Hearing Vibed: Challenges of Speaking to a Hearing-Impaired Partner

Tim and Janis Gaule

My wife and I have agreed to coordinate submitting articles to this publication on behalf of the Discussion Group for Better Hearing. In this month’s article, we would like to discuss the challenges of speaking to a hearing-impaired partner.

Hearing aids, cochlear implants, and personal microphones can be a great benefit to someone who is hard of hearing, but there are strategies that a partner with good hearing can follow when speaking to someone who is hard of hearing to improve the communication process.

The most important strategy is to “walk before you talk.” It is important to face the hearing-impaired person directly and on the same level. Don’t talk from another room. Don’t talk to the hearing-impaired person’s back. Not being able to see each other when talking is a common reason people have difficulty understanding what is being said.

Speak clearly, slowly, and steadily. Don’t mumble or shout. Shouting distorts the sound of speech, and if your partner reads lips, may make lip reading more difficult. Avoid talking too rapidly or using sentences that are too complex. Slow down a little, pause between sentences or phrases, and wait to make sure you have been understood before resuming.

Most hearing-impaired people have greater difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise. Try to minimize extraneous noise, such as the TV, when talking with your partner. If you are outside, wait for that loud truck or car to pass before starting a conversation.

Acquaint your partner with the general topic of the conversation. Avoid sudden changes of topic. If the subject is changed, tell your hearing-impaired partner what you are now talking about.

If your hearing-impaired partner hears better in one ear than the other, try to make a point of remembering which ear is better so that you will know where to position yourself.

Pay attention to the listener. A puzzled look may indicate misunderstanding. Tactfully ask your partner if he or she understood you, or ask leading questions so you know you were understood.

We would be interested in your suggestions for communicating with a hearing-impaired partner. Our contact email is [email protected]. This is also a topic that we can further discuss at one of our monthly meetings. The Discussion Group for Better Hearing meets the second Friday of each month at 10 a.m. in the Sonoran Room at MountainView clubhouse. For more information, contact Jennifer Jefferis at [email protected] or Lyle Larson at [email protected].