Lip Reading Tips

by Michele Linder & Chelle Wyatt


Chelle:  This article will not only help those who lipread, but it will help all hard of hearing people and the hearing people who communicate with them. You cannot talk to hard of hearing people the same way you do a hearing person. I realize you talk to more hearing people than you do hard of hearing people so it’s a habit of sorts, however, a few minor adjustments will help the hard of hearing a great deal.

Michele:  Yes, we can all use pointers for better communication. Hearing people have various reactions when encountering someone who is different. Some are uncomfortable because they’re not sure how to accommodate someone with hearing loss to make themselves understood, while others seem to be more intuitive and mindful about what is needed and they accommodate automatically without anyone having to ask or inform.

Chelle:  Even hard of hearing people are used to living in the hearing world and talking to hearing people. I’ve witnessed them forgetting the good rules of communication when talking to me. I volunteer for several hearing loss causes, go to hearing loss conventions, plus I work part time at the state Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center, so I’ve hung around with hard of hearing people over the last four or so years. My home life is, however, in the hearing world so when I started working and volunteering, it was hard for me to remember to switch to the different modes of communication. It became easier and after about six months I can now switch between modes easier and talking to people who are hard of hearing is habit now. If I can do this, you can too.

Michele:  Attending my first SayWhatClub convention in Baltimore, Maryland in 2011 was an eye-opener. I found that I was terrible at giving the accommodation that I need myself. When you don’t know others in your real life with hearing loss, and you mostly communicate with hearing people, you are habituated to expect that everyone else can hear, just as a hearing person is. So, it does take some time and training to get into a new habit of communicating in a way that someone with a barrier needs, and we hope our tips help you do that.

Chelle:  Most hard of hearing people use some lipreading whether they know it or not. Lipreaders and hard of hearing people get stuck on a word, if not a string of words. That is the main frustration between hearies and the hard of hearing. We are trying our best to hear but our ears are broken. Maybe the hard of hearing person knows what to ask for, but many do not know or are afraid to be troublesome and ask straight out. If you are in doubt, ask the hard of hearing person, “What helps you understand me better?” In the meantime, here are some suggestions from Michele and me which also includes a few hints for hard of hearing people.

Michele:  Chelle’s right, everyone lipreads to a certain degree, they are just not aware of it… the same way in which people with hearing loss are not aware of how much our hearing informs us in our everyday lives, until we talk to others in our shoes. Who would have thought being hard of hearing would complicate the use of elevators, indoor plumbing (we often leave water running), and driving a stick shift?

Right again, Chelle, when in doubt, ASK! It’s not offensive for a hearing person to ask someone who is different how best to communicate with them, and it’s also not offensive for lipreaders to define what they need for understanding.

Chelle:  First and foremost, before speaking, get the person’s attention even if you are in the same room. Call their name, give a little wave and pause until their eyes are on you then start talking. Be within 4 to 6 feet when talking, as distance makes lipreading more difficult. If I’m too far away…My husband calls out ‘whoop’ in a tone he knows I can hear (such as when we are skiing) to get my attention.

Michele:  Getting the person’s attention first is so important! If you don’t, then the lipreader is already behind and confused… they’re trying to figure out what the subject is, whether you’re telling them something, asking a question, or just interacting. Give the person with hearing loss as much info as you can right off the bat. Instead of starting in with a thought, say something like, “Hey, I want to talk to you about _______.” and then expand on the subject. If it’s a question, say “Can I ask you something?” Premise your conversation start as much as possible.  

Don’t be rude while getting someone’s attention. Years ago, a dad on one of my kid’s soccer teams was very self-conscious at getting my attention, so he’d kick my foot when he wanted to talk to me. I was nice the first time I let him know there were better ways to get my attention, but eventually I had to tell him if he kicked me one more time I was going to deck him. If you’re unsure about how to get someone’s attention, ask them what they prefer. I guarantee no one will ever say “Oh, just kick me.”  

Chelle: Slow down a little but not too much, going slow motion distorts lipreading. On the flip side, talking too fast is hard to keep up with. There’s a happy medium in there somewhere. Take more time to enunciate. Some people don’t move their mouth much when talking, making lip-shapes harder to read. Ask your hard of hearing friend if this might be a problem. At a lipreading class, we all had a hard time understanding one particular lady. I caught her on the side once and confessed it was hard for us because she didn’t move her lips much. After that she worked on moving her mouth more to form the words and we could understand her better.  
*HOH people, it’s awkward to ask people to move their mouth more but it can help.

Michele:  Even hearing people know what it’s like to not understand fast talkers, mumblers, and those who do not enunciate well or who have a thick accent. Give what you would like others to give you in conversation—a slower but normal pace, no overly exaggerated lip movements, and clear enunciation while speaking from your diaphragm. Example:  My oldest son can be a mumbler and I have a heck of time lipreading him, but when he’s reading literature out loud to his girlfriend I can understand him perfectly because he’s projecting and focusing on enunciation more. So, I asked him, “Can you please talk to me as if you’re reading literature aloud, I can understand you so much better in that voice?”

It’s also okay to tell someone when they are not a good lipreading subject. You’re telling them because you want understanding, not because you’re trying to criticize. However, people can be offended if you come across as blaming them. Practice at putting people at ease while asking them to adjust their speaking for success. Example: “Your accent is lovely, but it makes my ability to lipread a little harder… if you could go a bit slower that would help.”; or “I love that you’re such a passionate and animated speaker, but when you turn your head while talking or motion with your hands in front of your face I have a hard time following you. Looking me in the eye while you are speaking is helpful.”

If someone has told you that you are hard to lipread, don’t take it personally and go watch yourself speak in the mirror in your normal delivery; then concentrate on improving your lip movements for better understanding. Can you see the difference?

Chelle:  Nice addition Michele, thank you.  

My next item is to rephrase rather than repeat. There’s nothing worse to a hard of hearing person than someone who repeats it all in exactly the same way all three times. There’s the same rise and fall of tones with certain words exaggerated in exactly the same way. Instead say it a little differently; either shorten what you said, find a different word or lengthen the description to give more clues. Take the stress/exaggeration off words and say them in a normal tone of voice.
*HOH people, we need to learn to ask for a rephrase instead of a repeat.  
*Also, tell people the parts you heard so they will only say what you missed, it might help.

Michele: Yep, repeats often don’t work. Say it in a different way and add more where appropriate. However, remember, we are all different and some feel that less is better and like to stick to basics, so it is best to ask each person what they find helpful.  

Don’t Use Contractions or one word sentences

I tell my family “No one-word answers and don’t use contractions!” If the answer is “yes” or “no” then use it in a sentence—”No, I am not.” vs. “Yes, I am.” changes up the syllables… people don’t realize how we lipreaders really are grabbing onto every little detail of what we do hear to help us figure out conversation. We are sudoku masters of conversation—filling in what’s known and eliminating possibilities through reason, except lipreading is harder and we have to do it fast enough to keep up with each new thing that is said.

And, don’t restrict use of these tips to the person with hearing loss, practice them with everyone you are talking to in a group, as the person with hearing loss is trying to follow and lipread everyone so they can interject and participate in the group conversation. Plus, applying these tips to all of your conversations will help you become a much better communicator with everyone.

I even do this with my granddaughter when we play “Go Fish”… if I don’t have the card she asks for I say, “No, I do not have a ______, go fish.” She started out just saying a simple “yes” or “no” to my asking for a card, but now she speaks in full sentences like I do, but sometimes I have to remind her.

Adding more words is what I prefer. My husband might have mentioned he was going to town earlier in the day (maybe I heard him, maybe I didn’t?), and then later he will say something out of the blue like “Are you going with me?”, and I’ll have to figure out where “with me” is… it would be much better if he said “I’m getting ready to leave for town, are you going to go with me?” Talk in whole thoughts and use more describing words to make sentences clearer and to give them more meaning.


Noun before pronoun please

The other big thing I come up against is someone using a pronoun right off the bat. Generally, a pronoun should follow the word it refers to, so you shouldn’t use a pronoun until you’ve used the noun first unless you intend to leave your listener in suspense. Yes, I’m a grammar whore, but also it makes lipreading and understanding harder when you start off referring to someone or something without naming them/it first… not only do we have to follow what is said, we also have to figure out who I, me, mine, you, yours, his, her, hers, we, they, or them might be. Or, what that, this, those, or these is referring to. It becomes too much.

Repeating a whole phrase when you’re not getting one word is really irritating, and that’s why a person with hearing loss needs to tell people what they need if they don’t get it on the first repeat—“Say that in a different way, please, and be more descriptive.”

The ASL Alphabet can help.  Just signing the first letter of a word can clarify the difference between two words that rhyme.

Chelle:  Learn the American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet at the very least. Many hard of hearing people are familiar with it and if not, you can both learn. Go to to learn the ASL alphabet. Then if that one word stumps the hard of hearing person you can start spelling it with your fingers. Most of the time you won’t have to spell the whole word, just the first two or three letters. It’s extremely helpful and can be used anywhere, any time. This  works great for spelling out names too. People who are hard of hearing have the toughest time getting names right (Was it Terri or Cheri?). It helps them to remember the names too. But go slow! We are not fast fingerspelling readers generally.

Michele: I’ve known how to fingerspell since early childhood, as my deaf grandmother taught my sister and me. It was the only sign language she knew. We used it often to aid communication when Grandma would get stuck by what we were saying. My kids (daughters, not so much sons) are good to use fingerspelling with me when I get stuck on a word, especially when introducing someone.

I’ve been wanting to at least learn PSE (Pidgin Signed English is a combination of American Sign Language (ASL) and English), sometimes called  CASE (Conceptually Accurate Signed English), as I notice how much it helps when I’m talking with someone who uses it.

Chelle: I also suggest learning the ASL numbers too because hearing numbers can be hard and numbers can be so important; was that 15 or 50? It comes in handy for addresses and phone numbers too.

Use Gestures

Gestures can aid communication and sink words in faster than repeating. It might feel awkward at first but after a while it becomes second nature and can be quite entertaining. Use facial expressions as needed too. ASL and the Deaf community use a lot of expression while communicating and I think the the Hard of Hearing community could benefit from that as well.

Michele:  I love gestures, and because I began losing my hearing in childhood I’ve always been the recipient of some sort of gesturing. In my immediate family we even have family sign language for things/words we use a lot. Think of playing charades and what you can do to help your team make the right guess for the win!! It works the same with gesturing for someone with hearing loss.  

Don’t laugh

Chelle: Here are some other things that make lipreading harder; smiling too much. When I get around other hard of hearing people I tend to smile a lot because I’m so happy to be within in my tribe. I think this might have made it hard for Michele to lipread me at first. While I teach lipreading classes we get to laughing and smiling (I try to make it fun) then I end up covering my cheeks with my palms and wiping the smile off my face before continuing.   

Michele:  <laughing> I had forgotten that I used to have such a hard time lipreading Chelle, and I think she might be right, smiling lips impede lipreading ability. I’m probably the opposite… over many years, I’ve concentrated so hard to enunciate and project my voice, in order to keep my speech clear, that I tend to come across pretty serious at times, especially if I’m meeting someone for the first time, though I’m sure I do my share of smiling while talking.  

My best grade school friend told me once, “You were so serious and studious at school, but outside of school you were funny, cheerful and full of laughter,” and I think that’s why, I had to try so hard in school to keep up and stay on top of what the teacher was saying that I looked serious much of the time.

Don’t talk with your mouth full of food or while chewing on a pen

Chelle:  Fingers, hands or items such as a pen or pencil in front of the mouth make it really hard to lipread. Chewing gum, or eating in general, is distracting. It’s hypnotizing, in a warped way, watching the wad of pink go around so focus on the lips is lost. When the person is eating, it’s the same except we are waiting to see if food comes flying out at us too.
*Don’t be afraid to ask people to spit out their gum or candy, or lower their hands from their mouth.  

Michele:  Anything covering or distorting a person’s mouth will be a distraction. I’ll add: Braces, facial oddities, bad teeth, etc. These things are hard to mention without offending, but I have done it successfully, though I’d probably never tell someone their bad teeth are tripping me up.  

Just yesterday I explained to a young girl at a concession stand, “Braces really wreck my lipreading skills, so I’m struggling here, but that’s not on you, it’s on me. Lipreading doesn’t work 100% of the time,” always said with a smile.

Chelle:  Seeing is hearing, the eyes are the ears. Make sure there is good lighting to make lipreading easier. It may create ‘atmosphere’ to dim the lights but it will also bring communication to a halt or isolate the hard of hearing person.
*As a hard of hearing person, do not be afraid to ask people to turn up the lights or switch places so their face isn’t in the shadows. Start it with humor, “I can’t hear in the dark, can you…” Everyone has laughed and turned the lights back up for me.  
*Both the hearing and Hard of Hearing can ask for lights to be turned back up at bars or restaurants when this happens too. Usually the business will accommodate the request.

Michele:  Seeing is hearing for anyone with hearing loss. I explain this to my 5 year-old granddaughter, “If Mim can’t see you, she can’t hear you,” and she understands. I think I get better accommodation from her than some of my adult family members.

I’m always torn about lighting in some situations, as I don’t want to take away from others if the low-lighting is intended to create a mood, but I do often point out that I can’t hear if I can’t see clearly. You really have to gauge each situation and decide those instances where you want to ask for the lights to be left on. However, if you’re lucky, some wonderful friends and family do step in for you, and that lessens what can seem like a burden of always asking to be accommodated—I admit, sometimes I feel like a killjoy. Example:  My husband and I did a houseboat trip with several other couples from high school. Late nights on the water were nice, with the lights down low, over dinner, but if the lights were turned off I wasn’t part of the conversation. I didn’t feel I could assert my need for light the first night. Turns out I didn’t have to, a good friend stepped in when someone turned down the lights, saying “Michele needs the lights on to hear.” I was so grateful for an intuitive friend.  

However the person who turned the lights down at dinner was up on the deck of the boat with me later that same evening, star-gazing and chatting away, just the two of us. After about five minutes of non-stop talk, he paused, and I said in a joking tone, “Mike, you’ve gotta know that I have no idea what you’ve been saying. I really am deaf.”  

The above is a perfect example of how some friends get it and you never have to mention your hearing loss to them again, while others can’t remember that you can’t hear from one moment to the next.

The one area I’m not shy about is backlighting, which is a lipreader’s nemesis. I always ask to switch places so the people I’m with are not backlit. I’ll even tell wait staff they are backlit and ask them to move to better light so I can lipread them better, and I’ve never had anyone refuse or react negatively.

Which brings up another point:  The necessity of people with hearing loss constantly having to remind others about what they need. If someone you know has a hearing loss and lipreads, and they’ve taken the time to explain how best to communicate with them, it’s likely that those things will also aid you in all of your conversations and exchanges, so try to remember and practice them. If you see the lipreader only occasionally, they will be more understanding when you don’t remember their instruction, vs. someone they see every day.  

And another thing:  The person you know with hearing loss is likely the only person you communicate with who is different. For the person with hearing loss, you are one of many that they need to ask for accommodation from every single day, and it does get tedious to have to constantly remind the same people over and over about what they can do to facilitate better communication with us.  

We get weary.

Chelle:  An example that encompasses a little of all of these strategies happened just the other night on our patio with my husband and another couple. I got stuck on a word while the conversation was aimed at me with laughter (not about my hearing). Instead of bluffing, I fessed up, “I’m missing the one word.” Nothing was making sense because of the one missing word. I looked to my husband who made a “G” for me with his fingers. He didn’t spell out anymore, maybe because we were with others or he was stuck spelling at the moment, so I was still stuck. Our friend said it a couple of more times it was still not visible/audible for me. He grabbed his shirt (gesture) and still made no sense; his shirt was blue, not green. I looked back at my husband who added another word and I got it!  “Under garmet,” and I got it. They were saying garment. There was no frustration between us, they saw how hard I was trying and the kept going until I got it. It took all of us to make it work, no one was left out or frustrated and we all got to laugh.

Michele:  Good example, Chelle, that demonstrates how a lipreader’s mind works. I think it’s really useful to share these examples of good practices that work in real life. It’s the best way I know of to help others who want to be more successful lipreaders and communicators identify areas where they can improve.

People often ask me how I lipread so well, and I’m not sure how to explain something that I’m hardwired to do? How do you explain something you learned while not even being aware you were learning it? Collaborating on these lipreading articles forces me to think more about what makes lipreading successful and useful for me, which, in turn, helps both hearing and hard of hearing gain a better understanding of lipreading and its potential.

Chelle:  We’re happy to bring more basic lipreading techniques to light and much of it is sound sense rather than only seeing shapes on lips (which we’ll get to later). Teaching speechreading in Utah has helped me focus more on what it takes to make it happen. I’ve probably been doing it the same way Michele has (only not as well she does) for a number of years. Focusing on all the elements that go into lipreading has bumped me up to the next level where I’m a little better and I realize that advocating for myself is a good portion of what it takes. Michele and I make a good team because we’ve both been lipreaders for decades, and we want to share what we know and learn with others too.  

Learning a Foreign Language with Hearing Loss: A chi vuole, non mancano modi

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By Kimberly

     I walked into a pharmacy in La Spezia, Italy with torn khakis and a bloody knee, asking for help in my limited Italian vocabulary. The pharmacist smiled and proceeded to explain in slow, clear Italian the antibacterial wipes and creams that she had on hand, showing me the back of the boxes so that I could read the ingredients for myself. She used a hand gesture to indicate where I could pay, and turned the cash register screen toward me to make sure that I understood how much I owed. She did all of these things for me because she knew that I wasn’t fluent in Italian, but ironically, they are the very things that would help me in English as well because I have significant hearing loss.

La Spezia, just before I fell!

     When I decided to teach a two-month study abroad course in Italy, I was expecting to feel the effects of my hearing loss more keenly. Any time that I’d spent in a foreign language class or watching a foreign movie had taught me that guessing what I’ve just heard (something that I have to do every day) is so much harder when I’m not hearing English. Most of the time, my brain automatically fills in words, and much like the autocompletion function on my cell phone, it’s usually a big help but sometimes hilariously wrong.

In a less familiar language, I have virtually no autocomplete helping me, and I’m forced to guess far more words—some of which I may know and some of which I may not. I expected to feel especially lost in Italy, but I decided to grin and bear it for the sake of a new and exciting experience (and the food)! What I didn’t count on was that living and working with people who speak Italian isn’t the same thing as trying to watch an Italian movie without captions. People in conversations, especially kind people (which many Italians are), will try to work with you so that you understand. And unlike my hearing loss, which people frequently forget about, my status as a foreigner in need of help was something that people in Italy almost never forgot. Unexpectedly, being an outsider helped me cope with being hard of hearing.

The hiker’s view of Corniglia in Cinque Terre

     I had likewise overestimated the degree to which my hearing loss would make my time taking Italian classes more challenging. I had decided to take the accelerated Italian class with some of my students but harbored some doubts in the beginning about my abilities to keep up. However, being honest with my instructor about my hearing loss from the beginning helped us determine some easy strategies to help me follow along.

Whenever a new word was introduced, or even whenever I was having trouble with a sentence, she would write it on the board. As an instructor myself, I knew that all of the students were actually benefiting from this extra step put into place for me. I often find that that’s the case with accommodations for students. Because they reinforce an audio or visual component of the lesson, they typically aid learning for everyone else.

I still ran into frustrating moments in class. When my instructor asked me questions and I misheard what she had said, I felt the same sort of panicked feeling that I used to get when I was younger and not yet as accustomed to my hearing loss. I didn’t know where to begin—how to explain what I hadn’t understood, and I found myself frustrated that everything had to be just a little harder for me than it was for everyone else.


For some reason, being put on the spot and not hearing in a foreign language brought all of that back to me in a way that I can’t really explain. Still, I’d remember myself and remember that I’ve had so many of those moments in life, so I know how to deal with them. A couple of times, I’d see a student of mine struggling to keep up in an Italian class or conversation, nearly in tears, and I could say, “I know how you feel. It’s frustrating. Give yourself permission not to understand everything! Know when to try and when to take a break.”

The view of Florence from Boboli Gardens.

     I’m not going to pretend like it was always easy. I ran into some real challenges. I had practiced explaining my hearing loss to people before I left. “Sono dura d’orecchi” means, “I’m hard of hearing,” but the first time that I tried to say it, the person who I was talking to snickered and told me, “Don’t say that. Say ‘Ho problemi di udito,’ which means, ‘I have problems hearing.’”

When I prodded as to why, I found out that “dura d’orecchi” was the clinical term for being hard of hearing but was also slang for “stupid.” That’s pretty much the most obvious example of audism in action that I can think of. “Audism,” for anyone who doesn’t know, is the belief that people who hear are better or smarter than people who don’t hear or have some hearing loss. It doesn’t take much of a leap to figure out how the word for “hard of hearing” came to mean “stupid,” just like Americans will sometimes use “retarded” that way.

Trying to figure out what I was going to call myself made me confront all of those foolish assumptions about hearing loss that used to make me ashamed, especially when I was a kid. I was actually afraid to let most people in Italy know that I had hearing loss, just because you never know how someone is going to react, and I wasn’t sure what their cultural attitudes were toward it. The more comfortable I got, though, the more I realized that people would understand. As long as you approach people with specific requests, like, “I don’t hear well. Can I stand near you while you give the tour?” they will help and be nice about it. Just like in the States, learning concise ways to explain what you need goes a long way.

     Learning how to ask for what I wanted was always a challenge. I’d ask an Italian coworker, “What’s the word for ______ in Italian?” and the answer would, of course, be incomprehensible to me! I learned to carry paper with me and ask, “Can you write that down?” Likewise, when I’d ask a waiter to repeat something, or when my husband would repeat it for me, the waiter would almost always switch to English, which was frustrating, since I wanted to learn the language. Simply explaining that I was hard of hearing first usually really helped, and when it didn’t, I just went with the flow. You can’t win every battle.

The downtown nightlife in Genova.

     I had learned to let myself lose now and then when brushing up my language on Duolingo—a free language app that “gamifies” the study of foreign language. Rather than turn off the listening option, which would give me no practice listening, I simply tried listening and failed repeatedly! Yes, my scores suffered, and yes, it took me far longer than my husband to work my way through the lessons, but I was trying. I have to give myself permission to be pretty bad at languages! Even if other people never understand why it’s harder for me, I understand, and I cut myself a break.

When I was taking the formal Italian class, I asked for transcripts of oral exercises. One of my classmates, of course, griped that I “had it easier” on exams because of this accommodation—completely oblivious to the extra challenges that make this one “advantage” so necessary. Again, I could brush it off. When you’re hard of hearing, you have to either give yourself permission to fall behind or give yourself permission to ask for help, knowing that there will be frustrating consequences either way and that it’s important to pick your battles.

     I think that humility is a skill that anyone has to hone while learning a new language. Because of my hearing loss, I’m used to not knowing what’s being said. A lot of people aren’t! So maybe my abilities to learn a new language aren’t going to be as sharp as a hearing person’s, but my attitude can still give me the edge. I’m a different learner, not a worse one.

Learning a new language, especially through an immersion experience, is disorienting and tiring. For those of us who have the extra challenge of hearing loss, it can sometimes feel impossible. Yet, we have our own superpowers—our ways of dealing with confusion and exhaustion that we have honed over the years. Living in Italy reminded me that I’m far from helpless, and that there are always a few people out there willing to make the extra effort to communicate when it really counts.

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Improve Lipreading Skills Using Anticipation and Prediction

By Chelle Wyatt & Michele Linder

a sign that says what's next illustrates the concepts of anticipation and prediction while lipreading

This article is about how to improve lipreading skills using anticipation and prediction.  This is just a piece of the pie regarding speech reading but it is helpful to become aware of using this and make certain situations easier. Michele added some great comments about advocating for ourselves from the start.

Michele has been lipreading most of her life and she’s awesome at it. I’ve been lipreading somewhat half my life and only started taking it seriously the last three years or so. Michele tells me she doesn’t know how she does it, but I figured I could get her talking more about her lifelong skill by bringing up certain aspects that I use to teach classes.

Chelle: In the speechreading class I have handouts with blocks of words. We take turns saying the words, without voice, with repeats as needed. The students tell me it’s easy to do while in class because the words are right in front of them but this can be used in daily life in a number of situations also. Knowing the topic of a conversation will carry a person a long way in speechreading and there are a lot of situations where we can improve lipreading skills using anticipation and prediction of the topic.

Michele: I learned to speech/lipread naturally, without even knowing that I was doing it. By the time I was diagnosed with hearing loss in grade school I was already a speechreading whiz, according to the doctor, which was news to me. Once I knew I was good at speech/lipreading, I still didn’t realize how involved of a skill it was and how much of a role anticipation and prediction played in conjunction with lip movements, facial expression, and body language. All of those things work together and it may seem like a lot of effort, but when it comes naturally at a young age it’s simply a part of how you are hardwired, so I don’t even have to think about it. It’s how I made it through 12 years of public school with a severe hearing loss and no help from anyone but me.

Looking back, I can see all of anticipatory skills I used for success. New situations posed a challenge, but I’d gather information and learn as much as I could ahead of time so that I was prepared and knew what to expect. That gave me a head start and meant I didn’t have to work as hard in the moment. I’ve talked to others who lost their hearing early in life and gradually, and it’s something we all share.

Chelle: The grocery store is one of the easiest places to use prediction and anticipation and focus on lipreading. Different clerks ask the same questions over and over again.

“Did you find everything okay?”

“Do you want paper or plastic?” (for bags)

“Credit or debit?

I can anticipate those questions almost all the time and get by. Later stamps and ice came into play at the grocery store and I was ready for that one too. It’s not asked all the time so I might get tripped up with it from time to time. I’m sure to look up and focus on his/her face for the repeat. “Would you like stamps or ice?” Ice comes up in the summer months and not so much the rest of the year, stamps can be year round.

Another question that blew me out of the water when I moved to the Salt Lake area was “Do you want curbside service?” There’s only one store that does that here and it must have taken five repeats before I understood the girl for the first time. I even threw in I was hard of hearing and couldn’t understand her. When I finally understood the question, my answer was, “You do that here?” I shop often at that store and even though it’s not asked all the time, I now anticipate it when I hear something I don’t understand.

Grocery STores

Most grocery store clerks look down when talking or I’m looking down getting into my purse when they start talking. I hear enough to know someone is talking but I can’t understand what they say until I’m looking at them. After I hear a voice, I’ll look up and let that person know I use lipreading. (I never say hard of hearing anymore because they still look down and talk louder which doesn’t help me.) Usually people will make sure to face me after that and we get through it without a struggle. The grocery store is a great place to practice lipreading with anticipation and prediction.

Michele: Yes, the grocery store is pretty easy, however the whole looking down while talking (them), and digging in your cart to unload grocery items or rummaging through your bag for money or credit card (you) means you’re going to miss something that is said to you, so I no longer wait for something to go wrong. I let the cashier know from the get-go that I’m a lipreader and if they are looking down while talking, or if I’m looking away, I’m not going to get what they said. Problem solved before it’s even a problem.

Disclose your hearing loss and need to lipread

It is a good thing that we can anticipate the routine of a thing, as that is a big help in getting through the check-out smoothly, but we can also hone in on the stumbling blocks in a situation ahead of time and take them out of the mix by informing people of what we need from the very beginning. And, as Chelle stated, some things (regional and other) just can’t be anticipated or prepared for. When it’s a place you frequent you can get “smarter” about out of the ordinary exchanges and get to know people and procedure better, but when you’re traveling or it’s in a situation that you know you’re not going to repeat, it’s a different story.

Chelle: As a side note, let’s hear for the self check out stands! There are times when I’m too tired to focus on speechreading and I just want to get out of there as fast as possible spending little as energy as possible.

Michele: Ditto! It’s great to have the option to self-check if you’re brain is fried and you just can’t talk to one more person that day.


Chelle: Restaurants are feared by many hard of hearing people but not me, I often go alone. When I walk in the door I look for daily specials right away. (That’s having the words right in front of me like in the speechreading class.) The waitress announce the specials but they usually say it so fast it sounds like “yadda-yadda-yadda, yadda” to me. I can’t keep up with their recitation without having read it first on the board. That’s anticipation.

Michele: I have a theory… many things attributed to hearing loss—reluctance to go places alone or eat at a restaurant alone, are really not so much because of your hearing loss as they are to the variety in social “norms”. I know many people who have all of their senses in tact that would never travel alone or eat out alone.

Chelle: Now for using prediction; when the waitress comes to the table, she may or may not say her name (If she does I’ll look for a name tag but I won’t overly stress this bit) . One of the first questions she will ask is “What would you like to drink” taking a note and it will be followed by “I’ll be back to take your order.” Sometimes they will ask me if I’m ready to order too after getting my drink down but not always. Somewhere in here, I’ll let them know I use lipreading and to please face me. These people want a nice tip so they are generally very good about following my request.

Anticipate the questions- What kind of salad dressing do you want

Before ordering I read the fine print so I can complete my order with as little questions as possible. Back to anticipation here; what are the side options for a sandwich, and what are the options for my steak, etc. Sometimes I’ll get a salad and salad dressings aren’t always listed. If I have enough energy I go for the basics, either a vinaigrette or the always dependable ranch dressing.

That’s how I get by at restaurants. If they communicated with me properly I’ll leave a generous tip so if they see me again, they will be super accommodating.

Michele: I do many of the things Chelle does—look for the specials board and read the fine print—but I also ask my server if there is a written transcript of specials. If not, I let them know that many people, not just those with hearing loss, would benefit from reading about the specials, as it enhances understanding for all.

And, for someone who has that sixth sense—they are so perceptive that they know you have a hearing loss even before you tell them—I thank them for being perceptive and sensitive, and I give them an especially generous tip.


Chelle: Banks are fairly predictable too. For some reason they often comment on the weather, maybe because they are stuck indoors? It’s easy small talk? They will ask my how I’d like my change back, clarify which account, ask me for my ID as needed. Again, there is an easy out at banks thanks to mobile banking and ATMs. It all depends on my energy level.

As we get to know people, we can apply prediction and anticipation with them too. Everyone has their favorite words and topics to talk about. John talks about politics and Annie talks about her kids and grand kids all the time. Our neighbor will talk about gardening. Nancy talk about work and Bill loves sports. Some people use certain words over and over. This is why lipreading is easier once we get to know someone. If you have some hearing left, it even seems like you hear them easier.

Speak up about your need to lip read

Michele: Yes, as we get to know people better we can often improve our “smarts” here too. However, I’ve met a few people who aren’t predictable at all and their subject list is endless. If I have a hard time following them, I tell them straight out… “You’re going to have to tell me what you’re talking about first so I can put what I see on your lips into context.” This helps, but it’s a continual effort to remind them.

Stay calm

Chelle: The calmer we are, the easier it is to get by in these, and more, situations. We have to learn to relax and that’s no easy task at first. The minute we get tripped up, nothing will go right. I’ve always hated going to eat at Subway for that reason. They are always looking down when they talk because they are gathering ingredients and making the sandwich, even after I’ve told them I lipread. I get so uptight there that more than a few times I asked to “Please just make the sandwich like the picture and I’ll eat it!” Only one time have I had one person point to each ingredient and give time to nod or shake my head. If I frequented the place more often I’d get the hang of it and over come my dislike of the ordering process. I’m not a big sandwich person, however, so that won’t happen anytime soon.

Michele: I have to say that I almost never let something slide these days. When I do, it makes me feel bad about myself. However, if someone else just wants to move on, that’s their prerogative. We are all different and that’s part of what we have to teach the hearing public—one size doesn’t fit all… one accommodation isn’t a solution for everyone. Be very specific in asking for what you need.

 tackling a new venue

Chelle: A few days ago I paid a visit to another fast food place I rarely go. I don’t know drill. The cashier was quiet and I don’t think she enunciated well either because I could only snag a word here and there. (I think she may have been hard of hearing because she missed part of my order, or maybe she got sidetracked by my hearing issues.) She asked a few questions that took multiple repeat and some gesturing before I understood what she wanted to know. There was another question I could not get at all and we both finally gave up. I didn’t have paper and pen and neither did they. Only later did I puzzle out that she was probably asking me what sauce I wanted.

Tell people you need time to process

Michele: For this scenario, I’ve started to let people know that they need to give me time to process what they’ve said, as lipreading isn’t like hearing instantly. We often need time to process what someone has said, and so I say that. It really does help, as I found I was often walking away when it dawned on me what the person was trying to say or ask. When you say, “Give me a minute to work out what you said.” you’re telling them exactly what you need.

Have something on hand so they can write it down for you

Chelle: Often my students teach me things; little differences in mouth shapes, they might show me a new app for the phone or a gadget. Last week a new student showed us her Boogie Board. Her daughters bought it for her because she has a severe/profound hearing loss and she was having a hard time with errands. This is a board you can write on and pushing a button erases the words. It’s like having a small chalk board, nothing is recorded or saved.  Also, it is super light weight so easy to carry around. When she has a hard time understanding someone, she whips out that board and gets it in writing. How clever! I love how she does what she has to without fear to help with communication. She swears it’s been a lifesaver. I went out and bought one and I’ll keep it in my purse from now on. Well, after buy a bigger purse because the one I have now is already packed.

Using a smart phone to type messages with hearing people

Michele: I love it when someone comes up with a new way to facilitate understanding. While ordering food at a restaurant in the airport in Boston, MA the server typed out what I wasn’t understanding on the ‘Notes’ feature of his smart phone. I usually do have a pen and paper with me (I save the note pads from hotel stays and carry them in the outside pocket of my purse), or I’ll sometimes resort to handing someone my phone so they can type it out. Whatever works is the right way to go, and what works for some won’t work for all. Be flexible.

boogie board- a device that can help lipreaders

I knew this would be a good collaboration! As is often the case, Michele inspires me to do more. Being friends with and hanging out with people who are hard of hearing/deaf offers many opportunities to improve on communication by comparing notes. Does anyone else have anything to add about prediction and anticipation?

There are many good websites geered toward lipreading instruction.  A good one is

Also, visit SayWhatClub’s hearing loss resources page for more information about how to improve lipreading and listening skills.