Communicating with someone with a hearing loss can be challenging. Depending on the severity of the hearing loss, conversations can sometimes be very frustrating. But communicating with one another is how we stay connected. It helps us to feel like we are valued and loved. Here are some tips on how to communicate more effectively with someone with a hearing loss.
1. Look at the person you are talking to
People with hearing loss often need to supplement what they are hearing with lipreading. They need to be able to see your face in order to read your lips. Plus, when you turn away from them, you are directing the sound wave away from the listener so the sound isn’t as loud. You should always look at the person you are speaking to.
2. Talk slower
Slow down your rate of speech. Don’t speak so slowly that it sounds stupid, but research shows that we do not process visual information as fast as auditory information. So, if the person is reading your lips, slowing down the rate of speech helps. Also, even if they are not reading your lips, slowing down your speech rate will give the listener a chance to process what they have heard and figure out the meaning of your message.
3. Remove gum/food/candy/etc. from your mouth
When you have gum or some other item in your mouth, you change the way you move your jaw and lips when you speak. This changes the way the speech sounds and looks. This in turn makes it difficult for a person with a hearing loss to understand what you are saying. It’s kind of like listening to someone with an accent; they are speaking English, but with a different stress and speech pattern that makes it harder to understand.
4. Don’t cover your mouth
In the same way that having something in your mouth complicates things, covering your mouth also makes things difficult. A person who needs to read lips can’t do that if you cover your mouth. Even an over-large mustache or beard can cover the lips and make it difficult to understand your speech.
5. Don’t over-articulate or exaggerate your speech
When you over-articulate or exaggerate your speech, you distort the way sounds look. It makes a speech reading task more difficult. You should talk normally, just make sure to look at the person you are speaking to and slow down.
6. Reduce background noise
We live in a very noisy world. Whenever possible, we should try to reduce background noise when we are trying to communicate, especially with individuals who have hearing loss. Mute the TV, turn down the music, turn the fan down or off, whatever you need to do to reduce ambient noise. In public spaces where you can’t decrease the volume of the noise, try to find a location that is quieter, perhaps in a corner or along a wall. Maybe turn so that the noise is coming from behind the listener and you don’t have so much competing sound coming from the same direction.
7. Decrease the distance between you and the person you are talking to
There are many times we try to communicate from a distance or from even a different room. The ideal talker-to-listener distance is no more than 10 feet. Get up and move closer. It helps up hear better as well as see better. While hearing is unique in that it does not require direct line of site to work, it is much more effective when we are closer to one another. Keep in mind that some people speak much softer than others. We need to be closer to hear them.
8. Get the listener’s attention first
How many times have you had someone say something to you, only for you to respond with “what?” and then suddenly understand what was said before they even repeat it? Sometimes when we are paying attention to a task (reading, watching a movie, writing a letter), we “tune out” other things going on around us. It’s called concentrating. If you make sure you have your listener’s attention before you start to speak it will give them the chance to adjust their focus from what they are doing to you.
9. Simplify your message
Long, run-on sentences with big complex words may make you sound smart, but it makes it very difficulty to understand you. We don’t always hear every word in a sentence, but we can use our knowledge of the topic of the conversation, the person we are speaking with, and our knowledge of language in general to fill in the blanks of what we miss. We all do it from time to time. That task becomes exponentially harder when you use complex, sophisticated words in run-on sentences. The same can be said when we use too much slang or jargon. Just use “plain vanilla” speak to be understood better.
10. Rephrase, don’t repeat
If someone you are talking to doesn’t understand what you said, you have a better chance of having them understand your meaning if you rephrase rather than repeat word-for-word. They didn’t get it the first time. What makes you think the second time will go any better? If you rephrase the sentence, maybe something you say will trigger an “Ah-ha” moment of clarity.