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Lipreading Basics: Using Anticipation & Prediction

In Speech Reading on May 16, 2017 at 4:46 pm

By Chelle Wyatt & Michele Linder

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This piece on speechreading/lipreading is co-written by me, Chelle, and Michele.

Michele has been lipreading most of her life and she’s awesome at it. I’ve been lipreading somewhat half my life and only started taking it seriously the last 3 years or so. Michele tells me she doesn’t know how she does it but I figured I could get her talking more about her lifelong skill by bringing up certain aspects that I use to teach classes.

This post is about using prediction and anticipation with lipreading skills, it‘s a piece of the pie regarding speechreading but it is helpful to become aware of using this and make certain situations easier. Michele added some great comments about advocating for ourselves from the start.

Chelle: In the speechreading class I have handouts with blocks of words. We take turns saying the words, without voice, with repeats as needed. The students tell me it’s easy to do while in class because the words are right in front of them but this can be used in daily life in a number of situations also. Knowing the topic of a conversation will carry a person a long way in speechreading and there are a lot of situations where we can anticipate or predict the topic.

Michele: I learned to speech/lipread naturally, without even knowing that I was doing it. By the time I was diagnosed with hearing loss in grade school I was already a speechreading whiz, according to the doctor, which was news to me. Once I knew I was good at speech/lipreading, I still didn’t realize how involved of a skill it was and how much of a role anticipation and prediction played in conjunction with lip movements, facial expression, and body language. All of those things work together and it may seem like a lot of effort, but when it comes naturally at a young age it’s simply a part of how you are hardwired, so I don’t even have to think about it. It’s how I made it through 12 years of public school with a severe hearing loss and no help from anyone but me.

Looking back, I can see all of anticipatory skills I used for success. New situations posed a challenge, but I’d gather information and learn as much as I could ahead of time so that I was prepared and knew what to expect. That gave me a head start and meant I didn’t have to work as hard in the moment. I’ve talked to others who lost their hearing early in life and gradually, and it’s something we all share.

Chelle: The grocery store is one of the easiest places to use prediction and anticipation and focus on lipreading. Different clerks ask the same questions over and over again.

“Did you find everything okay?”

“Do you want paper or plastic?” (for bags)

“Credit or debit?

I can anticipate those questions almost all the time and get by. Later stamps and ice came into play at the grocery store and I was ready for that one too. It’s not asked all the time so I might get tripped up with it from time to time. I’m sure to look up and focus on his/her face for the repeat. “Would you like stamps or ice?” Ice comes up in the summer months and not so much the rest of the year, stamps can be year round.

Another question that blew me out of the water when I moved to the Salt Lake area was “Do you want curbside service?” There’s only one store that does that here and it must have taken five repeats before I understood the girl for the first time. I even threw in I was hard of hearing and couldn’t understand her. When I finally understood the question, my answer was, “You do that here?” I shop often at that store and even though it’s not asked all the time, I now anticipate it when I hear something I don’t understand.

Most grocery store clerks look down when talking or I’m looking down getting into my purse when they start talking. I hear enough to know someone is talking but I can’t understand what they say until I’m looking at them. After I hear a voice, I’ll look up and let that person know I use lipreading. (I never say hard of hearing anymore because they still look down and talk louder which doesn’t help me.) Usually people will make sure to face me after that and we get through it without a struggle. The grocery store is a great place to practice lipreading with anticipation and prediction.

Michele: Yes, the grocery store is pretty easy, however the whole looking down while talking (them), and digging in your cart to unload grocery items or rummaging through your bag for money or credit card (you) means you’re going to miss something that is said to you, so I no longer wait for something to go wrong. I let the cashier know from the get-go that I’m a lipreader and if they are looking down while talking, or if I’m looking away, I’m not going to get what they said. Problem solved before it’s even a problem.

It is a good thing that we can anticipate the routine of a thing, as that is a big help in getting through the check-out smoothly, but we can also hone in on the stumbling blocks in a situation ahead of time and take them out of the mix by informing people of what we need from the very beginning. And, as Chelle stated, some things (regional and other) just can’t be anticipated or prepared for. When it’s a place you frequent you can get “smarter” about out of the ordinary exchanges and get to know people and procedure better, but when you’re traveling or it’s in a situation that you know you’re not going to repeat, it’s a different story.

Chelle: As a side note, let’s hear for the self check out stands! There are times when I’m too tired to focus on speechreading and I just want to get out of there as fast as possible spending little as energy as possible.

Michele: Ditto! It’s great to have the option to self-check if you’re brain is fried and you just can’t talk to one more person that day.

Chelle: Restaurants are feared by many hard of hearing people but not me, I often go alone. When I walk in the door I look for daily specials right away. (That’s having the words right in front of me like in the speechreading class.) The waitress announce the specials but they usually say it so fast it sounds like “yadda-yadda-yadda, yadda” to me. I can’t keep up with their recitation without having read it first on the board. That’s anticipation.

Michele: I have a theory… many things attributed to hearing loss—reluctance to go places alone or eat at a restaurant alone, are really not so much because of your hearing loss as they are to the variety in social “norms”. I know many people who have all of their senses in tact that would never travel alone or eat out alone.

Chelle: Now for using prediction; when the waitress comes to the table, she may or may not say her name (If she does I’ll look for a name tag but I won’t overly stress this bit) . One of the first questions she will ask is “What would you like to drink” taking a note and it will be followed by “I’ll be back to take your order.” Sometimes they will ask me if I’m ready to order too after getting my drink down but not always. Somewhere in here, I’ll let them know I use lipreading and to please face me. These people want a nice tip so they are generally very good about following my request.

Before ordering I read the fine print so I can complete my order with as little questions as possible. Back to anticipation here; what are the side options for a sandwich, and what are the options for my steak, etc. Sometimes I’ll get a salad and salad dressings aren’t always listed. If I have enough energy I go for the basics, either a vinaigrette or the always dependable ranch dressing.

That’s how I get by at restaurants. If they communicated with me properly I’ll leave a generous tip so if they see me again, they will be super accommodating.

Michele: I do many of the things Chelle does—look for the specials board and read the fine print—but I also ask my server if there is a written transcript of specials. If not, I let them know that many people, not just those with hearing loss, would benefit from reading about the specials, as it enhances understanding for all.

And, for someone who has that sixth sense—they are so perceptive that they know you have a hearing loss even before you tell them—I thank them for being perceptive and sensitive, and I give them an especially generous tip.

Chelle: Banks are fairly predictable too. For some reason they often comment on the weather, maybe because they are stuck indoors? It’s easy small talk? They will ask my how I’d like my change back, clarify which account, ask me for my ID as needed. Again, there is an easy out at banks thanks to mobile banking and ATMs. It all depends on my energy level.

As we get to know people, we can apply prediction and anticipation with them too. Everyone has their favorite words and topics to talk about. John talks about politics and Annie talks about her kids and grand kids all the time. Our neighbor will talk about gardening. Nancy talk about work and Bill loves sports. Some people use certain words over and over. This is why lipreading is easier once we get to know someone. If you have some hearing left, it even seems like you hear them easier.

Michele: Yes, as we get to know people better we can often improve our “smarts” here too. However, I’ve met a few people who aren’t predictable at all and their subject list is endless. If I have a hard time following them, I tell them straight out… “You’re going to have to tell me what you’re talking about first so I can put what I see on your lips into context.” This helps, but it’s a continual effort to remind them.

Chelle: The calmer we are, the easier it is to get by in these, and more, situations. We have to learn to relax and that’s no easy task at first. The minute we get tripped up, nothing will go right. I’ve always hated going to eat at Subway for that reason. They are always looking down when they talk because they are gathering ingredients and making the sandwich, even after I’ve told them I lipread. I get so uptight there that more than a few times I asked to “Please just make the sandwich like the picture and I’ll eat it!” Only one time have I had one person point to each ingredient and give time to nod or shake my head. If I frequented the place more often I’d get the hang of it and over come my dislike of the ordering process. I’m not a big sandwich person, however, so that won’t happen anytime soon.

Michele: I have to say that I almost never let something slide these days. When I do, it makes me feel bad about myself. However, if someone else just wants to move on, that’s their prerogative. We are all different and that’s part of what we have to teach the hearing public—one size doesn’t fit all… one accommodation isn’t a solution for everyone. Be very specific in asking for what you need.

Chelle: A few days ago I paid a visit to another fast food place I rarely go. I don’t know drill. The cashier was quiet and I don’t think she enunciated well either because I could only snag a word here and there. (I think she may have been hard of hearing because she missed part of my order, or maybe she got sidetracked by my hearing issues.) She asked a few questions that took multiple repeat and some gesturing before I understood what she wanted to know. There was another question I could not get at all and we both finally gave up. I didn’t have paper and pen and neither did they. Only later did I puzzle out that she was probably asking me what sauce I wanted.

Michele: For this scenario, I’ve started to let people know that they need to give me time to process what they’ve said, as lipreading isn’t like hearing instantly. We often need time to process what someone has said, and so I say that. It really does help, as I found I was often walking away when it dawned on me what the person was trying to say or ask. When you say, “Give me a minute to work out what you said.” you’re telling them exactly what you need.

Chelle: Often my students teach me things; little differences in mouth shapes, they might show me a new app for the phone or a gadget. Last week a new student showed us her Boogie Board. Her daughters bought it for her because she has a severe/profound hearing loss and she was having a hard time with errands. It’s a board to write on and by pushing the button it erases it. It’s like having small chalk board, nothing is recorded or saved. It’s super light weight so easy to carry around. When she has a hard time understanding someone, she whips out that board and gets it in writing. How clever! I love how she does what she has to without fear to help with communication. She swears it’s been a lifesaver. I went out and bought one and I’ll keep it in my purse from now on. Well, after buy a bigger purse because the one I have now is already packed.

Michele: I love it when someone comes up with a new way to facilitate understanding. While ordering food at a restaurant in the airport in Boston, MA the server typed out what I wasn’t understanding on the ‘Notes’ feature of his smart phone. I usually do have a pen and paper with me (I save the note pads from hotel stays and carry them in the outside pocket of my purse), or I’ll sometimes resort to handing someone my phone so they can type it out. Whatever works is the right way to go, and what works for some won’t work for all. Be flexible.

boogie board

I knew this would be a good collaboration! As is often the case, Michele inspires me to do more. Being friends with and hanging out with people who are hard of hearing/deaf offers many opportunities to improve on communication by comparing notes. Does anyone else have anything to add about prediction and anticipation?