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Computers Might Make Learning Lip Reading Easier

Deaf and hard-of-hearing may benefit from electronic assistance, researchers say

FRIDAY, Sept. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Computers can read lips better than people can, new research suggests.

The findings may lead to new methods of helping the deaf and hard-of-hearing learn to read lips, according to researchers from the University of East Anglia in England.

Researchers compared the accuracy of an automated lip-reading machine to that of 19 people who had lip-reading training. The study found that the automated system recognized 80 percent of words, compared to 32 percent for human lip readers.

The machines were also able to read lips on simplistic representations of facial shape, whereas human lip-readers required a video of actual people speaking.

"This pilot study is the first time an automated lip-reading system has been benchmarked against human lip-readers, and the results are perhaps surprising," said study author Sarah Hilder.

The findings were scheduled to be presented Sept. 12 at the International Conference on Auditory-Visual Speech Processing in England. They were published Sept. 10 in Proceedings of the International Conference on Auditory-Visual Speech Processing AVSP.

Typically, people are trained to read lips by learning to recognize the shape the lips and mouth form when making certain sounds. Often, sketches depicting the shapes are used as training tools.

But this may not be the most effective method, researchers said.

Instead, training that uses a more complete, more dynamic representation of speech, including gestures, can help in recognizing words.

After only four hours of being trained on a new video-based system, people who did not previously read lips showed improvement in their ability to lip-read single syllable words, which can be more difficult than multi-syllabic words.

More than half of those over age 60 have some hearing loss, said Agnes Hoctor, of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People in London. An aging population in England and the United States means interest in learning lip-reading is bound to increase.

Improving access to lip-reading classes and more video-based or online training resources may be useful, Hoctor added.

"This research confirms how difficult the vital skill of lip-reading is to learn," Hoctor said.

More information

The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has more on hearing loss.

-- Jennifer Thomas

Source: University of East Anglia, news release, Sept. 10, 2009

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