Personal Experience in Teaching Speechreading/Psy. of Hearing Briefly

I’d like to share my Personal Experience in Teaching Speechreading & Psychology of Hearing briefly….

One of my classes I was teaching was “Speechreading & Psychology of Hearing”.   And, the finest people came through my classroom door…All of them over the age of 35 …and losing their hearing in the mid stream of their life!  They were there to learn compensatory skills and solutions to the social-psychological aspects of hearing loss and of course, Speechreading. 

At the beginning of each semester, I took a survey to find out what the background was of each of my students.   And, I found out I had M.D.’s, Psychologists, Teachers, Scientist, Ventriloquist, R.N’s, Entertainers, Magician, Business Owners, College Students ,Homemakers, Janitors….people from all walks of life.

I want to mention the Ventriloquist who appeared in my classroom one morning.  This is a man who was losing his hearing and when he talked he didn’t move his lips at all.   Every time he raised his hand to ask me a question I had to ask him to repeat not once but several times.   Then he lost patience with me and slammed his fist on the table and said, “You know something?  For a Speechreading Teacher you don’t read lips very well!”   The students started laughing and I said to him, that I do read lips but they have to move before I can read them.    He truly hadn’t looked at himself….only others and even said that most people don’t articulate anymore.    This was one student who really learned something when we had the mirror exercise.   He just hadn’t thought about it.  

Then I had a movie celebrity come to class.  He had a full blown mustache that covered his lips and a beard.  His eyebrows were over grown.  He was about 65-70 years of age.  He stated he had hearing impairment and had difficulty understanding other people because they didn’t move their lips.  I asked him if he had considered trimming his mustache above his lips and his wife immediately spoke up and said No he’s not going to do that!   I reminded them both that most of the students in the classroom had hearing impairment and no one would be able to understand him and his wife said, “We don’t care about that.   He’s here to learn to read lips.”  I reminded her that this program is about “Weism”  not “Meism”   It has to be a Win/Win situation or it won’t work. I then suggested he take private lessons because the students will not be able to read his lips and they are here to learn speechreading as well.  He would learn a lot more in the classroom setting than he’d ever learn in a private setting.    They requested private lessons but he then only had his wife to learn with, outside of me as his instructor.  That’s good to a point but he still needed a variety of people to learn with and he asked to go back into the class.   I told him could if he wanted to but the students still will not be able to read his lips and it would be a one sided learning lesson.  He went back into the class but then he only wanted to work with his wife.   They did get a lot out of the class from the different exercises and they did finish the semester and were happy with just working with each other. 

The first assignment given in that class was for each student to write an Essay titled “What Hearing Impairment Means To Me.”    For the student who came as a support system for his/her spouse I had them write an essay titled, “What It’s Like To Live With Someone Who Has Developed Hearing Impairment”.   Let me share one of those with you.



The following is one of the essays written by a student with hearing loss as her homework from the first day of class:



What Hearing Impairment Means To Me

I’ve been losing my hearing progressively over the past few years, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to communicate with my co-workers, my family and friends.  My usual high spirits have slithered to my feet with the rest of my confidence.

My mind is as sharp today as it was some 30 years ago…I still have great ideas, opinions, feelings and the like, but I notice some people just won’t take the time to speak more slowly.   So I’m not able to give input.  If I ask for a repeat they usually show marked irritation and/or they raise their voice and that makes things worse because embarrasses me.

Just because I’m over 55 some people act as if my intellect is not quite up to par or they automatically assume I’m senile.   I find myself withdrawing from a life I was once a big part of.  I’m close to the top in my profession but I live in fear of being demoted and/or my coworkers taking advantage of the fact.

This is a disability I didn’t expect this late in my career.  Hearing Impairment to me means isolation, real torture and possible loss of my position in a field I enjoy so much.  On the personal side I cannot understand  my grandchildren and they seem to hang back from me as a result.  My life at this time is losing its meaning because I’m missing so much in conversation at the dinner table, playing cards, the jokes they tell and all the chit chat around me.  These are the activities that make life worth living and I feel I’m no longer a part of it.  My husband is impatient.  He doesn’t seem to want to spend time with me.  He would rather go golfing with his buddies. I’m alone and no one wants to sit down and talk with me anymore.   I miss that terribly.   Sometimes I think my husband wants a divorce because he just doesn’t act the same with me anymore.  I miss all the attention he used to give me and we go to parties he’s off and talking with his buddies or dancing with the females and I’m sitting alone.   I don’t like the way it feels. 


Now, let’s hear it from the standpoint of the spouse.  Here is his story.

What It’s Like Living With Someone Who had Hearing Impairment

Our lifestyle is not the same anymore.   She either can’t understand me or she doesn’t listen and I suspect the latter more often than not.   She seems to know what I’m saying clear across the room when I’m talking to someone else, but she can’t understand what I’m saying when I’m standing next to her.   I feel like she’s turning me off and pulling my leg.  

I can be in the other room rummaging through my drawer looking for my golf socks…when I can’t find them I have called out to her asking her where my golf socks are and she is in the kitchen.  She responds and says,  “You have to come in here so I can hear you.  You know I can’t hear you from the bedroom.” 

The other day when that happened, I lost my cool.   I charged into the kitchen and asked her, “What do you mean you can’t hear me from the kitchen?  How in the hell did you know I was even talking to you in the first place, if you can’t hear me?”   I finally found my socks where she had folded them neatly and placed them with my golfing shirt.  We go around and around with these kind of senseless arguments.  And then, for some stupid reason, I feel guilty.

The other day she got  new hearing aids.   And when I came home she told me about them almost in detail and how great they were.   So I asked her what kind is it.   And, she said, “It’s 4:15”.   It’s stuff like that, that drives me up the wall.

She no longer likes going out to socials.  She wants me to sit with her all the time.   And, I want to have fun.  I wish she’d join me but I can’t get her to move around in the social.  So I go alone and socialize while she sits. 

I admit I have considered a divorce but I haven’t told her that yet.   I thought I’d take this class with her and see what kind of improvement she can make for herself.   My wife used to be so much fun and very loving and she probably would be more loving if I had more patience and gave her more of my time.  But it’s hard for me to do.  I feel like my life is passing me by.


There was a time when I felt most of what she’s talking about so this was easy for me to understand where she was coming from.   That’s another story down the line but let’s move on with our topic for the day.

Some things have changed and more people are aware now of hearing loss but the above 2 essays of this one couple with the wife having hearing impairment left an indelible impression forever on my mind and set forth my wheels in motion for my future career working with those who were losing their hearing in mid life. 

What we learned from the above 2 letters from a beautiful couple who had planned on retiring early in life were now experiencing chaos and only because the wife now, not only has hearing impairment, she doesn’t understand her hearing impairment so she can’t explain why she can hear her husband from the bedroom but she can’t understand what he’s saying; and the husband, although he’s impatient, certainly doesn’t understand it either.  So we have 2 people who don’t understand what to do.  That, in itself, causes chaos!  And, the secret for overcoming any problem is to understand the underlying causes, find a solution and move forward.  It comes with education.  And, if you think education is expensive …..try ignorance!  

The wife has a nerve impairment.  She can hear sound…she cannot understand speech without seeing her speaker.  Without telling the students who said what in their essays I just covered the topics and their mouth just dropped open.   We had another exercise where I asked each of them to bring in a small hand mirror.   Then I asked them to write a short story in 3-4 sentences.   When all were finished I asked them to read their short story silently…just move your lips while saying the words and watch yourself in the mirror.   The question upcoming was, “Could you read your own lips if you had to?”   There was a lot of laughter but I can tell you this husband learned so much in that class without me even talking directly to him.    I didn’t have to tell him what he was doing wrong….he found out himself without my input.    Then I had a speaker come in to the class and give his speech in a foreign language.   That’s right!   They could hear him but they couldn’t understand him.   These kind of exercises are mainly to help them understand hearing impairment.   They can hear…they cannot understand and that’s why a person with hearing impairment can hear someone calling from another room but cannot understand what s/he is saying.  

I then passed out another exercise of a short story.   But I had removed some or most of the high pitch consonants in the story and I asked a normal hearing person to read the story.   He said he couldn’t read it.  I asked him why?  And, he said all or most of the consonants are missing.   So I said that’s how those with nerve loss hear.   So I ask him to read what he could and he then said it doesn’t make sense.  I agreed with him and said, “That’s why those with nerve loss respond inappropriately sometimes, or don’t respond at all.”

My goal was to help them see themselves in an exercise without being told what they were doing wrong.   One time I walked in the classroom with dark reflective glasses on and I started talking to them without moving my lips, showed no facial expression and no body language.   For a moment they were shocked….then they started laughing…and I said what would you want me to do?   And they said, “Take off those glasses so we can see your eyes.”  I said, “Ok” and I removed them but I kept talking with no lip movements, no expression and no body language.   Then they said, “Move your lips”.   I said, “Ok”  then I was moving my lips and they could see my eyes and I said what else do you want me to do?    And they said, “Where is your facial expression and body language.  Show us that!”   So I did.   Then I said, now when someone is talking to you and you cannot understand them, define the reason why and ask them to do what it is you need.   They don’t know what you need.   If anything, if you tell them you have hearing loss, they’ll raise their voice and that’s what you don’t want them to do.  You have the responsibility to let others know what your needs are.  Identify it and express it …but pull the problem back in your lap.  Most people will be very supportive if you tell them what you need without blaming them because you can’t understand what they are saying.  

The above couple attended my classes on going for 2-3 years and they remained together and found love again.   I admit I loved my work.  To see this happen right before my eyes was the greatest payoff worth more than gold.   It’s a win/win philosophy and it works.  

We had lots more exercises to help both, those with hearing impairment and the normal hearing spouse.   I taught these classes from 1972 to 1999 at both Garden Grove School District and was a founding instructor for Coastline Community College from 1996 – 1999 and retired as a professor.   My classes were always full and students came from as far away as San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles to be in one of my classes held in Corona del Mar, Seal Beach, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach and / or Garden Grove. 

Of all the sensory deprivations, hearing loss has the most devastating effect on communication skills of those who develop hearing impairment in mid life. 

Older employees suffering from hearing loss will often respond inappropriately during conversation, creating a false impression in the listener’s mind the speaker is senile or had alzheimers.  This erroneous assumption erodes mutual cooperation & understanding, leading to further isolation for the older employee at a time when he/she may most need support from his employer, especially his boss.

I remember one of my girl friend’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers and she was only in her late 50’s.   I asked my friend if she had ever been tested for hearing impairment and she said she had not.   I suggested that she take her in for a test because if she has hearing impairment of the nerve type, she may not be understanding anything or very few words.   She reluctantly said she really does have Alzheimers because she forgets all the time.   Well, I reminded her that people with nerve loss don’t forget as much as others think they do.   They actually sometimes just pretend they hear something then turn around and ask the same question.  In short, they fake it that they understand when they don’t.   They don’t want anyone to know they have hearing impairment and most of the time they don’t understand why they can hear but not understand.  They cannot explain that because they don’t know.  When an M.D. gives them a diagnosis of Alzheimers that can be devastating to an individual’s self esteem and their health when s/he only has hearing impairment of the nerve type.   

My friend and I had some real strong conversations about that.   Finally, she took her mother in to be tested.  And, she had a profound hearing impairment of the nerve type.

She took that information back to the M.D. who diagnosed her but this time she was wearing hearing aids and she had been briefed of her impairment.  She was a different woman when she went back to the M.D.   He couldn’t believe it himself what a difference it made.   This lady lived a rather good life once she was fitted with aids, understood her problem and learned to let others know when she didn’t understand what was said.   She was no longer responding inappropriately.  She was enjoying life again and was socializing and she rejoined her card group.  It was an amazing turnaround for the lovely lady.  She was even singing in the choir at church after that .

As mentioned before, we always started our classes with a Thought For the Day by a student.    And, we always ended the class with a story or a joke also told by a student.   The following is a funny story told by a man in his mid 50’s who had normal hearing and had golfing friends who had hearing impairment.  He was in the class to develop better communication skills with his friends and his wife.  Here is his story….

 Let me share a humorous example of inappropriate responses by 3 of my golfing buddies who have hearing loss.

We’ve been long time golfing buddies and one bright and early morning we all went away on a golfing holiday together.  About half way thru the game

one man said   “Gee, it’s windy already!”   

The 2nd man said, Oh, no, it’s not Wednesday…it’s Thursdays!” 

 and the 3rd man said,   “Yeah I’m thirsty too….let’s all go have a drink!” 

That is common and it is very funny….

75% of those over the age of 60 have a hearing impairment of some degree.  And, according to research studies,  as a result of loud rock music of the 60’s and 70’s we have the largest number of hearing impaired individuals coming forward. We have the highest number of teenagers being fitted to aids than ever before in history now.   And, hearing impairment is not age related anymore.  In fact, we have more people under the age of 60 with hearing impairment than over the age of 60. And, with Social Security being what it is,  we need to be sure we have Pro-Active employers and have a plan in place to provide jobs and the support needed for them to maintain those jobs.

As a small business owner and employer, I put the following question to a small mixed group of business people who were employers and had employees.  Some had hearing impairment while others were normal hearing.  The question:  “What can we do…you & me…. to assist today’s employer and/or employee who has developed hearing impairment in the midstream of life in a way that is acceptable, supportive and effective for both, himself /herself and for the employer? 

After much discussion this is what we came up with:

#1   Don’t be afraid to promote an employee to a leadership role.

Why?  Because that’s really the best place for him/her  if they’ve already proven themselves as dependable and effective employees.  In that position everything is coming toward them, because the way society is  set up, the other employees, under his/her leadership will automatically provide support and show more respect for them in that position.   

#2    Provide them with the tools, your trust and support needed to perform the job effectively.

#3.  Provide scripts /captions with all video’s in a training situation.  And, in a large seminar, board room provide captionsverbatimpro service.

I guarantee you… will have a dependable employee that will go way beyond the call of duty for you.

How do I know that?   Been there….done that ….as an employee and as an employer!

No one needs to go thru the fear of losing one’s job….or losing the respect of co-workers simply because s/he has hearing impairment.  No one deserves to be demoted because of a hearing loss.  And, yes, these things are still happening today.

Hearing aids are the greatest things ever invented but they don’t give total clarity of speech for all users.  They do amplify sound….all sounds.  Some of the sounds can be turned down such as surrounding sounds that drown out the speech.  And, no matter how great one learns to speechread, we all still make mistakes…because some words look exactly the same on the lips and we blink our eyes and blink away the prefixes, suffixes and sometime entire syllables.  

That brings to mind a story.  Everyone has always told me that I’m an expert in speechreading.   What I’m an expert in, is I understand Speechreadng and the limitations and how to get around it…and yes, I shared that with all my students.  Everytime I hear someone tell me that I’m an expert speechreader… I tell them this story.   I wanted them to know I have the same problems they have but it’s how we deal with the problem that counts and they can do that as well.  We have to accept who we are.

Here is the story…..

My son, Tony,  and I were watching the late night talk show one evening…I was a faithful follower of nighttime talk shows and went to bed with them every night for years!

Anyway we watched the program that night and had the greatest laugh.  We were both tired from laughing and said our goodnights and went to bed.  The next morning over breakfast I proceeded to share with the family what happened on the show.  

Teasingly, I said to my husband,  “Honey, you missed a great show last night.  You’ll never believe what they did.  They actually took a survey of all the men in the audience and found that more men today like legs better than breasts.    I really had a nice pair of gams in those days so I was really beaming! 

My son Tony almost choked on his cup of coffee, reached across the table and patted my hand….and  said…….Mom, that was partially right….but they were not talking about women!   They were talking about fried chicken!

With a blink of the eye…I missed the chicken!  So much for being an “expert” in speechreading!

Now that could be embarrassing!  And, it was for a moment ….but, then we all busted out laughing.  

There is life after hearing impairment…but we have to make it enjoyable to ourselves and those around us.   Attitude is extremely important for all concerned and our quality of life is what we do to create that quality.


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