One of the characters in my (would be) game becomes deaf from a car accident early on in his life. Because of the circumstances surrounding the car crash, he refuses to use his hearing aid for anything outside school.

So when he talks to people outside of school, he relies heavily on lip reading, to the point where some people don't even realize he's deaf - he keeps the fact that he's deaf a secret.

The rare times his lip reading skills don't "save" him, such as when someone called out his name when he was looking the other way, is just blamed on social awkwardness, something along those lines.

Cue the question above: how well would a deaf person be able to read lips? I know there are certain factors that affect how much you understand (I heard lip readers hate people with beards and moustaches), but could it be so good that someone might not even notice that the person they're talking to is deaf, unless they notice how fixated the person is on their lips?


closed as off-topic by Mołot, Aify, SRM, Hohmannfan, JDługosz Dec 6 '16 at 9:08

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    $\begingroup$ Do they practise a lot? With practise I suspect you can become near perfect. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Nov 30 '16 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ Yes - he does everything he can to hide his deafness and to NOT have to use his hearing aid, so he became really good at lip reading. All I'm fearing now if he becomes too good... like, is it even realistic at this point? $\endgroup$ – noClue Nov 30 '16 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ There is actually a real life person who fits your description perfectly, she's an Australian painter, I forget her name though, but nearly perfect conversational abilities despite being totally deaf since birth. $\endgroup$ – Samwise Nov 30 '16 at 23:13

Perhaps Perfect Lip Reading is Possible

Lip reading proficiency is essentially defined by

  1. Physical ability to perceive movements of the vocal apparatus
  2. Intellectual ability to comprehend what is seen

If a person increases skill level in either area, they can become a better lip reader.

Nigh Superhuman Lip Reading

Although some experts believe perfect lip reading is not possible, I feel that is a generalization, not an absolute.

For example, there are people who develop skills to a level normally deemed impossible, such as the people who developed almost superhuman echolocation to compensate for being blind. Had hearing experts been asked if human echolocation were possible before it was demonstrated, I seriously doubt anyone would have said yes.

Perhaps your character develops the ability to sense minute changes in air pressure with his hair, like spiders do, in order to compensate for any gaps in ability to distinguish vocal movements solely through sight. Or perhaps the character develops the ability to distinguish phonemes based on seeing minute vibrations, or lack thereof, in the speaker's neck and facial tissues. (However, this becomes not strictly lip reading, but body reading, so perhaps it will not fit your exact requirements.)

In addition, savantism exists in many forms. I see no reason why a person couldn't be a lip reading savant, similar to Kim Peek, who was the basis for the movie Rainman. Savants demonstrate abilities normally deemed impossible for humans, yet still the abilities exist. Therefore, I have a hard time always believing experts who say something cannot be done--it may not be common, and it may not yet have been demonstrated, but that may not mean it is absolutely impossible.

Perhaps these increased physical and conscious abilities could be developed after the accident, or perhaps he could have had them since birth, yet never realized they were there.

  • $\begingroup$ I think the challenge would be that the lips do not contain all of the information needed to determine what phonem is used, so you have to fill in the gaps with some other source. One question might be, after you account for all of those other non-lip sources of information, do we still call it "lip reading?" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 30 '16 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Well, that's a good point...I hadn't thought of that. I suppose it might become a judgement call based on the author's needs. $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Nov 30 '16 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your in depth answer :) All the examples you have listed though, like the tingling spider senses (ha), have there been actual examples or are those just possibilities that nobody proved (yet)? My game isn't the most realistic (super natural stuff is involved), but I don't want to misrepresent deaf people and give them stuff that even the best can't actually do (or hasn't proven to be able to YET). Regarding lip reading and body reading, I actually don't care if he does either of them, as long as he can hold a conversation with his peers and not make them notice his deafness. $\endgroup$ – noClue Dec 1 '16 at 1:42
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    $\begingroup$ @noClue I have never heard of any human that can detect sound via body hair. But, even in this age of CERN and Fermilab, we only discovered spider's ability to hear just this year. If everyone on earth became deaf, we might have a big enough data pool in which to find a small percent of people developing extraordinary alternative methods of hearing, or discover speech savants. Bottom line is I think if you want a solution the average person can feel is very plausible, savantism might be the best choice. If you want to delve into the improbable yet possibly possible, the other ideas might work. $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Dec 1 '16 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ Just for fun: Seagulls! (Stop It now) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 24 '16 at 18:57

As a hard-of-hearing person who lost most of his hearing to rubella as an infant part of my speech therapy involved speechreading. This was done to help enhance my comprehension of words being spoken to me beyond the partial recovery granted by hearing aids. But I had to be trained to do this, working one-on-one with a licensed therapist in exhausting sessions. It was over twelve years from when I was a toddler right up to high school. By the end of it I could watch the news with the sound off and know exactly what the newscaster anchors were saying. But it's a skill, and like all skills it needs to be constantly exercised to remain sharp, and having long since left the academic world (and the constant social interaction which kept such skill sharp) I no longer read lips like I used to.

As for the character, my guess is that if he uses his hearing aids in school, he'll probably end up using them outside of it, too. Never mind communication, there are too many environmental sounds that, when missed, become dangerous to the individual. Car horns, crack of thunder, screeching tires, whistling sound of things flying through the air, etc. and then there's things like music and birdsong and other pleasurable things that anyone would enjoy outside of an academic setting. The only sort of individual who'd refuse to wear hearing aids outside of school would be a Deaf person; someone born with the trait, who is proud of it, and sees hearing as a betrayal of true self.


Lipreading, also known as speechreading due to the amount of other visual information and cues that deaf and hard of hearing individuals are taking in, is difficult and highly inaccurate on its own. Many of the sounds we make in the English language are made with the middle to posterior portion of your tongue and cannot be seen at all.

Here is a link that might help: http://hearinglosshelp.com/blog/speechreading-lip-reading/

It is a blog written by a person who is a certified speechreader and she includes some statistics in her blog along with personal experiences that you might find helpful.


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