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UCL Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre

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Lipreading facts

FAQs about lipreading / speechreading

Should the term lipreading or speechreading be used?

Both descriptions are OK; speechreading is often preferred, because it recognizes that aspects of speech, such as head movements and the sight of the tongue and teeth, are involved in understanding speech from watching a person talking.

How much speech can be understood by lipreading alone?

It is often claimed that only 30% of speech can be understood by watching the speaker. This might be because only about 30% of the smallest units of heard spoken English (phonemes) can be reliably distinguished ‘by eye’. But it is misleading to put a figure on this: not only do different languages have different phoneme distributions, but knowledge of context, familiarity with the speaker and their speaking style, and the viewer’s own vocabulary and cognitive skill all play an important part in understanding lipread speech.

Can I improve my lipreading?

Attending lipreading classes can improve confidence and skill in understanding seen speech. While outcomes vary, it is usually useful for the student to be able to share experience of lipreading with others, and to have the support of a skilled teacher/trainer.

In the UK,. ATLA offers instruction and support to adults who have come to rely on lipreading.

How can I test my lipreading ability?

Several tests of lipreading have been developed by psychologists, speech and language therapists and audiologists over many years. However their use is quite restricted. For instance, the audiologist may test some specific aspects of lipreading in order to assess what type of hearing aid may be useful, while other professionals may want to distinguish different levels of skill in a small number of people for research purposes. That is, there are currently no useful benchmarks for assessing an individual’s lipreading skill compared to that of other people ‘in the real world’. A list of some of the more important tests of lipreading can be found here.

To date, no tests of lipreading assess the ability to follow natural conversation in real time.

I have heard there are ‘expert lipreaders’ How can I become one?

Some people are very skilled at accurately reading speech from facial actions. We do not have reliable figures for this, but many, if not most people who are  D/deaf and who have developed good spoken language comprehension are also good speechreaders, and can often outperform hearing people on tests of lipreading.

‘Expertise’ is more complex. If a good speechreader would like to use their skills to identify speech for information gathering reasons (media, judicial etc.) they need to acquire appropriate professional skills. These could involve being willing to be tested using unfamiliar material, being able to produce reliable transcripts of speech based solely on speechreading, having a professional understanding of the requirements of the situation, and having appropriate confidence in their interpretation.

There are currently no recognised qualifications for lipreading expertise that would fit these requirements. Experience in lipreading in a range of different professional situations, with recommendations from the client, is the best evidence for expertise.