Lip reading (Speech reading)

I've always been quite curious of sign language and lip reading and while sign language is something I'd like to do, I'm thinking that it'll be not only difficult to learn initially but to remember as well, particularly as I will most likely have little means to practice it. It should be much easier to practice and utilise lipreading for general everyday usage so I have decided that lip reading is a skill that I'd like to start learning first.

Lip reading (also known as "speech reading") is great in complimenting normal speaking interactions with others, although of course, it's used by the hearing impaired. They say that people who lose all their hearing will usually find that they pick up lipreading eventually, but I'd like to learn it to better understand what it's like and to assist in my own everyday communications with others.  Essentially I will hone skills that may even allow me to read a speaker's face movements and the way he/she mouths sounds from a great distance - almost like being a spy without technology!

I've had a look online at some of the available resources and I'd like to share with you some of the tips I've gathered on how to best start learning lip reading.

Lip reading tips
  • Add TV captions - Add captioning (teletext) to your TV and watch it muted and practice lip reading in this capacity. I believe that watching a similar show/ movie again and again may make this process easier. It's actually quite interesting to watch a movie without sound and it's something worth trying (if you are patient enough for it!)
  • Turn down TV volume - Turn down the volume of a tv and watch the speaker's face and try to pick up sounds by observing the speaker's lips. 
  • Short words first - Start with small short words first
  • Identify distinct sounds - Identify sounds that appear distinct on the lips and by the mouth's space when speaking. Examples include the "th" sound in "the," where people stick their tongues out to produce the sound. Also some sounds are obvious like b ("b"), p ("pah") and m ("mah"), because the speaker has pursed his/her lips. Other consonants that are easy to "see" are t, d, s, l and v. [1] 
  • Watch for tongue usage - For example, for words such as "tah" and "kah" can be distinguished by how the tongue is used. 
  • Body language - They say 70% of communication is in the body language, so watching the body's movement, posture, facial expressions is important cue in identifying possible words used.
In terms of accuracy, there was a figure of 30-40% accuracy was quoted online, so be mindful that lip reading is more of an aid than used alone in isolation to other communicative techniques. Regardless, I believe it's a useful skill to have and something that I know I will continue to work on. It's been very interesting to see how the techniques apply to other languages as well :)

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  1. Hi Vu, this is Elena. Just commenting about sign language. I learned it years ago, and compared to the spoken languages I've tried to learn over the years (French, Spanish, English a long time ago, bits of Mandarin, Italian, Afrikaans) I found sign language to be much easier to learn.

    There are no complex grammar rules to trip you up; also most signs have some intuitive relation with the concept they represent; and you can use fingerspelling to spell out any words you don't know the sign for.

    One thing I found difficult was: when learning a spoken language, you can always write down any new word you hear, so you can refer back to it and practice it later. With sign language, I kept forgetting new signs, until I worked out a shorthand that I could use to quickly jot down the hand movements required for a new sign.

    Another difficulty is the one you identified - it's hard to find people to practice with. It's also a difficulty with learning any spoken language, but at least with the common ones, you can easily find youtube videos or books that you can use to practice, even if you don't know any native speakers. With sign language, I started out practicing with a deaf friend, but I forgot a lot of my sign language when I finished uni and stopped seeing her as often. There are probably communities around where you can meet up with people for practice, and there are probably youtube videos in sign language too.

    Good luck if you do end up learning sign language!

  2. Hi Elena,

    Thanks for your feedback. Yes that's very true, most sign language signs are quite intuitive although finding someone to practice with is always the tricky part.

    I was thinking I could learn it and even practice it when you visit conferences and/or presentations where you see a lot of those sign language interpreters around. Having prior knowledge and awareness of some of the signs used would be helpful and fun, although lip reading seemed more practical to start off with.

    Oh, it's a lifetime goal to learn sign language with no set accomplishment date attached to it. know I will come to it eventually at some point but have been considering the variations of the Auslan sign language with those internationally so I'd like to confirm that before I begin, as I understand that there are variations in the signs.

    For now, I'm quite keen to explore text in foreign language to gain content in some research into my hobby looking at the relationship between people and society. Of particular interest is reading French philosophy directly in French but I'll start small with English text first :)


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