Lipspeaking interpreters, ever heard of them?


In the UK one in six people have some degree of hearing loss. That’s about 10 million people who may require communication support in their daily lives. Around 50,000 to 70,000 use British Sign Language as their preferred method of communication. Nearly everyone else will rely to some extent on lip-reading. Deaf people are still excluded, overlooked and discriminated against in our society. There are far too few professionals offering language access services.

In Oxford, in 1949, the ENT consultant Gavin Livingstone, with his wife Felicity, encouraged the setting up of the Oxford Club and were fortunate in having the first hearing therapist in the country. Lipspeaking in England began sixty years ago. British Association of the Hard of Hearing (BAHOH) brought more awareness of lipspeaking.  In the 1960s it was realised that many more lipspeakers were needed and that a more formal selection and training programme should be put in place.  In the 1990s CACDP employed a part-time Lipspeaking Development Officer and the curriculum and examination process developed further, in line with national qualifications.   

In 1992, the findings of the Commission of Enquiry into Human Aids to Communication recognised that the lipspeaking curriculum and examination process needed to be further developed in a similar way to sign language interpreting. This was outside the scope of the HC Education Committee and the work passed to CACDP. The report also highlighted the need for funding for development and training as well as service provision.  During the 1990s Hearing Concern, under the guidance of Marwood Braund and with the professional expertise of Richard Gray, published the HC Register of Lipspeakers, available to all. This made lipspeaking services accessible to a very wide public. The registration process meant that standards of contracting and service delivery became much higher and more uniform.

So what is Lipspeaking? Imagine you cannot hear what people are saying when you go to the doctors or attend an accident and emergency unit.  What if the court case or legal issues to settle and people around you cannot understand.  You may have the ability to sign to a general interpreter but how can you express your emotions or feeling?  Lipspeakers offer the chance for deaf people to communicate their facial expression and inner feelings by understanding the clients perspective and doing their best to emulate a situation where the deaf client is actually speaking through them. It sounds odd but it makes a big difference compared to straight forward interpretation. People often confuse the term Lipreader with Lip-speaker or Lipreading with Lip-speaking.

A lipreader or speechreader is a person who has lost some or all of their hearing and who understands speech by looking at the lips, tongue and facial movements of the speaker and by using information provided by the context, natural flow, rhythm and stresses of speech and any residual hearing. The lip-speaker facilitates this by repeating a speaker’s message to lip-readers accurately without using their voice.

A lip-speaker is a hearing person trained to repeat a speaker’s message to lip-readers accurately, without using their voice. They produce clearly the shape of words, the flow, rhythm and phrasing of natural speech and repeat the stress as used by the speaker. The lip-speaker also uses facial expression, natural gesture and finger-spelling (if requested) to aid the lipreader’s understanding.  A lip-speaker may be asked to use their voice, using clear communication techniques, thus enabling the lipreader to benefit from any residual hearing.

Messages, which are too fast for lipreading, may have to be pared down by the lip-speaker, who is not more than a sentence behind the speaker. Many people speak up to 200 words a minute; lip-speaking, therefore, requires a high level of concentration. If two people speak at the same time, neither message can be passed on. Lip-speakers are also trained to provide a voiced transmission of the lipreader’s message if requested.  Some lip-speakers have British Sign Language (BSL) skills and can be asked to provide lip-speaking with sign support.