“You still have to go out there and live”

One formation on the lips can have NINE different meanings. So how would you cope if you were reliant on lip reading?

Can you lip read? Jenny Holding has recorded four simple questions (right) - see if you can understand them. The answers are at the end of the story.


“LIP reading is not a hobby, it’s not a pottery evening class, it’s an �essential life skill for someone who is hard of hearing.”

Jenny Holding is passionate about lip reading and about helping others to communicate.

After suffering hearing loss at 19, she discovered the benefits of lip reading, and leads classes equipping the hard-of-hearing with the skills needed to �negotiate everyday life.

Mrs Holding, 56, was a sixth form �business studies teacher, but 10 years ago, as her hearing deteriorated, she began to feel it was hampering her in the classroom.

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“I couldn’t hear what all the students were saying, or tell who was speaking all the time. I couldn’t keep up,” she said.

“When I went along to my first �lip-reading class it was the only place I could relax. It didn’t matter if I made a mistake because everybody was in the same situation.”

Keen to teach again, Mrs Holding was encouraged by her tutor to lead a class, and now runs Lip Reading and Communications Tactics classes in Huntingdon, Wisbech, Peterborough, Whittlesey, Chatteris and March.

“You never get to the stage where you can say you can lip read perfectly,” she said. “You are always learning, every day, and there is always somewhere to improve.

“I have people in my groups who are in their 30s, and just beginning to lose their hearing, through to a student in her 90s who is still learning new skills.”

Mrs Holding also teaches communications tactics – the practical skills to help her students use every fragment of information available to them. Reading faces effectively, context, assertiveness and what she calls “looking for clues” can all help in understanding.

She said: “With lip reading, there’s no such thing as cheating. It’s a tricky skill, so you must use all the tools you can – looking at people’s body language, gestures, expressions.

“Anticipation is helpful – what are you expecting someone to say to you? What are they telling you with their body language?”

Nor are the classes just for the hard of hearing – students are often encouraged to attend by their hearing partners, whom Mrs Holding asks to participate.

“It’s sometimes the hearing partner who has decided to start coming to classes. They are tired of not being able to communicate with their hard-of-hearing partner. They may have barely been talking for a long time, and finally decided that enough is enough,” said Mrs Holding.

“The first step is understanding those around you, so the hearing partner can take a lot from the sessions, too, understanding what their partner is going through and how to help them. When you understand, you can work together to make life easier.”

Mrs Holding helps the hearing partners to appreciate the difficulties someone �suffering hearing loss has to endure. �Substituting words that are easier to lip read, swapping vocabulary for clearer synonyms, using closed questions and learning finger spelling are invaluable.

Mrs Holding said: “There are so many homophenes – words that look similar on the lips – that you must find other ways of understanding.

“For example, B, P and M look the same on the lips, as do D, N and T. That means with just one vowel sound, the same lip movement could mean pat, bat, mat, pad, bad, mad, pan, ban or man. If you relied on lip reading only, you could end up lost.

“People often confuse lip reading with sign language – but that’s where you are trying to get something across to someone else, whereas lip reading is so that you can understand what is going on around you.

“The confidence we all get from the classes is huge. They help people to go out and face the world again.”

Mrs Holding trains her students in assertiveness, and how to take control of situations to their best effect.

“This can be from choosing the correct seat in a room, making sure the person you are speaking to is not silhouetted against the light, or that you can see everything in front of you.

“Other factors make lip reading more difficult – beards and moustaches are terrible to read, and accents can be tricky, too.”

A secondary benefit of the classes is the supportive network it offers students. For many, it is their first experience of the hard-of-hearing world, although they may have resisted for some time.

“Knowing that there are �others going through the same problems is important,” said Mrs Holding.

“When I started teaching I had only one hearing aid, though I knew I needed two. People in my class �encouraged me to get the second, and within a week I didn’t know how I had got by without it.

“Some people won’t realise they could benefit from lip reading classes, so I encourage them to come along to the first class to find out. If it’s not for them, they’ve lost nothing.

“But if it gives them the tools to communicate, then so much the better because you still have to go out there and live.”

INFORMATION: Lip Reading and Communication Tactics starts on Wednesday, September 22 at Huntingdon Library at 2pm. To find out more, contact Jenny Holding on 01354 740894.


1. Hello. How are you?

2. Are you going to the shops today?

3. Isn’t the weather awful?

4. Would you prefer a cup of tea or a cup of coffee?