Less Lip Reading Helped Me Rediscover Eyes

After being fitted for new hearing aids, Nancy M. Williams relies less on lip reading and discovers the emotional resonance of looking into people's eyes.
Update Feb 6, 2023: This post has been updated with new links on lip reading.
Close up of the top half of a woman's face, focusing on her eyes, which people miss with lip reading.

Lip reading to me is as natural as walking. Since I was born with hearing loss, it is quite possible that I began reading lips as an infant. Watching people’s lips form the shapes of consonants greatly increases my comprehension.

But in 2010, when I upgraded to a new pair of powerful hearing aids, I found that I needed to rely less on lip reading. The first moment I put on my new hearing aids, I yelped in pain. I was unprepared for the onslaught of sound. The forced air coming through the heating vents sounded like a gale. The next moment, however, I realized that I could hear my audiologist speak without looking at her lips.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Lip Reading

In middle school, before I was fitted with my first hearing aid, I struggled to hear teachers when they turned their back to the class to scrawl an equation on the blackboard because I could no longer see their lips. And television programs and movies, in which the voices are not perfectly synchronized with lip movements, were and are still a bear for me. (Captioning has greatly increased my comprehension.)

When most people converse, they spend at least some, if not all, of their time looking into the eyes of their fellow conversationalist. Instead, I watch lips, focusing on lip reading. Periodically, I glance up at a person’s eyes to maintain conversation, but then my gaze darts back to the lips. Sometimes I worry that I might appear strange or off-kilter because I am looking slightly down from people’s gaze when they speak.

What I Discovered in People’s Eyes

Once I was fitted with new aids and needed to rely less on lip-reading, I discovered what for me was up to then the largely unseen world of people’s eyes. I was surprised to find that the expressions on people’s eyes did not always match their lips. Some acquaintances sported cheerful smiles, but lurking in their eyes were suppressed resentments or frustrations. Other people, in contrast, frowned with worry, yet reflected in their eyes was a deep empathy or kindness. The realization that up until now my picture of acquaintances had been somewhat incomplete chilled me.

Had I not returned to adult piano lessons after a 25-year hiatus, it is quite likely that I would have delayed upgrading my hearing aids for another few years. I would still be out there, missing not only the lovely resonance of the highest notes on the piano, but also the emotional resonance in people’s eyes. I’m grateful for this second chance.

Hearing Link Services’ article, “How to Lipread” and Lipreading.org’s “A beginner’s guide to lipreading” are useful resources for people with hearing loss.
Photo by Frank Flores on Unsplash.


  1. Avatar

    I had a similar experience. I had always struggled at school. Sat next to someone who knew what was going on. Hid at the back for fear of being asked something. When I played instruments I always played the quieter notes harder to make them sound the same as the ones I could hear. I rested my teeth against the side of my guitar to feel the resonance through my jaw. I’d always lip read, as a back up. Then I got my hearing aids and felt bombarded. My eyes seemed to give in looking, since my brain was now overloaded with listening. I felt tired at first, then suddenly sound appeared as colour and finally music which seemed like a loaf of bread, doughy and stuck together, became sliced and sent to the four corners of the room. I was sat in the sound and heard the breath of the oboe player, the brush across a drum and the resonance. I was on some kind of high with the whole experience. What a waste of 40 years struggling. I’m now greedy for new music.

  2. Nancy M. Williams, Founding Editor

    Helen, thank you for sharing your experience. How wonderful to hear what a big difference hearing aids have made for you!


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