they were aware of it or not.   Individuals with normal hearing will tell you that they can hear better when they can see the face of the person they are talking to.  Most especially this comes in to use when a person is in a noisy situation like a noisy restaurant.  How often have you heard from someone that they can “hear better” when they can see you.

The same holds true for a hearing impaired individual.  One of the things that we used to teach in Aural Rehabilitation classes to hearing impaired individuals was to empower themselves when it came to hearing and understanding better.  I have been around the hearing industry for over fifty years and I can tell you that today’s hearing instruments are absolutely amazing in the ability to help hearing impaired individuals to understand speech. But even as good as today’s hearing instruments are it is important that individuals who have a hearing loss take advantage of everything they can to help them to understand better.

You can practice speech reading to help yourself improve your understanding.  In truth every time you hold a conversation you are practicing to some extent but take the time when you are communicating with someone to watch their lips as they are speaking.  Have a family member go with you to a noisy place or turn up the TV so that it interferes with your ability to hear and practice watching there lips as you communicate.

When thinking about ways to improve your ability to understand speech, think of yourself as having a toolbox of items to help you understand better.  Your main tool would be your hearing instruments.  Additional tools may be your streamer and other connective devices to hear on the telephone or to hear the television better.  Lastly, think about speech reading as another one of those tools that will both complement and supplement your ability to hear and understand better.