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Photo: Maintaining eye contact while using visual gestures can help a person to lipread

What is lip-reading?

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

Even from a very young age children begin to recognise the lip patterns of familiar words. Deaf children tend naturally to try to lip-read when they are communicating, and to some extent we all do – especially in noisy conditions.

Lip-reading on its own isn’t enough

It is estimated that only 30% to 40% of speech sounds can be lip-read even under the best conditions and extra information is usually required to understand what is being said.

So while it can be an important skill for children with a hearing loss to have, relying on lip-reading alone will not be enough for your child to develop good communication skills.

Often lip-reading has an important role in supporting other communication approaches such as Total Communication and Cued Speech.

How can I support my child’s lip-reading?

Making sure your child knows what you are speaking about and the context in which you are speaking, combined with your child’s use of their residual hearing and hearing technology, will help to make lip-reading easier. As will your natural gestures and facial expressions.

  • Position yourself so your child can clearly see your face
  • Make sure there is good lighting
  • Make sure hearing aids or other hearing technology are working properly
  • 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.

Lip-reading can be challenging

It’s important to remember that while your child is still developing language they may find it harder to lip-read words they are not familiar with.

Lip-reading unfamiliar accents can be very challenging for your child. Therefore making sure your child has as much information as possible about what is being said will help them to follow in more challenging situations.

Deaf children with additional and complex needs may find lip-reading more difficult.

See our page 11 tips for communicating with a deaf child to learn more communication techniques and tricks.