A New Resource for Learning Lipreading/Speechreading at Home


by Mary J. Allen, Ph.D., University of South Australia

Editor: We’re seeing a growing interest in speechreading (also called lipreading) within the hearing loss community. Speechreading interest seems to have lagged in the past few years, but we’ve recently been getting requests for speechreading resources. 

There’s nothing like a “live” class for learning speech reading, and we encourage people to take them whenever possible. If that’s not an option, you might consider computer based instruction that you can do at home. Here’s Mary Allen, Ph.D., of the University of South Australia, with her thoughts on the subject.

Hearing loss is a common problem in today’s society. It is expected that the numbers of people with hearing loss will increase due to: (a) increasing ageing population, (b) earlier onset of hearing loss in young people (LePage, 1994) (c) more people acknowledging their previously undiagnosed and unreported hearing loss, due to increased public education and growing awareness about hearing loss. This could mean that existing aural rehabilitation providers may not be able to meet the increased demand to provide lipreading/speechreading training as part of aural rehabilitation. Greater use of computer technology could be used to alleviate this expected demand; either in class or self instruction. Using computer technology to provide aural rehabilitation would also allow the person with a hearing loss ready access to necessary information, help and communication – and even, lipreading/speechreading training.

Generally, lipreading/speechreading is taught face to face but this is not always possible for people who live in areas (especially rural) where such help may not be available, or are housebound due to physical or psychological restraint. At present, self-instruction of lipreading/speechreading is available using videotapes and paper-based materials, which are limited in providing feedback and interaction.

The advent of computer technology has brought enormous potential as a new medium for active learning. This is evidenced by the wide range of educational software available, and the existence of the Open University in England which delivers a wide range of university educational courses externally to a very large population of students. Computers are changing the way we work, and the way we live and learn.

The advantages for learning lipreading/speechreading from a computer are:

* Ready access to lessons, in a private, non-obligatory, non-threatening environment of their home

* Flexibility of learning in style, pace and rate

* Ease of access to replay or revision of elements of material learnt or being learnt

* Instant feedback

To the best of my knowledge, there are seven (7) English lipreading/speechreading programs in the world; 3 in the US, 2 in Australia, and 2 in the UK. I have seen all these programs, except for one of the US ones, and have found them all fascinating from a researcher’s point of view. It is encouraging to have as many lipreading programs available for the person wanting to learn lipreading/speechreading, as it is variety and different approaches create good learning opportunities.

It is not possible to review all of the lipreading programs here but they essentially all cover the speech movements of the English language, and present words and sentences in either moving video or graphic animation form. They all provide opportunities for the learner to test their lipreading skill, in either a test or exercise format.

The following is an illustration of an interactive exercise in the Australian lipreading program “Learning to Lipread: an Introductory Course” (Allen, 2000). [Ed. Illustration not provided.]

Results from a clinical trial of this lipreading program with hard of hearing adults proved that it is possible to improve lipreading/speechreading skill using computer based training.

There will continue to be a place for face to face teaching of lipreading/speechreading as hard of hearing adults need contact with others like themselves. The nature of hearing loss already places a person in isolation and less interaction may increase the feelings of isolation. Therefore, contact and meeting and interaction with other people should be encouraged, as well as looking at all the resources and help available for the hard of hearing person to improve their quality of life.

But what about those hard of hearing people living in areas where there is no access to lipreading/speechreading classes? Apart from doing these lipreading/speechreading programs at home, it is possible to start up a self-help class using various materials. At this present time, I am actually developing a working model for such a self-help class, to be piloted in Australia and the US (with the help of American colleagues and organisations) hopefully in the near future.

In conclusion, I would like to repeat a question a presenter raised at the international conference (3rd adult aural rehabilitation, Hearing Rehabilitation Foundation, Boston) I attended in Portland Maine in May 2005: “Is aural rehabilitation dying?” I would suggest that it is not, as long as support groups such as SHHH and ALDA exist to help and support hard of hearing people, and to encourage them to augment their hearing loss with hearing aids, information and self-help strategies to cope with daily life.

Email me at: DrAllen@lipread.com.au, if you have any comments or answers to that question, or wish for more information on the lipreading programs, or the pilot self-help class, or even to tell me about aural rehabilitation services in your area. Let’s open up a debate on aural rehabilitation and help keep it alive.

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