Lipreading is an effective form of communication for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Being a skilled lipreader allows easier integration into the "hearing" world, opening doors to careers, relationships and opportunities not as accessible to those who stick strictly to sign language. Lipreading is a useful tool even if you have no hearing impairment. Any chance to heighten or enhance communication is positive when relating with others.
It's easy to feel left out or excluded from conversations when your hearing is impaired. Lipreading allows you to be a part of the group and helps eliminate the feeling of self-consciousness or frustration. Because lipreading makes it easier to interact with the hearing world, employers are more inclined to hire people who can readily communicate, regardless of their handicap. Lipreaders gain confidence knowing they can converse anywhere without the help of sign language interpreters. Lipreading is useful for people who are not hearing-impaired, too, such as in a noisy environment or when trying to speak across a crowded room.
While it is not impossible, learning to lipread is much harder for people who are born deaf than for people who could hear. The key to successful lipreading is observation. Paying close attention to not just the speaker's lips but her tongue, jaw, eyes and hand gestures. Knowing the subject of the conversation is important, too. This allows you to follow along without "catching" every single word.
Lipreading dates to 1500 A.D. In the 17th century, England's Dr. John Bulwer was credited with teaching the deaf how to speak and lipread. Edward Nitchie, founder of the New York School for the Hard of Hearing, quoted Bulwer in his renowned book, "Lip Reading Principles and Practice." Nitchie stated that in 1648 Bulwer described lipreading as "that subtle art which may enable one with an observant eye to hear what any man speaks by the moving of his lips." In World War I, lipreading was employed to help rehabilitate soldiers who lost their hearing during battle. Since that time, lipreading has been taught in most schools for deaf and hearing-impaired people.
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Lipreading can be difficult in group discussions. It's easy to miss several parts of the conversation. Also, certain speech sounds can be difficult to distinguish, and lipreaders have to be careful when lipreading people with different dialects or heavy accents. Concentration and focus are key during lipreading, and it can be exhausting. The more you practice lipreading, however, the easier it becomes to negotiate these situations.
Because lipreading can be difficult at first, it's important to find a supportive learning environment. Some schools and community groups sponsor classes. Involving friends or family members for practice and encouragement is helpful for an online class. Patience is key no matter which learning method you choose. Once learnt, lipreading is an essential skill to get you on your way to better communication.