Lipreading has been found to be useful by many deaf people.  This includes people who have some hearing left as well as totally deaf people.

Many deaf people have said that lipreading has been a lifeline.

Research has shown that deaf people who have some hearing usually understand far more if they combine listening and lipreading together than if they only listen or only lipread.

What is lipreading?

Webster’s online dictionary defines lipreading as “perceiving what a person is saying by observing the movements of the lips”.

However, anyone who has to use lipreading as a means of communication will tell you this gives a rather simplified view of what is involved in lipreading. It implies that if you just watch the speaker’s lips, all that is said will be understood.

Lipreading does involve looking at the speaker’s lip movements, but in order to make sense of what is being seen there is a lot of mental work going on that an onlooker just doesn’t see.

An onlooker may think that someone who is lipreading is simply looking at the speaker, but in fact they are very busy:

  • Watching and interpreting speech movements
  • Watching and interpreting facial expressions
  • Watching and interpreting body language
  • Remembering what they have already seen and keeping it in mind until they can make sense of the whole sentence
  • Using their knowledge of the language to make sense of what they’ve seen and fill in any words that have been missed
  • Using their knowledge of the topic to make sense of what they’ve seen and fill in any words that may have been missed
  • Guesswork – guessing at words that may have been missed or which could be a different word e.g. lots of words look similar on the lips such as “thirty” and “thirteen”
  • Anticipating what might come up next
  • If the person who is lipreading has some useful hearing they have to match what they hear with what they see


Some people prefer to use the American term “speechreading” as they feel that the term “lipreading” implies that the only clue that is used is the movement of the lips. As we have seen above there is much more to it than that.

Where can I find a lipreading class?

Lipreading classes can provide practise in lipreading, strategies for difficult situation, information on useful equipment, useful organisations, local services and self-help groups. A lipreading class also gives you a chance to meet people in a similar situation to yourself.

The methods used to teach lipreading and strategies vary from class to class, depending on the teacher, but very often include:

  • Lipreading practise
  • Theory of lipreading
  • Speech movements
  • Games
  • Fingerspelling
  • Problem solving exercises

12.i. Lipreading and combined listening/lipreading

This section is for people who are totally deaf and therefore totally dependent on lipreading as well as those who have some hearing.

1. Some people find it very helpful to find a spot to sit/stand where they can see everyone they need to understand.

2. I try to remain on the same level as the speaker. If the speaker is standing, then I stand and if the speaker is sitting then I sit. If I am speaking to children I sit. If people are very tall I ask them to sit down – if they seem to be co-operative people.

3. Identifying a speaker’s accent can help lipreading. For example, a totally deaf person said: I depend totally on lipreading. I find that if I can identify the accent I can understand better(Sometimes I have to ask the speaker to tell me where they come from.)

Some people who wear hearing aids have also said that they can understand accents better when they know where the speaker comes from.

4. A lot of people agree that it is always useful to watch the speaker’s facial expressions and gestures as well as lipread. It can help give you more clues about what they are saying.  However, it is not fool-proof as expressions do not always coincide with the person’s thoughts.

5. I often ask people to use gesture and facial expression without exaggerating. I find that some people are quite helpful and will happily do this. Not everyone though, and I am learning to spot those who might not be so helpful.

6. I watch all the time I try to remain alert to everything at all times. There’s so much I need to pick up.   

7. Being aware of the situation is also often useful. It can sometimes be very helpful when people who are lipreading are aware of what’s happening around them. However, keeping a relaxed awareness is likely to be more useful than being tense.  and trying to look at what’s going on at the same time as lipreading – because it is only possible to actually focus on the speaker or what is going on around you.

8. I try and find out the topic of the conversation.  Knowing the topic generally helps me anticipate what they might say and it also helps me to guess what might have been said if I miss something.

9. Many people say that they find that if they are tense, they usually understand less than if they are more relaxed. 

For example, one person said, “I find if I fight to understand, I often understand far less than if I let the sight and sound come to me.

10. One person said, “I try to join small groups. One-to-one is best but if I am in a big group I find that it is only possible to have a meaningful conversation with those nearby. However it is hurtful and isolating when they turn away and talk amongst themselves as if I was not there. It is something I have learnt to live with and I try to look interested and involved. I’ve come to the conclusion that people sometimes turn away because they are embarrassed about my deafness and don’t have the confidence to help.

However, I try not to give up before I’ve explained how they can help me a few times.”

11. For more information on lipreading and listening in background noise see, for example, Chapter 4 “Crowded rooms” and also Chapter 1, section 11.

12. I listen and lipread when watching television. I never cut off the soundI find it more relaxing to use both sight and sound. (If you cannot follow what’s on the TV or you are straining to listen them see Chapter 6: Environmental aids)

13. Practising lipreading the television: Some people who like to practice lipreading the TV said that the best programmes were news programmes as there is often a clear view of the presenter’s face for at least part of the programme.

One person said, “I practise lipreading by turning the television down to where I can just hear it and then I watch faces, mouths, expression and gesture. I never turn the sound off completely.”

For losses which are not too severe: You might like to try lipreading the TV with the sound turned down a little so that you can just hear it.  This can be a useful way to get combined listening and looking practice.

For more severe losses: The TV can be very useful for giving combined looking and listening practice providing that you have sufficient hearing and do not mind missing bits when they take the camera off people’s faces.

(Editors: Please note that TV can be much more difficult to lipread than a live speaker because the TV is two dimensional. Also, they often move the camera away from the speaker’s face so there may be periods of silence or poor sound depending on your hearing loss.)


12.ii.  Why do people go to lipreading classes?

A lot of people have found attending a lipreading class very helpful.  Unfortunately lipreading classes are not available in every area.  If you want to find out if there is a class near you The Association of Teachers of Lipreading to Adults (ATLA) has an information page about classes throughout the UK.  To go to this page click on the following link:

You could also contact your local education authority, local colleges or ask at the local library (they sometimes have information on Adult Education courses in the area).

Below are some of the reasons people gave for going to lipreading classes:

1. I go to lipreading classes. I have found my lipreading classes to be a great benefit. I meet people who are having similar problems to me because of their hearing loss.  The teacher allows us to practise lipreading in a relaxing atmosphere and gives us plenty of information and tips on managing in difficult situations, helpful organisations and environmental aids, etc.
2. Going to lipreading classes helps me in two ways; first, learning to lipread and second, meeting others who understand the problems and maybe have more problems than me.

3. I feel at home.  I am with other people who have had similar experiences and they understand when I sometimes cannot understand what is being said.

4. I go to meet people in the same boat as myself. I find it helpful to know that there are others who have the same or similar problems as me; when I first realised I was losing my hearing I felt like I was the only person who knew what it was like.

5. It’s a great help sharing problems and learning from each other.  Not everyone solves similar problems the same way, but it can help to get other people’s views.

6. We have a good laugh and that’s such a help. 

7.  My lipreading teacher regularly gives us information on environmental aids and useful organisations and lots of other useful things that some of us would otherwise not know about. 

8. If you are unable to get to a lipreading class near you, you may be able to find an online class or websites that give you some practise in lipreading.


12.iii.  For people who need to wear glasses

1. Spectacles often help lipreading: One person said, “I always have my spectacles with me as they improve my lipreading very much.  People are sometimes amused if I tell them I have to put my glasses on to hear them! But it’s true.”

2. Regular eye tests: I always have my eyes tested regularly. I find that the correct glasses are essential for lipreading.

3.  If you need spectacles it helps to wear them as they make such a lot of difference to lipreading. Also, it can be useful to have your reading glasses with you in case you need to either read something or you need somebody to write something for you.

4. I’ve changed my two pairs of glasses (for reading and distance) to one pair of bifocal glasses and I am now able to look up from reading and see the person speaking to me in focus without changing my glasses.

5. However: It is worth bearing in mind that not everyone likes bifocals or varifocals so that if you decide to purchase a pair of bifocals or varifocals, it is a good idea to make sure that you try them out in different situations such as sitting, standing, moving about, looking at distant objects and also reading.

6.  Some people say they never go anywhere without having a spare pair of glasses with them.  (You can sometimes get “2 for 1” offers on spectacles at some opticians; other people keep their old pair as a spare.)