How can I better communicate with someone with a hearing loss?

Hearing aids are beneficial in many situations. However, there are some listening events where hearing aids alone cannot provide enough benefit. In those situations, communication partners can help the person with hearing loss be more successful in hearing. Remember, communication involves at least two individuals: a talker who sends the message, and a listener who receives the message. You, as a member of this communication pair, can improve the conversation by following a few simple strategies.

Gain attention

Gain the listener's attention before you begin talking, for example, by saying his or her name. If the person with hearing loss hears better from one ear, move to that side of the person. Also consider touching the listener's hand, arm or shoulder lightly to gain attention. These simple gestures will prepare the individual with hearing loss to listen and not miss the first part of the conversation.

Maintain eye contact

Face the person who has the hearing loss. Make eye contact. Your facial expressions and body language add vital information to the message being conveyed. For example, you can "see" a person's excitement, joy, confusion or frustration by watching the facial expressions or body language.

Keep hands away from face

When talking, try to keep your hands away from your face. You will produce clearer speech and allow the listener to make use of those visual cues by keeping your mouth and face visible.

In addition, most listeners can improve their perception by watching the talker’s face – also known as speechreading. Speechreading helps to improve speech perception. Many sounds can been seen that are hard to hear. For example, the sound /s/ is very difficult to hear but easily speechread. It is important to not over exaggerate your talking, talk with food in your mouth or chew gum when talking to a person with hearing loss. Keep in mind that heavy beards and moustaches can also hide your mouth.

Speak naturally

Speak distinctly, but without exaggeration. You do not need to shout. Shouting actually distorts the words. Try not to mumble, as this is very hard to understand, even for people with normal hearing. Speak at a normal rate, not too fast or too slow. Use pauses rather than slow speech to give the person time to process speech. Give clues when changing subjects or say “new topic."

Rephrase rather than repeat

If the listener has difficulty understanding something you said, repeat it once. If they are still having difficulty find a different way of saying it. Use different words with the same meaning. For example: “I am going to the grocery store." Repeat once and then rephrase. “I am going to the supermarket," If he or she did not understand the words the first time, it's likely he or she will not understand them a second time. So, try to rephrase it. Another option is to ask what the person did not understand and just repeat that phrase or word. For example, "grocery store" is what was not understood, so just repeat those words "grocery store."

Talk away from background noise

Try to reduce background noises when talking. Turn off the radio or television. Move to a quiet space away from the noise source. When going to a restaurant or making dinner reservations, ask for a table away from the kitchen, server stations or large parties.

Good lighting is important

A person with hearing loss can speechread to assist in hearing so lighting on your face is important. When in a restaurant or other social gathering, sit where there is good lighting so that your face can be more easily seen. Poor lighting may cause shadows on the face of the talker. Conversely avoid sitting with strong lighting coming from behind, such as through a window, as that will cause difficulty looking into the bright light.

Use an app to translate from spoken word to written word, or use texting

There are numerous apps that can be downloaded that can allow you to speak into a smart phone and have your words show up on the screen for the person with hearing loss to read. One such app is called Dragon. The use of texting is also an efficient use to supplement communication.

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