From the Director’s Chair: Can you read my lips?

My whole life I’ve been a lip reader. A pretty darn good one, too. I have faked it my whole life. It’s the biggest reason I make it.

Growing up, I thought everyone could read lips. I was shocked when I learned that not very many people read lips and further shocked when I realized that not many Deaf people do either. I take it for granted, really. It’s also the reason I am a great speller. I see the letters rolling off the lips and tongues of everyone I meet. I can pick up their accents by the shape of their vowels. I can’t hear their s’s but I can see them.

Speech therapy was not very helpful. Again and again trying to say those confounded s’s. Sometimes I could hear it, sometimes I couldn’t. Sometimes I got it right, sometimes I didn’t. I didn’t know what worked and what didn’t. I still don’t know what my tongue is supposed to do when I use the letter ‘s’. All I see are the top teeth and the bottom teeth coming together like a bad smile.

Not to mention, I still feel get a panicky feeling when I see these things:

Whisper Phone


Did you know that only 30% of the English language is visible from the exterior? And even then, b’s look like p’s. And a glottal g looks like the letter k. Those are only two examples. A popular game has surfaced on YouTube lately where one person puts on noise-canceling headphones to block the sound while the friend reads a word. The object of the game is to try to guess the word by reading the lips. Jimmy Fallon has done it on his show numerous times. Some videos are offensive and not appropriate to share on our site but for the most part, it’s people just having fun. While I know that some in the Deaf community don’t care for this game, I think this game has the potential to raise awareness of the difficulty of lip reading.

My blind friend and I had an interesting (and short) conversation. He is a master pianist and is off-the-charts incredible with hearing any song and then being able to play it. He can even match a singer’s pitch with the piano. It’s remarkable. So naturally, his world is very auditory.

One day, as I’m driving him home I told him that I have a hard time saying my s’s and how even my kids have tried to help me say them correctly. He immediately said, “Well, just make a hissing sound really loud like this,” and then proceeded to hiss. I laughed. I told him, “That’s like me telling you to squint really hard so you can see.” He got kinda quiet and we didn’t really talk about it anymore. I didn’t think I sounded defensive but there was definitely an awkward silence after that.

This video resonates strongly for me in such a positive way. So often, the responsibility of communication falls on the person who has the least ability to communicate verbally. The rest of the world looks at you, waiting for you to catch up. When you don’t, they move on and say, “Never mind.”

It’s a great watch:

CAN YOU READ MY LIPS? from Little Moving Pictures on Vimeo.

Here is another video that addresses the pain of hearing the words “never mind” after a lot of effort to communicate. WATCH HERE


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