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Last reviewed: 11 June 2024

Lip-reading (sometimes called speechreading) is the ability to understand speech by carefully watching a person's lip patterns and the movement of their tongue and face.

From a very young age, children begin to recognise the lip patterns of familiar words. Most deaf children naturally try to lip-read when they’re communicating, and to some extent we all do – especially in noisy conditions.

Lip-reading on its own isn’t enough

It's estimated that only 30% to 40% of speech sounds can be lip-read even under the best conditions. A deaf person will usually need extra information to understand what’s being said.

While lip-reading can be an important skill for deaf children to have, relying on lip-reading alone will not be enough for your child to develop good communication skills. Lip-reading often has an important role in supporting other communication approaches, such as Total Communication and Cued Speech. Learn more about different spoken communication approaches.

How to make lip-reading easier for your child

Lip-reading can be challenging. While your child is still developing language, they may find it harder to lip-read words they're not familiar with. Lip-reading unfamiliar accents can be very challenging as well. Deaf children with additional and complex needs may find lip-reading even more difficult. Some deaf children are naturally better at lip-reading than others.

Lip-reading takes a lot of concentration, and lip-reading for long periods of time is likely to cause concentration fatigue. Children who lip-read will need regular breaks. Find out more about concentration fatigue.

You can help make lip-reading easier by doing the following.

  • Make sure your child knows what you’re speaking about (give context).
  • Position yourself so your child can clearly see your face.
  • Make sure there is good lighting.
  • Make sure your child's hearing aids or other hearing technology are working properly.
  • Speak clearly and at a natural pace. Speaking very slowly or with exaggerated lip patterns can make it harder to lip-read.
  • Don’t stand with your back to bright light as this can make facial features unclear.
  • Try not to move around too much so your lips are easier to follow.
  • Keep moustaches and beards (if you have one) trimmed so they don’t cover lips.
  • Try not to eat or chew while talking.
  • Don’t cover your mouth while talking.
  • If you need to wear a face mask, consider wearing a clear mask or visor.

Your natural gestures and facial expressions will also help your child understand what you're saying.

For more helpful tips, see our top deaf-friendly communication tips.