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The Art of Lipreading

True story from yours truly: I began learning ASL at the age of eighteen. When a family member found out their response was, “shouldn’t she learn how to lipread?”

In actuality I had been lipreading for years. My hearing loss was undiagnosed until I was five. When I started speaking wrong (“pasghetti” for spaghetti, “alligator” for escalator), my mother would say to me: “no, look at my lips.” That’s how I learned to speak. That’s how I avoided needing speech therapy.

So I must lipread fluently, right? Wrong. Lip movements themselves only account for about 20% of sound, the rest comes in tongue and throat placement. Watching lips is an excellent tool for me to help identify sounds, because as my ears are scrambling to make sense, the lip movements will eliminate options. But without sound? Yeah, I’m not getting it.

That’s why there’s the joke that “olive oil” can be mistaken for “I love you.” Heck, let me use a current example of my favorite show, Once Upon A Time. When they filmed the climax of season one they were out in the streets, so they had fans watching. Two characters called out to each other, but the viewers knew them to be under a curse, so even though the script called for them use the characters’ real names, they used fake names with similar beats, and then dubbed over with the correct sounds.

And yet so many people think that lipreading is a thing. It’s a guessing game. I will admit some people are very, very skilled at it, and some people with hearing loss get by with lipreading. But to state that someone should just learn how to lipread, is to be completely ignorant on the topic.

This doesn’t even get into facial hair, mumblers, fake vampire teeth, etc. I put a character in SIGNS OF ATTRACTION that was a teacher with a very big mustache. This was taken from my own life. I had a macroeconomics class in college with a foreign teacher and big bushy mustache. This was before I had any assistive accommodations. I couldn’t understand his voice, and I couldn’t see his lips to help me. I passed that class by grace of my textbook alone.

Still don’t believe me? Take a look at this video. How well do you understand these speakers once the sound cuts off?


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