There’s a misconception that lipreading is just like reading a book. You look at the mouth and read, right?
But no, it’s far, far more complicated than that. I have to queue up words in my mind, invent possibilities that fit the facial expression, body language, approximate number of syllables etc etc. Sometimes there are a couple of possibilities, and I hold both in my mind simultaneously, waiting for it to become clear. While I’m doing this, collecting possibilities and sifting through them all, I need to keep the conversation going. So I smile and nod and say ‘mmm,’ and ‘yep…’ as appropriate. If I don’t do that, the speaker stops, and we haven’t gotten anywhere.
Sometimes though, I get right to the end, and I realise that none of the possibilities work. The whole thing just doesn’t make sense. And then I have to say, ‘Sorry, can you go right back to the start?’
And you might wonder, well why were you nodding and smiling and saying yes all along when I didn’t understand. But that’s because it’s how lipreading works. It’s not a lie. It’s the only practical way to do it.
It can take a whole minute or two after the speaker finishes, that it suddenly comes to me what was said.
As you can imagine, this is incredibly hard work. I have an hour of lipreading in me a day, tops. After that, fatigue sets in. And if I go too far, pushing myself for maybe 3 hours, I am WIPED afterwards, and my head pounds. It can literally take me days to recover.
This is why, even though I’m a pretty competent lipreader, I prefer other modes of conversation.
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