Shari Eberts: I am grateful for my ability to lipread

Posted on December 9, 2016

Do you lipread? I do. Most of the time, I am not aware of it, but I know I must be doing it, because it annoys me terribly when people cover their mouths when they speak!

I have gotten quite skilled at it over the years, because the other day at a meeting, a colleague across the table from me made a quiet comment to another person about a skill she had, and I “heard” it. When I asked her about it, she replied, “You must be a very good lipreader, because there is no way you could have heard what I said.” Interesting.

My children like to play lipreading games with me. It is good practice for me, because they keep making it harder and harder until I am stumped. That, of course, is their favorite part!

One night on a recent vacation, they decided to try a lipreading-only dinner. The people at the tables next to us must have thought we were crazy, with the kids moving their mouths with no sound coming out and then me replying with my voice. Half the time the kids would burst out laughing at my response. It ended up being a lot of fun.

First off, the name of the restaurant was tricky. It was called Vista Mare, but I kept thinking they were saying, “Kick the ball.” They would ask me, “How do you like Vista Mare?” and I would answer, “What type of ball?” Peals of laughter followed. Eventually they pointed to the name on the menu so I figured it out.

Our discussion of the beautiful sunset went smoothly — “What a beautiful sunset,” and “Let’s take a picture,” were pretty easy, especially since it was a stunning evening in paradise. Talking about what we might order was also simple, since the menu was right in front of me to scan. Plus, my children always order the same thing at an Italian restaurant, so I didn’t even need to read their lips to know what they were saying.

But then we moved onto movies and popular culture. I could handle Star Wars and some discussion of the upcoming new movie — “Would Luke be in it? Was Kaylo Ren related to Luke? Should we see it on opening day?” Even discussing Matt Damon in Martian was fine, but then they moved on to Benedict Cumberbatch. To be honest, I didn’t even know who that was, but apparently he is a famous British actor that has been in many movies.

“Did what have an escape hatch? I asked. “Is someone walking down a lumber path?” I tried. I’m not sure what a lumber path is, but you never know. “Are they bending in a cummerbund?” Then it was my kids’ turn to have no idea what that was. I guess we haven’t taken them to too many black tie events.

They could not get enough of this hilarity, and there were no clues they could give me because I had never hear of this guy. (Sorry Benedict…) They eventually had to cheat and say it out loud.

Lipreading games can be fun, but they are also good practice. Lipreading, or speech reading as it is sometimes called, is an incredibly important skill for those of us with hearing loss, and one that I seem to rely on even more than I know. But as the games with my kids show, lipreading alone is not enough. It is the combination of the sounds and the lipreading that is most powerful. 

The games also showed how much energy those of us with hearing loss use in every communication situation. Not only are we using our ears to hear, but our eyes to lipread, and our brains to put it all together into something coherent. Once we figure out what the person has said, we are not done, because then we need to reply!

Nevertheless, I am very grateful for my ability to lipread and may take a class to improve my skills. And of course keep practicing with my kids.

Readers, do you lipread?

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

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