Speech reading, also called lipreading, is 'reading' the visual clues of a spoken message, meaning the movements of the lips, the tongue, the lower jaw, the eyes, the eyebrows, and the facial expression and gestures of the speaker, in an effort to process all of the available visible, situational, and auditory cues.
Speech reading is intended for people affected by a hearing loss or who are close to someone affected by a hearing loss. Speech readers mostly use their eyes to supplement the verbal information received through their ears. It is a technique available to any person having lost hearing during adult life, whether the loss is mild or severe, and its purpose is to support or replace hearing.
Speech produces not only sounds but visible movements of the lips, tongue, and jaw of the speaker as well. These movements are called articulators of speech. Because of the physical constraints imposed by the muscles involved in the articulation of speech sounds, the same speech sounds are produced with a consistent pattern of physical movements and these movements are then associated with specific sounds. Speech reading is based on this principle, that many of the sounds produced during speech may be "seen" by paying attention to the articulators of speech.
Speech reading is taught by special educators. In typical classes, the speech educator and the students usually sit in a horseshoe seating arrangement so as to ensure that everyone present can see whoever is speaking. Teachers use a variety of exercises, focused on presenting material without using voice so as to develop the visual perception of the speech articulators in the participants, who can learn how to recognize sounds that are visible, sounds that are less visible, and sounds that can not be seen. Sounds that look like each other are differentiated, and explanations are provided as to why some words can get mixed up during speech reading. The exercises help students use what they can see, as well as the partial sounds that they can hear.
There is no special preparation required for speech reading, except the motivation to learn. However, the following recommendations are found helpful:
- Position. Speech readers are asked to position themselves with their back to the light so as to see the speaker's face clearly.
- Relaxation. A relaxed atmosphere favors speech reading.
- Recollection of speech sounds. Speech readers are encouraged to watch the speaker's face closely and to try to recall how their voice sounded.
- Speech movement. They are also encouraged to pay attention to the movements made by the lips, tongue and jaw as the person speaks, so as to learn how to differentiate the articulators, some being more recognizable than others.
- Facial expression. The facial expression of speakers is very important in speech reading, as it conveys a lot of information about the topic and the speaker's mood and feelings.
- Gestures. Gestures such as nodding and pointing also provide a lot of clues about what the speaker is saying.
Speech reading recognizes that speech comprehension is an integrated process by which a listener, whether hearing-impaired or not, uses all possible information to understand a spoken message. In speech reading, the focus is on the overall meaning of the message as opposed to its specific spoken details. The result is that vision can then supplement the information obtained through the ears, by including all aspects of non-verbal communication as well, such as facial expressions and body language.
Health care team roles
Speech reading is taught by speech pathologists specialized in hearing disorders.
Campbell, R. Burnham, D., and B. Dodd, eds. Hearing by Eye II: Advances in the Psychology of Speech reading and Auditory-Visual Speech. Philadelphia: Psychology Press, 1998.
Kaplin, H., Bally, S. J. and C. Garretson. Speechreading: A Way To Improve Understanding. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 1991.
Woerner Carter, B. I Can't Hear You in the Dark: How to Learn and Teach Lipreading. Springfield: Charles C Thomas Publisher Ltd., 1998.
Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc., 7910 Woodmont Ave-Suite 1200, Bethesda, Maryland 20814. Phone:(301) 657-2248. <http://www.shhh.org/>.
Speechreading challenges Website, Bloomsburg University. <http://www.bloomu.edu/speechreading.html>.
Monique Laberge, Ph.D.