The Art of Lip-Reading

As my friend fills me in on the latest gossip, I carefully study the movement of her lips, grasping every word that comes out of her mouth. No, I do not want to kiss her, but I do lip read to understand what she and other people are saying. For as long as I can remember, I have been able to lip read. Such an odd talent that allows me to somehow understand a person’s lip movements. I still get surprised when thinking about this talent, that I actually have the ability to strangely pick up the words spewed out of my converser’s mouth. I sometimes catch myself reflecting how I can translate the movements of a person’s mouth into actual, comprehensible words.

Even though I have two Cochlear Implants, there’s always the struggle of understanding and comprehending those sounds. For this purpose, I have and continue to go to speech therapy to learn how to identify sounds.

Sure, I will be able to hear you, but there’s no guarantee that I will be able to understand you. Thus, I’ve always thought of my lip-reading skills as a critical asset. Without it, I honestly don’t know how I would survive conversations that take place in noisy settings, like the school cafeteria/dining hall, walking along the streets of Boston, group conversations, parties, etc. Whenever there’s a situation where I feel like I won’t be able to comprehend sounds through hearing, and believe me, there are many more than you think, my lip-reading skills always, always save the day!

But I have had awkward moments because of my lip reading. Sometimes when I am in a conversation with someone for a while, they pause, and look at me strangely… because I don’t always look at their eyes. I look at their lips. But only because I want to understand you!! Ha. Of course, I explain that I lip-read because I’m deaf, and they’re like “Oh, oh, cool!” And the conversation continues…swiftly.

I admit that I do rely on my lip-reading skills often, but only because I want to make sure that I understand what people are saying. If I don’t understand something perfectly right away, I get frustrated at my lack of being able to grasp something so simple, something that hearing people can simply pick up right away. And I can’t. I do feel awful and embarrassed, though I shouldn’t, when I miss something, and I repeatedly ask “What?” only to receive a “Never mind”. It hurts, but lip-reading does help minimize those occurrences.

Thus, I take pride in my lip-reading skills. The skill can be absolutely advantageous in many ways.

I love when I wake up on warm, summer mornings, and carry on conversations with my family members at breakfast without having to put my processors on. Of course I love to hear! But isn’t it amazing to have a peaceful, calm conversation, and enjoy the morning with your family while a neighbor loudly mows his lawn next door, and you’re the only one who doesn’t have to hear it? Those beautiful summer mornings are amazing. Peaceful. Quiet. Serene.

When I tell people I can lip-read, I receive reactions that range from amazement to doubt. Friends, old and new, often put my skills to the test. I usually get “What am I saying” or “Can you understand me?” But guys, if you’re reading this, please try to come up with something more creative, ha! I do have many younger cousins who will try to make me guess what they’re saying, but really, they’re mouthing gibberish words, trying to be all cute and funny!

Not to brag, but I mean, I can also (usually) tell whether or not a person is using their voice when I read their lips. Of course, I’m not wearing my processors when I realize this. How do I know this? I honestly don’t know where the skill came from, but I do know that there’s a subtle difference in the mouth formation when someone speaks, or only mouths something.

My lip reading skills also allow me to participate in activities otherwise thought by some people as impossible. During my sophomore year, I joined my high school’s swim team. As an avid swimmer, I was excited to get in the water and race against other people. But yes, I initially second-guessed my ability, or chance for the lack of a better word, on being able to do so. Why? I wouldn’t be able to hear, period. My processors are not waterproof, unfortunately. Thus, I would miss the coach’s directions, the social scene amongst my teammates; I was convinced that I would feel like a lost puppy. But on the first day of practice, I was welcomed with open arms by every single team member. My coach was patient and always filled me in if I missed anything, and my teammates were awesome. Whenever the coach faced the opposite direction, a teammate was always there to fill me in on the directions. I would frequently “read”: “We’re doing a 50 Free. 50 Butterfly. 100 Backstroke. 100 Breast Stroke.” During our swim meets, swim officials would blow the whistle to signal “On your mark. Go!” This freaked me out at first. I mean, how can you lip-read a whistle blow? You Can’t. Thankfully, one of my really good and helpful friends, Katie, offered to tap my leg during my heats, so I would know when to take my mark and go.

Of course, I’m not a perfect lip-reader, and yes, there will be times where I will totally misread what you’re saying. But nonetheless, I am so grateful I can lip-read.

-Alanna

**On a side note: Not all deaf people can lip-read, but those who can most likely use the skill to their advantage as well!


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