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Learn to lip-read with Better Hearing Australia classes

The words pat, bat, and mat might sound different when said out aloud, but would you be able to tell them apart if there was no sound?

Meet the people who can thanks to lip-reading classes led by Better Hearing Australia.

Lip-reading teacher Sue Daw with class members David Urquhart and Linda Dwyer.
Lip-reading teacher Sue Daw with class members David Urquhart and Linda Dwyer. Photo: Graham Tidy

Class member Linda Dwyer said she wouldn't still be working if it wasn't for the classes she started attending six years ago when she was exploring hearing aids.

"I mostly noticed I couldn't hear my young daughter," she said.

"I was struggling in a social situation; I was almost sitting on people's laps to hear what they were saying… it was embarrassing."

BHA's Canberra secretary and aural rehabilitation teacher Sue Daw, who leads the weekly sessions along with other volunteers, said each class focuses on one lip movement such as 'F' or 'V' with an explanation of how the speech movement is formed on the lips.

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The group then practices words starting with the consonants and makes up short sentences about a specific subject.

Each class member then takes it in turn to mouth the sentence while the rest of the class writes down the words they can lip-read.

"Speech has evolved for hearing, not for lip-reading and because so many speech movements look similar it's a matter of being aware of that," Mrs Daw said.

"This is a real survival skill."

Each letter has a different frequency and with every person's hearing loss unique lip-reading can help people the pick up the gaps in words they aren't able to hear.

Another class member David Urquhart said lip-reading skills were essential in places with a lot of background noise like restaurants.

"If you watch people's lips and you know the context you pick up a lot more," he said.

"If you're trying to lip-read and someone changes the topic you're often lost."

He initially went to the classes to support his wife Betty who is deaf in one ear, but found the classes useful for his own hearing loss as well as giving him a better understanding of his wife's condition.

Mrs Daw has had hearing loss all her life, but coming to terms with hearing loss later in life can be an isolating experience.

Often people with hearing loss have been lip-reading without knowing it.

Ms Dwyer said she now plans to become a lip-reading teacher herself.

"Without the lessons I wouldn't be as confident… especially for working," she said.

"I was always scared that people will treat me as not as intelligent."

Unlike wearing glasses, hearing aids don't provide an instant change, and can initially be difficult to adjust to requiring much fine-tuning.

Admitting to have hearing loss can also be difficult, and while all three say the stigma was improving, there was still a way to go to educate people about how to speak to someone with hearing loss.

"Our classes are really the only place where people with a hearing loss can get together and all talk about it," Mrs Daw said.

"You're always scared you're going to be rejected… but once they say 'I've got a hearing loss' and the group accepts that then you can go forward."

The sessions also give class members a chance to share knowledge and find out about different devices that can make life with easier like Rodger Pen microphones that transmit audio directly into hearing aids.

Although it can be difficult to read the lips of someone with an accent, and candlelight dinners are out of the question, lip-reading has some advantages.

"It makes you a better listener because you're actually concentrating on what the person is saying… which is almost a contradiction," Mr Urquhart said.

The hearing loss management classes will resume for 2016 on Tuesday February 2. They are held weekly on Tuesdays from 2pm to 4pm and 5.40pm to 7pm at the Grant Cameron Community Centre, Holder. In March the evening classes will resume at the Woden Hellenic Club. For more information phone 02 6251 4713 or email: bhacanberra@gmail.com.