Lip reading (Speech reading)

Nov 5, 2010 8:50:00 PM / by Vu Long Tran

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 :)
Vu Long Tran

Written by Vu Long Tran

Solutions Engineer APAC @pymetrics . ex-@Forrester consultant. Tweeting on #cloud, #cybersecurity, #equality and #tech tinkering!

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