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Why Is Reading Lips So Hard?

September 19, 2018

Lipreading Mom

Lipreading Class Photo

Read my lips: Lipreading is tough.

A while back, a producer with the Wanda Sykes Show emailed me, asking for help in understanding a news video clip. The idea sounded enticing: Come to California and watch a video blurb that had the speaker’s moving lips but no audio feed.

The truth is, many words look the same on a speaker’s face. Without some idea of the context of speech, I might confuse the sounds of /f/ and /v/ or /p/ and /m/ because they look similar on the lips. Face or vase? Pan or man? Patter or matter? It was tempting to bluff my way through deciphering a silent video clip just to take a trip to the West Coast, but I didn’t.

This month, I am teaching a lipreading class at a local library. A news reporter covered one of the classes. On the first session, I asked attendees:…

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