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Lipreading vs. Sign Language

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By: Albany Jacobson Eckert
Junior Intern

I have a genetic degenerative hearing loss. I was born hearing, got hearing aids at age 11, and will become deaf probably by the time I am 30. I decided to start learning ASL last year. One time, I told a nurse about this and she told me that I needed to learn to lip-read. I was briefly taken aback, but I assured her I’m learning sign language. She just ignored me and kept insisting that I needed to learn to lip-read.  My experience is probably not unique. And it’s probably not the last time that will happen to me. But, if it does, I can happily give these reasons for my decision:

  1. Only around 30% of English can be read on the lips. And that’s probably in an ideal situation: no mustaches, no mumbling, clear light, etc. On the other hand, sign language can be understood from across a room.
  2. You cannot learn to lip-read the same way you can learn to sign. Learning sign is very straightforward – there are specific rules for the vocabulary and grammar. But, becoming skilled at lip-reading takes year and years of experience and trial and error, which can all go out the window with a single mustache.
  3. Lip-reading is mainly a one-way communication method. Meaning that the hearing person can understand you if you speak, but trying to understand the hearing person can get pretty stressful. Sign language, though, even if you’re still learning, can be understood by both parties.
  4. Lip-reading is optimized by knowing the context of the situation. If a deaf person enters a spoken conversation with no idea of the context, they’d probably have a hard time catching up. But, with a signed conversation, a person can probably understand the conversation after a few seconds. If not, they can always ask.
  5. Learning sign language enhances your linguistic skills and cognition. This is true with any language. Languages are generally bound by rules and patterns, which people can easily detect. Lip-reading is less predictable and can vary from speaker to speaker.
  6. Learning to sign opens up a whole new culture. And a culture with people who will understand you better! Why didn’t I start learning earlier???

Or, I can just show them this link: http://www.chums.co.uk/blog/?page_id=601 Even then, this test is multiple choice!

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This blog post represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views supported by The Deaf Dream.

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