About Lip Reading

Many people think lip reading is an easy skill to master. It’s not. First of all, statistics show only about 30-40% of all spoken sounds are seen on the lips or tongue in the English language. That means the less you hear, the more guessing you must do to keep up with a conversation.

Clearly, if you hear nothing, you’ll be guessing more than half the time. Then, factor in tongue, lip and mouth deformities, accents, mustaches, beards, nervous oral habits, bad lighting, background noises that drown out what little speech sounds you hear, people who cover their mouths while speaking and those who turn away.  Iit’s virtually impossible to lip read with 100% accuracy.

Over the past several decades Hollywood has perpetuated the myth of  super human lip reading through telescopes a mile away, which is downright laughable.  You need to see the tongue and throat as well as the lips, which means you need to be fairly close. The smaller the mouth view the harder it is to see tongue movement or shadowy bulges on the throat.

Here are the realities. With the use of hearing aids I hear more speech sounds than without, and if you face me, I have a better chance of understanding what you say than if you don’t. If I know you, my chances of lip reading you accurately goes way up. When I’m tired, my lip reading skills suffer because of the great concentration required and all the blanks needing filled.   So yeah– I lip read some, I hear some, I guess some.

If you’re still interested in lip reading I do not mean to discourage you.  It’s a great tool that can enhance communication, but that’s all.


For more information about lip reading please see these sites:




  1. #1 by Bob Burns on September 30, 2008 - 11:29 am

    Just wanted to say that you explained the latter deaf experience far better than I have been able to do it for over 50 years. Yes, it is a lonely life but not withour rewards if we only look for the positive. When we apply our unique experience to daily living we can create anything we let our imagination seek. And quite often I’ve found it brings to us those people we so desparately need at those trying times we pass through and most importantly allowing them to be a part of our life.
    Be well and laugh!

  2. #2 by John on February 6, 2009 - 11:48 pm

    I was born hearing by the age of 3 ,I started losing my hearing due to bilateral ear infections(every 2-3months I got sick). as I grew up i was always in trouble and it was because I couldnt understand what was being said to me. By the age of 13, I was already in so many fights in school because of it, so I focused on lip ready. By the age of 15 I was getting the hang of it very well. At the age of 35 I got sick , yep it came back bilateral ear infections this time every month. Doctors couldn’t figure it out. I tried hearing aids but they cause me to have headaches, I started looking at people a little harder and got in trouble, mostly women complaints about how i stare. I would explain to people I have a hearing disability so i read their lips, it didnt matter I learned that hearing people are so self conscious that you just cant look at them. Anyway Im 53 profound deaf now , learning ASL and I still tell people I lip read only this time they walk away and dont talk to me. I live in Austin , TX and they dont take kindly to the Deaf culture.

    • #3 by Jamila Awhussein on September 10, 2013 - 1:50 am

      then why dont you move to another place where they take kindly to the deaf culture

  3. #4 by l1zblog on February 27, 2009 - 10:35 pm

    Yes you have explained this really well. People think cos I followed them well I can hear ok, when in fact I just had a good day at lipreading. They don’t realise it can actually be hard and tiring, and some wonder why when its one of those bad days where I ask them to repeat, then they remember I’m HOH.

    As well as I can sometimes lipread, and going to classes really helped my confidence. I don’t always feel confident lipreading, and yes sometimes its guess work for the bits I don’t hear.

  4. #5 by nicholas on March 21, 2009 - 6:22 am

    I ts all wonderful about nature….i just wonder why people will less fully functioning part perform better and in diverse ways with the remaining parts. Is it because they practive more…or ?

    See africa,visit Tanzania

  5. #6 by kim on March 21, 2009 - 8:23 am

    Nicholas- Practice helps, but generally speaking lip reading is either something you can or can’t do. Also contrary to what a lot of people think, it has nothing to do with intelligence. Think of it as being a fast runner. Some people are, some aren’t. Many factors have to fall into place to become a champion, but of course if you run all the time you’ll be faster than those who don’t. It’s the same with lip reading.

    Your observation skills do tend to increase when you are deaf. Deaf tend to be much more observant and aware of visual detail than the non-deaf.

  6. #7 by lin on July 26, 2009 - 1:23 am

    Sorry, I am not deaf, but I do have problems at times hearing certain sounds. so I understand what can happen. I am a teacher searching for answers and I don’t lip read well at all. I will be in big trouble if it goes entirely. I want to read more about hearing loss, I know it could happen with age and I’m getting there, fast. Maybe one of you can guide me. Thanks.

  7. #8 by Bonnie Dane on August 31, 2009 - 11:24 pm

    I’ve been losing my hearing since a teenager. I have degenerative disease of the middle ear (bone). I will be moving to Austin, TX soon and was wondering if John or anyone else could let me know if there is a lip reading course where I might go. One of the advantages of being nearly deaf is not hearing the noises coming from our neighbors. My husband finds my lack of awareness amusing. Not to mention, our communication can be highly amusing since he is half deaf. Lin read David Lodge’s novel Deaf Sentence if you want to know about living deaf. Bonnie

  8. #9 by Len on September 16, 2009 - 2:30 am

    Hi, i wanted to know if there is a site where they teach lip reading (where i can download drawings on how to pronounce a, e , i, o, u) using lip drawings… I have a child who is deaf. he was born hearing. at 11 months he was diagnosed with meningitis and the result was bilateral hearing loss. He undergo cochlear implantation but did not benefit much from it. So now, for him to be able to speak i enrolled him in a total communication class… they teach him how to speak using lip reading… i just wanted to expand my knowledge in lip reading since he is only 3 years so i can continue teaching him at home. though he have notes but still i wanted to explore… thanks and hope to hear from you soon…

  9. #10 by JacquelineD65 on October 22, 2009 - 5:38 pm

    From what I’ve read so far (just found your blog today), your story and mine are very much alike! I too lip read as a result of growing up losing my hearing. When my daughter turned out to be hard of hearing, we did genetic testing and found that I was born with a rare genetic disorder – Branchio-Oto-Renal Syndrome (BOR). I started losing my hearing around age 6 but didn’t start wearing hearing aids until my late 20’s. Growing up I failed the school provided hearing tests where you raise your hands in response to sounds if you hear them and my parents thought I was faking it so never had me seen by a professional. Today I’m in my mid 40’s and need the world at about 80 decibels to be able to hear with my hearing aids. I no longer hear consonants so I must lip read in addition to wearing my aids to know what is being said. Thanks for having this blog! I really am looking for some place to connect. I look forward to reading more… you write very well!


  10. #11 by contoveros on December 3, 2009 - 5:55 pm

    I got a hearing loss while in Vietnam. Wear hearing aids but not often.

    Also have vision impairment when I wear contacts. It can be murder to fail at both hearing and sight when meeting someone new.

    Don’t feel that way here.


    (I came in on a discussion on meditation, but wanted to get my two cents worth in from this side, too.)

    michael j

    Conshohocken, PA of USA

  11. #12 by kim on December 4, 2009 - 8:05 am

    I know what you mean. I also wear glasses in addition to hearing aids. :-) I feel very fortunate for the wonders of modern technology. Thanks for commenting.

  12. #13 by Janet Gieder on January 24, 2010 - 9:13 pm

    Wow, this is such a nice site!! I am a woman who has had profound hearing loss since the age of 3 and have “winged it” in the hearing world for 60 years!! No one in my family is affected and none of my friends have “the problem”. Yes, it is tough–tiring, frustrating and at times, can be downright upsetting. Without my aid, I hear nothing–I have 15% hearing in one ear–that’s it. With the aid I can hear 50% out of that ear. So, yes, I have been lip reading a lot!!!! I was a child at the time when they did not want to teach sign language because you would not “be normal”. My father insisted that I go to a public school. I was lucky in the sense that both my parents worked hard with me with lip reading and speech. I just retired from working as a respiratory therapist in a large hospital for 30 years. It was a big relief for me. I loved the job and did well because like someone above said–you become much more aware and acute of what’s going on–because you have to! And that’s how I survived all those years–it’s hard work!!
    I have to share this. I have 2 dogs that I walk daily. Now that I’m retired I do it all the time because my husband is still working full time. There are some areas where there is no sidewalk. Several times I almost got hit by a car( I don’t hear them when they come up behind me) and some of the cars would just stop and call me names. I was upset and told my husband that I couldn’t do it!! So, I bought a flourescent orange vest and wrote DEAF on the back of it and wear it every time I walk the dogs. The cars slow down and everyone gives me a wave now. You know, I thought if I had a cane or a walker or some sign of a handicap, people would be ok with it. Our handicap is an invisible one–no one knows until you tell them–so they think you’re stupid or stubborn when you won’t move when someone says excuse me and you don’t hear them. So, I thought, you know what I’m gonna let people know–and what a change!! I can enjoy walking my dogs now and feel safe. Just wanted to pass that on. Deafness and hoh is invisible–so let the world know!!
    Thanks for letting me share my thoughts. Good site!

  13. #14 by contoveros on January 25, 2010 - 10:12 am

    Janet Gieder:

    What a great story. See what you started, Kim?

    Such a small adjustment — wearing a flow in the dark vest with the words printed: “Deaf.”

    Now, instead of possibly getting the finger and a harsh word, Janet gets a wave and big smile.

    I will steal this idea Janet, and use it someway in my life, perhaps pointing out some of my limitations with hearing, sight and/or PTSD.

    Thanks to you and to Kim for opening up this site for all to share.

    michael j

  14. #15 by kim on January 26, 2010 - 10:49 pm

    thanks. I have almost been run over a few times too. luckily there were others who pulled me out of the way. I like your idea of the big orange vest! i walk regularly.

  15. #16 by Ruchi Goyal on July 24, 2010 - 7:45 am

    Lip reading very well explained.I liked the pros and cons that you put all together.I have a friend who lost her hearing at 28 yrs and depends on lip reading as she has progressive hearing loss. She too does loose interest while talking with people who do not talk well.I do try to talk a bit spaced out.My daughter ,who is deaf from birth,too depends on lip reading when her aids are out, but tires her out after a while and wants her aids back.I think blogging could keep you in touch with this world and you must continue it.All the best.

  16. #17 by Ruchi Goyal on July 24, 2010 - 7:50 am

    Would like to add this post to my blog as I found this interesting.

  17. #18 by Lazaro Bonno on July 30, 2011 - 9:19 am

    Hi,Terrific blog post dude! i am just Tired of utilizing RSS feeds and do you use twitter?so i can follow you there:D.

  18. #19 by Remote Monitor on January 8, 2012 - 10:17 pm

    Wasn’t it Napoleon Hill who said with gusto the quip – Within every adversity is an equal or greater opportunity.

  19. #20 by Keshinro Muhammad Bushra on February 1, 2012 - 12:49 am

    Thanks, i appreciate the information shared at this site. I wish i could get a video tutorial of lip reading activities to teach deaf children.

  20. #21 by Mack on November 27, 2012 - 6:22 am

    I haven’t checked in here for a while since I thought it was getting boring, but the last few
    posts are great quality so I guess I’ll add you back to my daily bloglist.
    You deserve it my friend :)

  21. #22 by Gerald Trombly on December 27, 2012 - 9:37 am

    I am a disabled veteran with severe hearing impairment. I believe that there must be an organziation or company that makes badges or buttons that read, “HEARING IMPAIRED, FACE ME, SPEAK SLOWLY”. This would alert the public that they will not be heard if they turn their head or talk down.
    Are you aware of any organization?

  22. #23 by Tom Mandelbaum on February 7, 2013 - 2:03 pm

    I have a partial hearing loss and am interested in finding a lip reading class in San Antonio TX. Can anyone help? Or has anyone found good DVD based instruction? thanks!

  23. #25 by April Vezie on January 5, 2014 - 10:58 am

    Hello. Thank you for explaining this so well. I’ve been hard of hearing since birth and have progressive loss. I’m sorry so many of you have had problems with ‘hearing’ people being rude.
    I live in New Mexico and in a lot of the cultures around here it’s considered rude to look at someone while talking and is taboo to touch them. Although I still get occasional bad responses from folks that aren’t worth talking to anyways this is what tends to work for me ” I don’t mean to be rude or disrespectful but I’m hard of hearing and need to be able to see your lips in order to hear you.” “I’m sorry I didn’t catch what you said. Could you please repeat that? I want to make sure I heard you right.” ” If it seems like I’m ignoring you I’m probably not. I’m hard of hearing. Please tap me, smack me or toss something at me-preferably money, and get my attention before talking to me.” Humor, explanation and yeah, sometimes even a little ego stroking and apology works on keeping ‘hearing’ folks from getting upset. Oh, and if they cover their mouths or turn away while talking, just remind them gently “If I can’t see you I can’t hear you. I may have eyes on the back of my head but you don’t have lips there. Turn around so I can hear you.”

  24. #26 by Bonnie Jae Dane on January 6, 2014 - 10:31 am

    Thanks April. I will try some of your suggestions when straining to hear what people are saying to me. Fortunately, for me the baby boomers are all losing their hearing so we’re either shouting at each other or finding humor in our verbal misunderstandings. And with the loss of once easily accessible words, it takes three of us to finish a sentence. Sometimes, though, it can be a lonely business and you just feel like going quiet and letting the world happen around you. At least I do. Fortunately, I’m a writer so if people really want to know what’s on my mind, they can read my books. teehee. You take care and again thank you for your tactful suggestions. Bonnie Jae Dane

  25. #27 by KATHY on February 12, 2014 - 8:23 pm

    I have a Grandson in a burn unit in Georgia and is unable to use his hands to write or is unable to speak at this time. He is trying to tell my daughter something and she told him to mouth the main work. She said it looks like he is saying ” RACING”, but he shook his head no. Does any one have any idea what he may be trying to say… Thanks Kathy

  26. #28 by Brendon on September 11, 2014 - 12:32 pm


    We are a Venture Capitalists focusing on the development of IT solutions/platforms. (Websites, apps etc.)

    We are looking to Joint Venture with an expert Lip Reader/s and came across this blog. Would anyone on this forum be interested or know of someone who might be interested in discussing with us possible synergies that may exist between your skills and the skills our business has to offer. I believe that there could potentially be some good opportunities for both parties.

    Please feel free to email me on brendon.peros@gmail.com.


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