Product Review: Read My Lips! DVD series

One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to learn to read lips. This was provoked by a visit to a nightclub where the music is far too loud for conversation (a kind of place I don't visit often - otherwise I would have thought of this years ago). My friends and I were attempting conversation by screaming into each others' ears. My first thought was: this is why everyone needs to learn sign language. But then lip-reading appeared a more practical choice - sign language only works with a proficient counterpart, whereas you can read others' lips with no special skill or effort on their part.

And then lip-reading can be useful for other purposes besides, as you know if you watched Tom Cruise in MI-III. Or as Jerry Seinfeld says: "It's like a super-power."

So now most of the year is gone, and I haven't realized this resolution as yet. I did make some attempts. My first idea was to gradually turn the volume down on the TV so I would need to rely more and more on the visual. The problem I found with this approach is that in almost all TV programming, for a large proportion of time the person speaking is not actually on screen - the possible exception being talking-heads shows. I then tried the same thing with carefully selected Web videos, but still found it difficult to make progress.

So I decided to take the plunge and buy the Read My Lips! DVD series from Amazon. This is an early review, based on initial experience. The real proof is in the learning; I'll post a follow-up report when I'm done with the series.

The series is produced by Speechreading Laboratory, Inc. It is a remastered version of a videocassette series. The six DVD's are spartan compared to the typical Hollywood production (which is just fine with me), and the actors and settings are very 80's (also just fine with me). The approach is simple, but looks promising. An actor says something. You can't hear the voice. (Instead there is an 80's musical soundtrack - I suspect I'm going to subconsciously associate lip-reading with light jazz from here on.) After a pause a subtitle reveals what was just said.

The level of difficulty gradually increases. The first lesson, for example, consists of single words for months and days of the week. The actors speak normally, but the restricted area of discourse makes the task just difficult enough. I skipped ahead to the sixth disk and found a rather entertaining discussion between a mother and daughter about the daughter planning to marry a much older man who has been married three times already. And, more important - quite beyond my present lip-reading capability. So if I reach Disk Six and am able to understand it, I will know I will have learned something nontrivial.

The set includes a small booklet with some analytical tips for lip-reading. I've noticed already that the "th" sound is one of the easiest to recognize. And I know a few tricks that aren't in the booklet. The booklet points out that "mom" and "pop" rely on the same mouth motions and are almost impossible to distinguish visually. This would be true, except for the timing. "Mom" takes about twice as long to say as "pop." Try it. They recommend 15 to 20 minutes of practice per day, which seems quite doable. Especially as lip-reading is inherently a passive activity, I suspect it won't require as much energy as, say, going to the gym.

So, preliminary impression: I'm pleased. The system seems well-designed. I think this is going to work. I'll let you know in a few months.

1 comment:

Matroid Theory by James Oxley said...

The trick I learned for loud nightclubs is that if you plug your ear with your finger, or press your outer ear over your ear canal, you can hear what someone near you is saying quite clearly. That's not to discourage your lip-reading mission, but it works in a pinch.