So-called “oral” communication refers to people who use lipreading (more accurately referred to as speech reading) and speech to communicate. Those who are only using lipreading get very little or no useful language information from a hearing aid. They may wear a hearing aid, but this is usually only to alert them to sound in the environment, to prompt them to look around.
There are a number of things to note in relation to oral communication. They are:
- it is not possible to lipread 100% of a conversation due to similarities in how many English sounds look on the lips (for example, the sounds for “b” and “p” appear the same on the lips and it is what happens inside the mouth that creates the sound distinction – this cannot be seen by a lipreader),
- the popular notion that lipreaders can capture everything and “overhear” conversations from far away is inaccurate,
- in fact, much of lipreading is guesswork utilising a number of strategies (such as visual cues and context) to deduce what is being said; this is why subject changes in a conversation are so difficult to follow,
- where possible, use visual cues to support your what you say,
- where possible, naturally set the context as a part of what you are saying (e.g. “now I am going to tell you about your upcoming exam …”),
- some of the time, writing key words is appropriate – ask your deaf student if this strategy will assist him/her,
- lipreading requires a great deal of concentration and is very tiring,
- lipreading ability is reduced if the deaf person is tired, stressed or ill or if the environment is unsuitable (e.g. glary sunlight, dim lighting) or if the speaker is unfamiliar and/or has an accent,
- the speech of someone who has been deaf for most of his or her life often sounds flat and/or indistinct; over time, you will grow accustomed to listening to it but it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a person to repeat what you do not understand,
- communicating in a quiet environment, one-to-one will assist effective communication on both sides; particularly for someone wearing a hearing aid, noisy environments are distracting and make the task of lipreading much more difficult,
- make sure that do not exaggerate your lip movements unnaturally; you may be trying to help, but it actually makes lipreading more difficult,
- make sure that you do not inadvertently cover your mouth with your hand or another object such as a coffee cup or pen as this will make lipreading extremely difficult.