Two men chatting

Communicating with people with hearing loss

25 January 2023

Hearing loss can be a frustrating and isolating experience. It makes it harder to follow conversations accurately. Lipreading, combined with personal skills, knowledge and general awareness, allows people with hearing loss to accurately make sense of what you say to them. But we all have part to play in making sure that those of us with hearing loss are included in our conversations.

If you’re speaking to someone who is hard of hearing or has hearing loss, it helps to ensure that they can easily read your lips. Here are some tips you can follow whether you’re speaking in person or via online video chat.

1. Move to a quiet place.

Lipreading takes a lot of concentration. In a noisy situation such as a bar with loud music, some people find lipreading a challenge because of the distracting background noise.

Try and find quiet spot that will allow the person you’re speaking with to fully concentrate on reading your lips. That way they can follow the conversation without get distracted and missing any sentences.

2. Speak normally.

Lipreading is largely based on recognising the shape of your mouth when you speak. It’s easier to lipread somebody when they speak normally.

If someone asks you to repeat what you said, it can be tempting to slow down your speech and exaggerate your lip movements. But this often doesn’t help. In fact, it makes harder to lipread what you are saying.

Instead, it helps if you repeat parts of the sentence, enunciate, or raise your voice slightly without slowing down or exaggerating your speech pattern.

3. Make eye-contact.

People who are hard of hearing need to see your lips in order to lipread what you are saying. So, to make sure the other person can see your lips, you should try to:

  • Be in the same room and a good distance from the listener. Avoid talking from across the room or a different room completely.
  • Take off your face mask if it’s safe and permitted to do so.
  • Face the direction of the listener and make eye contact. Avoid turning away even for a moment.
  • Make sure your face is clearly visible with the light shining on your face so that your lips are clear. Good lighting is especially important for video chats and online meetings. Try to avoid situating yourself in a dark or shadowy area or with light source pointing at the camera from behind or above you.

4. State the subject of a conversation

Context is another important aspect of lipreading. Many words that sound the same often form similar lip movements and shapes when we speak; but can add vastly different meanings to sentences.

Presenting the subject of the conversation at the beginning can really help with the rest of the conversation. Knowing the context of what you’re talking about, lipreaders can follow the conversation by accurately filling in the gaps based on their general knowledge.

5. Use facial expressions and open body language

When you’re speaking to someone with hearing loss, it helps if you are expressive and lively. Conversation and communication are not just about mouth movement. Facial expressions, hand gestures and body language, all come together to provide meaning when you speak.

If you want to communicate better with others, these tips will certainly help you get there. Remember that hearing loss is not obvious. You never know when the person on the other side of the conversation is relying on reading your lips to follow the conversation accurately.

So concentrate on your listener. Look at them. Give them a fair chance to look at your face and look at the shapes your lips are making. Allow them to get into the rhythm of your speech. Make sure you’re in good light and be on the same level of your listener. Don't turn away when you’re talking. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference.

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