Communications between hearing people and late-deafened adults can be extremely challenging at times. They can range from awkward, frustrating, and full of misunderstandings to relatively smooth, natural, and totally effective. Here are some tips that can help improve interpersonal communications with people with hearing loss. Part I contains tips for hearing people, and Part II contains tips for late-deafened adults.


Only about 30% of sounds can be determined by lip reading. Lip reading is a learned skill and is limited in its effectiveness when used alone. Do not assume that the late-deafened adult that you are speaking with can lip read very well. Make sure to speak clearly and at your normal pace.

Get the person’s attention before you communicate.

You can avoid frustration and reduce the need to repeat things by touching their arm, knocking on the table, flashing the lights or waving your hand to first get their attention; then wait for a response. Be sure they are looking at you before you begin to speak.

Do not have objects in your mouth such as gum, cigarettes, or food.

Avoid putting anything in front of your mouth, such as your hand, your hat, or a newspaper.

If you have a mustache, consider trimming it so that your lips can be easily seen.

Keep your mouth visible at all times.

The best distance for effective communication is 3 to 6 feet.

If you speak at a slow-to-normal rate and pause between sentences, you will give the listener time to catch up. (Their mind must process a lot of clues to make up for what they do not hear.)

Encourage questions and clarifications.  These help fill in the blanks and add more information.

Consider learning sign language if your friend or family member with a hearing loss  starts learning it.  Learn the manual alphabet.  Being able to fingerspell a few words can be very useful.

Use facial expressions and gestures.

Before beginning your story or comments, tell your listener what you are going to talk about.  Agree on a gesture or sign that indicates you are starting a new topic.  Give clues when changing the subject.

If one or two words keep tripping up your listener, try using a different way to express the idea.  For example, you might change “DO YOU WANT A DRINK?” to “WOULD YOU LIKE SOME WATER?”  Rephrase when you are not understood.

Shouting makes you look and sound angry.  It actually distorts the sound signal.  It is better to make sure the listener can see you.  If your listener has some residual hearing, it may help to speak slightly louder than normal, but not as loud as a shout.  If your listener’s hearing is gone, shouting won’t bring it back.  Do not shout.

Keep the competition for your listener’s attention to a minimum.  If the person with a hearing loss has some residual hearing, consider minimizing background noise as well as background visuals (TV, dishwasher, music, etc.). Ask the host for the quietest table in the restaurant, away from the traffic patterns. Consider going places during off-hours to avoid the crowds (for example, have dinner at 4:30 or 8:30). Avoid busy background situations.

It may take some time to learn how best to talk with a late-deafened adult. You are both learning how to handle this communication situation. Experiment a little. Use humor and smiles. Ask how you can help or what might work better. Be patient, positive and relaxed.

Talk TO the deafened person, not ABOUT him or her to their partner. Remember that a hearing partner does not need to see your face to understand.

Type as much or as little as is needed; you determine if it needs to be every word. Experiment with voice recognition software for the family and closest friends to caption your conversations. A computer or laptop can be used when a lot of information needs to be exchanged. Use it to help with key words, names, numbers and not sentences.

Draw a picture to help communicate.
Always have paper and pencil handy.

The late-deafened adult may need your help to find the right speaking volume. Realize that a deafened person cannot hear his or her own voice.

Use email more because deafness disappears on email.

Part II 

Be prepared by thinking about what the topics of conversation might be. For example, keep up on current events, review names before going so that they are easier to understand, and anticipate awkward situations with back-up plans to solve any problems.

It is OK to ask the speaker to:

  • Please speak just a little more slowly.
  • Please raise your voice a little.
  • Tell him orher what is the best way to speak with you, including if it’s one-on -one or a group conversation.
  • Make a note if the topic changes to avoid confusion.

Remind the hearing person if they forget that you have a hearing loss, and be sure to thank them when they remember.  Also, provide feedback to hearing speakers about how well they are communicating.

Only about 30% of sounds can be determined by lip reading. Lip reading is a learned skill and is limited in its effectiveness when used alone. Instead of asking someone to repeat everything, verify what you think you heard or understood. If you are mistaken, they should clarify. Learn how to VERIFY and CLARIFY instead of asking them to repeat.


Hearing Person: Do you want to meet Thursday at 3 o’clock at the park?

Late-Deafened Adult: Thursday at three o’clock at the park? Yes, that’s fine!

Hearing Person: Yes! See you then!

You can avoid confusion by having them write down instructions, addresses, phone numbers, etc.

At a workplace, if it’s possible, ask someone to be your communication assistant to stand beside you and write names, key words and important details on a paper for you.

It’s recommended that you be honest and not try to bluff so that you can avoid any mistakes.

Take a break during parties to relieve the stress of constant concentration. Arrange for frequent breaks if discussions or meetings are long.

If you keep interrupting, you may frustrate or antagonize the speaker.  If you are unable to understand what is being said, stop them right away (courteously, of course) to explain what you need to understand.

If you ask them to speak slower and they keep forgetting (and they will), tell them you will use a palm-down signal to remind them to stay slow. This allows the natural flow to continue.

Set realistic goals about what you can expect to understand.