Friday, 26 April 2013


Why am I writing a post about lipspeaking
I asked various real life and Internet friends if they knew what lipspeaking was and how it worked and more than 75% had no idea or were guessing. People said they would like a blogpost.

 I have to start out by saying I am not an expert on lipspeaking. I have known what lipspeakers are since 1995 but never used one myself or been around anyone using one. I am sharing information and knowledge that I have acquired from being on various online deaf communities. This post contains some of my contextualised opinions as well as information.

 I am using the word deaf to mean anyone with a hearing impairment and or has any kind of difficulty accessing spoken speech sounds e.g auditory processing disorder etc.

What is a lipspeaker
A lipspeaker is a person who has been specially trained to repeat a speaker's speech in a more easy to lipread way. Usually silently but they can use their voice on request.

Lipspeakers may add fingerspelling, sign language, body language and other cues to their communication and will adapt their communication according to what the deaf client requests and needs.

Where the original speaker is speaking very fast a lipspeaker may have to rephrase what is said and only repeat the more essential and salient points. A lipspeaker is supposed to be less than a sentence behind the original speaker.

 There are different levels of lipspeaking qualification. Level 3 seems to be the level required for professional lipspeaking.

North American terms
North Americans often use the term "speech reading" for what we UKers call lipreading.

I now wonder what lipspeakers are called in America...? Googling didn't initially help so I asked humans on the Internet and got an answer in under 5 minutes.  Lipspeakers in America are called "oral transliterators".

What does lipspeaking look like
As of April 2013 there is only one 2min35s subtitled video on the brand new ALS website. The video is of a spoken voice which the filmed lipspeaker is lipspeaking for. This video is a deliberately staged and slightly exaggerated example of lipspeaking which is well designed to demonstrate the principles and concepts of lipspeaking.

I am hoping (and have asked) if the ALS can upload some different short clip examples of lipspeaking in the wild and using different modifications like sign language and language modification.

Lipspeaking in situational contexts Mileage is going vary hugely for how useful people find lipspeaking dependent on many factors such as:
  • When they became deaf e.g at birth or before they developed language, early childhood, adulthood or in old age.
  • Rapidity of deafness whether sudden or gradual.
  • Level of deafness.
  • Type of deafness.
  • Amplification choices - none, hearing aids, CIs, others.
  • Communication choices - speech, residual hearing, sign (BSL/SSE/SEE), cueing and more.
  • Education - level, quality, type, awareness.
  • Individual personality and preference and situation.
  • For oral deaf (people who communicate primarily with speech and use residual hearing possibly with hearing aids and cochlea implants) and deafened (those who have been hearing and become deaf) people lipspeaking enables them to access the tone, cadence, meaning and body language of the original speaker while accessing the clarity provided by the lipspeaker. Many people could not access this with text based communication options.

    A lipspeaker (like a sign language interpreter) can move around with a deaf person in situations like conferences and places where small groups of people are clustered around talking.

    A lipspeaker terping for a group may well be much much easier to follow as it's a single person rather than having to look around to find the new speaker and switch focus to them and their new lipspeaking patterns. It takes deaf people longer to realise a new speaker has started talking and "lock in" to the new speaker's speech patterns.

    To lipread English (or an other spoken language) effectively requires the deaf person to have a suitable vocabulary for understanding what has been said. Basically someone has to have the language and vocabulary in the first place to make use of this so it may not be suitable for a BSL user who does not have good English.

    Lipreading classes
    I am a huge fan of lipreading classes for people who are deaf, especially those who become deafened as I believe they teach a lot of very useful skills for coping with being deaf in the real world.

     Action on Hearing Loss's Lipreading page:

    I must sign up for some of those classes myself at some point.

    Association of Lipspeakers The professional body which represents lipspeakers is the Association of Lipspeakers (ALS) and their newly designed website is at

    This website is pretty comprehensive and worth a read in their own words.

    You can also search for lipspeakers on the National Registers of Communication Professionals (NRCPD) website at Tip, you have to provide a location before it'll let you select professional type in the next field.

    Many lipspeakers also have their own websites.

    Lipspeaking seems to cost approx £30-£40 an hour and may be charged in minimum increments of 2 hours, or by the half/whole day.  Two lipspeakers may be required for long or complex assignments.

    My thoughts on lipspeaking for me
    I think lipspeaking still requires the deaf person to concentrate a lot.

    Lipreading and using residual hearing is tiring and only about 35% of the English language is even possible to lipread from normal lip patterns alone. I do not yet know if this is higher for lipspeakers (using modifications and otherwise).

    Last time I was tested (artificial conditions, previous hearing aids) using single words and careful male audiologist spoken sentences:
  • Without lipreading my comprehension was ~60%
  • With lipreading my comprehension was 90% 

  • I found the lag on the ALS video somewhat disconcerting and am not sure that I would gain much from a lipspeaker that I don't get from lipreading most speakers for myself. In fact watching the video felt much like my few experiences of sharing someone's BSL terp where it was useful and gave me some extra info but extremely tiring to take advantage of as my BSL is fairly poor level 2 standard. 

    I think I use a lot of my energy processing audio, even with lipreading or sign language supplementation. This means my memory for audio information is poor. At work I have to make notes or I'll not remember what my students have said properly. 

    I have an excellent (as in frightening people by what details I recall) memory for information I have seen presented in text. 

    While I haven't experienced a true test of lipspeaking I don't think it is for me. However I think more people should know about it and evaluate whether it's something they would find useful and share this information with deaf and hearing people. 

    If you have any questions, chuck em in the comments. Please tell me if I use words which you don't know, so I can go back and expand/define them if needed. 

    I'll probably edit this post as I go along.