“You really need to learn how to lip read.”

I walked into a busy classroom and the teacher motioned for me to go over to where they were sitting. As I approached, they proceeded to whisper a remark about a child in their class. The whispering took place behind their hand. When they realised I hadn’t heard them, they removed their hand from their face and repeated the whispered remark; making over-pronounced shapes with their lips. The classroom was noisy, and I had no idea of context to help me in decoding what my colleague had said to me. They began to chuckle. I feigned an amused-sounding laugh; assuming this was an offhand statement which required no verbal response, and that a laugh in concurrence would suffice. Yet my reaction failed in convincing the teacher of my comprehension. The comment which followed was not about a child, but instead was directed at me. My colleague was obviously irritated at my inability to hear them, and the comment was made in response to this annoyance. It was conveyed with intense clarity. Each word was enunciated in a loud voice: “You really need to learn how to lip read.” I heard it perfectly. I left the room without a verbal response.

A couple of days later, again I went in to the same classroom and again my colleague signalled for me to go over to where they were sitting. They proceeded again to whisper a remark about a child in their class. I didn’t hear them, and again the same words were spoken: “You really need to learn how to lip read.” This time however, the comment was made twice. Both times I was unresponsive. Although I hadn’t heard them clearly the first time, I knew what had been said, though I wasn’t able to voice a response. I stared, aghast, at my colleague as they reiterated themselves, looking at me with a mixed expression of irritation shifting towards smugness; smirking at their own wit. How could they think this was appropriate, even funny?

I am accustomed to letting go of frustrating moments. I can shrug off aggravated looks from strangers when I fail to move out of their way in the supermarket, or when I don’t respond to them when they address me on my deaf side. I have learnt not to concern myself with raised annoyed voices, and irritated repetition of words. I even try to find retrospective humour in times of mishearing. I was surprised at my reaction to my colleague’s comment. My usual response of smiling to create a barrier; in protecting myself from such remarks was, for that moment, deactivated. My openness in talking about my hearing loss and explaining how it can make communication difficult, especially in noisy environments, was momentarily paused. After receiving the comment I felt vulnerable, weak, confidence drained. This colleague was someone who had asked me questions about my hearing loss and had shown interest in learning about my tinnitus. I thought they had some understanding. I failed to form a verbal response because I was in shock. I was upset. I was disappointed.

I have since had time to contemplate the interaction and have structured a response for any similar situation in the future. I should have said to my colleague that while I’m sure it wasn’t their intention, that their comment hurt me. I should have told them that I understand it can be frustrating for people to have to repeat themselves, and that this frustration may be elevated when they are busy. I would like my colleague to know that I am beginning to find myself watching lips during conversation, in situations where there is a lot of background noise, or when someone has a strong accent. I am using the shapes and movements of lips to help me translate the jumbled sounds into some meaning. I should have also told them that they had a valid point – although it could have been conveyed with some compassion or during a confidential moment. I should learn how to lip read. Not because my colleague thinks so, but because it seems like the natural next step for me in developing my communication skills.

In future I would like to give some information to my colleagues about lip reading. I would like to suggest ways of helping someone who is trying to read lips. Just because someone has experienced a hearing loss it doesn’t mean, by some kind of transferred skill, that they are instantly able to lip read with ease. These skills take time, practise and patience. I would like to explain that background noise and lack of context can make lip reading extremely difficult. That reading someone’s lips whilst they are speaking behind their hand is impossible, and that over-pronounced lip shapes are not helpful for the reader.

This experience has drawn my attention to the lack of understanding my colleagues may still have of my situation. Despite having explained some of the communication difficulties I face, I know it is easy for people to forget. I don’t look any different to how I did before my hearing loss. I am thankful for the people who ask questions, who listen, and who try to have some comprehension of my condition. Yet some people may not feel comfortable to ask questions. If I don’t explain how this type of comment can make me feel, then how are people going to know what an upsetting impact such a comment may have? Next time I will explain. Now I feel ready to respond to any similar remarks in a strong and positive manner, as the hearing loss advocate I am learning to become.

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Author: myhearinglossstory

Hi, My name is Carly. I am 36 years old and I am currently living in Spain. I am originally from a small seaside town in Yorkshire called Bridlington, and have also lived in China and Thailand. I am an Early Years primary school teacher, and have been teaching for more than 12 years. I love walking in the countryside, getting lost in Madrid, going out for breakfast, taking photos, listening to music, storytelling podcasts, baking, running, drinking wine, and eating spicy food. In August 2016, I experienced sudden sensorineural hearing loss in my left ear. I started this blog as a way to inform my friends and family about my progress, for anyone else who is going through a similar experience as me, or for anybody who is interested in learning about this type of hearing loss, and the way it can affect everyday life.

28 thoughts on ““You really need to learn how to lip read.””

  1. I am sorry that you have had to deal with such insensitive people at work. It is good though that you have taken time to reflect on how they made you feel and how you can respond going forward. I have some sensorineural hearing loss in my left ear and now have a hearing aid which does help a little. However, like you I do find it difficult to hear when there is a lot of surrounding noise and have sometimes been questioned as to whether I am actually wearing my hearing aid as there is an expectation that I can hear perfectly with it which is not the case. Thank you for your blog which has been a great help to me.

    On Tue, 21 Aug 2018 at 17:53, My Hearing Loss Story wrote:

    > myhearinglossstory posted: “I walked into a busy classroom and the teacher > motioned for me to go over to where they were sitting. As I approached, > they proceeded to whisper a remark about a child in their class. The > whispering took place behind their hand. When they realised I hadn'” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Anne. Thank you for reading and for your comment. Yes, there are a lot of misconceptions about hearing aids. I think most people assume that they aid hearing like a pair of glasses can help sight. Unfortunately that’s not the case, and background noise, feedback, the electronic sound produced when wearing hearing aids, distortion, and the tiredness that comes with trying to listen all the time, are things people really don’t know about unless they have worn a hearing aid. I am sorry to hear you have been questioned as to whether you are actually wearing your aid…what a personal snf insensitive comment to make…and surely this is your choice anyway!
      Yes, it is important to reflect and I feel much more confident I will be able to deal with this kind of comment in the future.
      Take care
      Carly

      Like

  2. Lip reading, even by the best, is imperfect. Studies show that only about 35 – 40% of the English language.
    https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/569802_6
    So no matter how well versed you get at lip reading, you will probably never get it all, especially without context.
    That might be something you tell your colleague, especially if they seemed interested and caring before, perhaps they just need a bit more information to understand that lip reading isn’t that easy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Wendy. Lovely to hear from you. How are you?
      Yes, exactly! Lip reading is nowhere close to being accurate. It is just another technique to give a clue to what people are saying.
      I am sure my colleague has no idea what impact their comment had, and I think you are right that they really do just need a bit more information about lip reading and hearing loss.
      Take care Wendy and thank you for comment.
      Carly

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Carly. I’m doing well. Mostly. 😊
        I’ve been thinking about your encounter and how you felt that you need to read lips. Honey, it’s just not that easy, many people can never do it. I can often only follow a conversation when I can hear some and see their lips too.
        People think that it’s like you see on TV. Someone can read what others are saying from across a room, I can’t imagine that actually ever happening.
        I hope your colleague will be open to learning more about the realities of hearing loss.
        Take care Carly. Great post, good conversations.
        xo Wendy

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hello Wendy. Thank you for your comment.
        I am glad you are doing ok.
        I am currently trying to read lips whilst being able to hear some of what people are saying, although I still find this very difficult. Lip reading certainly has it’s limitations.
        Take care too Wendy, and thank you as always for your support x

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  3. So sad Carly that these colleagues have really not understood the situation that you have found yourself in. You have coped with all this amazingly so hold your head high, it comes to something when you are probably shown more understanding by the children than the adults who are supposed to be teaching them life skills. The problem seems to rest with them, not you. xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Anita. How are you? Thanks for reading and for your comment. I will continue to hold my head up high 🙂 I think if anything happens like this again, I really need to explain in more detail about my hearing loss and the difficulties I now have with understanding speech, especially when there is background noise present.
      I hope you are well and have been enjoying some sun this summer!
      Take care
      Carly xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. About the previous comment. Do you find the children understanding? I have recently started seeing my niece and nephew (moved to the area) and they are so patient with me. It’s nice. I was surprised at how patient they can be. They dont have the best role models.
        xo….w

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My own nieces and nephews have, so far, been pretty patient with me as well when I have trouble hearing them– or even hearing someone else. They will occasionally repeat something for me that someone else said, and more than once this has saved me from having to ask the person directly for a repeat– not that I have any problem with doing so, it’s just nice to have one or two instances where I didn’t have to. 😛 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      3. This is an interesting point about children. I hadn’t really thought about it until now. ‘edawng’ I am glad that your nieces and nephews are also patient, and help by repeating things for you 🙂
        I will start back at work next week (I work in an infant school), and am going to pay more attention to the way the children interact with me, in particular their reactions when i am struggling to hear them…Maybe this is a topic for another blog post 🙂
        Take care
        Carly

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Hello again Wendy
        I actually find that children will always make themselves understood 🙂 Most children are very patient. I am glad your niece and nephew are being so kind and patient with you. It’s a shame adults can’t always be like this x

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Carly. Can’t even begin to wrap my mind around the rudeness and insensitivity of these louts. I’m sorry if they are your colleagues and friends, but that is nothing short of humiliating a person with a handicap and that is being a lout.

    Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of all of us with hearing impairment.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Al. Thanks for reading and for your comment. How are you? I hope you are healing well after your operation?
      Yes, It’s really difficult to understand how someone would think such a comment is appropriate…I hope that if I am in a similar situation in the future, I will be confident enough to explain more about the difficulties someone with hearing loss may have..and that conversing in a noisy environment is extremely difficult and exhausting!
      Take care Al
      Carly

      Like

      1. Doing OK, Carly, thanks for asking. Still kind of hobbling around with a cane and getting a bit impatient, but everyone says “it just takes time” so there you are. I think my chances of ever running a marathon have dropped from .000003% to absolute zero.

        I want to apologize for my harsh remarks about your friends, but when you get to my age, you tend to stop pulling punches and calls ’em as you sees em”.I wouldn’t worry too much about trying to explain the ramifications of hearing loss before letting them know their behavior was poor. One thing I have learned over the years is that people with aggressive behavior (and this was a type of aggression) only respond to aggressiveness in kind. Otherwise it only gets worse.

        You have my promise this is the last I will say on it. I think I have sufficiently calmed down now (he, he).

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hello again Al,
        Glad to hear you are doing OK, although I imagine it must be very frustrating waiting for time to heal you.
        No need to apologize for your comment! I am glad of your support, and also glad that this post has prompted a bit of a discussion 🙂 You are right, I would never behave like this towards anyone, and so it’s not fair that others choose to behave like this towards me.
        Take care and hope you start to hobble less very soon 🙂 …I’d love to see a post saying that you were going to attempt a marathon 😉 hehe
        Carly

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Carly, I’m sorry to hear that you encountered such frustration with insensitive people. They had no idea how hurtful to you of what they did.
    I learned to read lips over the years. Sometimes my husband forgets and talks to me from another room. At first, I ran over to his room and asked him to repeat. Right now, I don’t, I just say, if I don’t see you, I can’t hear you because I have to read your lips.
    I appreciate how you think of a better way to respond such impolite people. You’re going to make them a better human being.
    Yes, don’t let them discourage you. Don’t let their behavior control you. I’m sure you can be in control of the situation and turn it into a better experience for you.
    Take care of yourself!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Miriam. It’s lovely to hear from you. How are you?
      Thank you for your comment.
      You are right, I’m sure people don’t always realise how upsetting these kind of comments can be to someone with a hearing loss.
      I hope to be able to take better control of the situation in the future if I am ever in a similar position.
      Take care Miriam!
      Carly

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome, Carly. Write about it helps you to process your thoughts and makes a greater impression of that thought in your mind and be more aware of the situation when it comes up again.
        Take care, Carly.
        ❤ Miriam 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Nothing significant to add to the comments already made except maybe if you got the head teacher to arrange a session on hearing loss awareness for all the staff???? Including how hard lip reading is, and how it still leaves the person more or less reliant on inspired guess work a lot of the time.
    People just don’t “get” hearing loss, do they? We look OK so they think it’s nothing much. Well done you for holding your head up high but make sure you have a tribe of allies you can count on and who you can have a good moan to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Vera. It’s great to hear from you! Thank you for your comment. I like your idea of the staff meeting. Perhaps this is something I should try and arrange. I often think that having more hearing-loss awarenesses is something that could be applied to working in a classroom. Things such as speaking in a clear voice, facing someone you are talking to, taking turns to speak etc are all positive ways of communicating in a classroom.
      Anyway, I hope you are getting on well with the cochlear implants and have enjoyed the Yorkshire sun this summer?!
      Take care
      Carly

      Like

  7. I really don’t know what to say ! It seems that the in-thing nowadays is for people (which is rubbing off on to children) to be big the nastier they are. Where did kindness, caring and understanding go ? I suppose it is up to us to stand up against such actions and way of thinking. Sometimes it is better to confront the abuser than be quiet and be the victim. It is a form of bullying which has to stop.
    Did the nasal surgery help my friend ?
    Anyway, it is lovely to read your thoughts and experiences dear Carly and I do hope that these issues you have written about will be solved soon.
    Big hug. Ralph ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Ralph. How are you? It’s lovely to hear from you. I hope you and Natascha are both well. Unfortunately the nasal surgery wasn’t successful. Although they managed to open the top of my nasal passage so that air can come out of my nose, I am still unable to breath in air on this side. The problem is that my nasal passage is too narrow for any air to enter. I will be having another consultation to see whether there is something else that can be done to help. (I had the operation originally as the specialists thought that maybe if I could breathe properly, it might help reduce some of the pressure I feel in my ears). Anyway, apart from that i am well, and have had a lovely summer 🙂
      Best wishes from Spain ❤
      Carly

      Liked by 2 people

      1. So sorry that the surgery didn’t come up to expectations Carly. They do like to experiment when they don’t really know what’s going on, don’t they ? Glad you are generally well though. We are well and happy even though our summer has been sun, rain and thunderstorms usually daily. Hugs. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

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