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How to Talk to People with Hearing Loss

Many people can use a few tips for talking to others with hearing loss, so let’s discuss ways you can better communicate in that scenario.

First off, there’s a misnomer in the “hearing loss” idea because many folks think this means they should just SPEAK REALLY LOUDLY. In fact, it may not be volume that’s the problem. Maybe you spoke unclearly or your mouth was covered. Perhaps you spoke too quickly, or fumbled over syllables. Then again, maybe you were too far away to have clarity, or volume.

There are tons of reasons someone with hearing loss may ask you to repeat yourself. As someone with hearing loss, here are a few tips for how to talk to people with hearing loss:

How to Repeat Yourself

If the person you’re speaking with has hearing loss and is glazing over or looking disinterested, they may not be hearing you. Perhaps you’re talking too fast, not making eye contact, or doing other things.

When they ask you to repeat yourself, the worst thing you can do is to simply say the same thing the same way, at the same speed, with the same volume. The odds are, having asked you once to repeat yourself but getting nowhere doing so, they won’t ask again. Instead, they’ll tune out of the conversation. Worse yet, if you habitually repeat everything the same, it may hinder your relationship. Why? You’re showing them that saying “Pardon me?” won’t get them anywhere.

What you should do is actually change how you’re speaking. Make eye contact. Speak more clearly. Don’t slow it down noticeably, because we’re not six, we’re just not catching what you’re saying.

Be aware that many hearing-impaired people supplement hearing instruments with lip-reading. When you’re making eye contact with them, know that they might watch your lips instead. In that case, be sure you’re clearly enunciating every sound, but speaking at a relatively normal pace.

If That’s Not Working

If you’ve now spoken more clearly, while engaging eye contact, and ensuring your mouth wasn’t covered while speaking, maybe it’s a matter of volume.

This is not when you say “Are your hearing aids turned up?” or “Crank up your hearing aids!” Seriously, you don’t understand how often this is said to people wearing them. It’s annoying or even hurtful to hear.

Speak louder, but don’t shout. If a truck rumbles past, or sirens are blaring, or anything else really loud, then wait until the noise has passed, and then repeat yourself. They won’t hear you during the chaos anyhow. Loudness, clarity, and making eye contact – these are the hearing-impaired conversational trinity.

Geography and Direction Matter

But maybe it’s a simpler problem. Maybe you’re just not close enough. If you’re across a large room, in another room, on the other side of the yard, and so on, then repeating yourself won’t help. Either wait for them to approach you, or approach them and then repeat yourself, or begin anew.

Same thing goes if you’re sitting behind the person with hearing aids. Newer technology has improved at picking up rear-facing sound from, but it’s still dodgy. This is especially challenging in car trips. Some technology, like the Phonak Roger Pen, is a game-changer on this front. For most people, though, it’s best to speak loudly and clearly in cars. Anywhere else, if you can face the hearing-impaired person, that’s your best bet. This will allow them to pick up the most sound while making eye contact and reading your lips.

Why Not Just Ask?

You’d think it would feel odd or awkward, but, speaking for myself, it can be very nice when someone notices that I’m possibly furrowing my brows as they talk, and then they stop, look at me, and say, “Are you hearing me okay?”

I don’t know about other people, but I find that a really tactful way to handle the situation. It’s so rare that it catches me off-guard, but I sure appreciate it. In the past, I’ve told them “Yes, but I’m struggling because you speak too quickly” or other variables, and it’s gone a long way to improving matters.

Should You Repeat Yourself Exactly?

This is a tricky. Repeating yourself word-for-word can be the right response in some situations, when you weren’t heard for any number of reasons. At other times, it’s problematic, because maybe it’s the way you’re speaking that’s the issue. Maybe you’re saying the words wrong, or flubbing the sounds, and repeating yourself won’t solve anything.

The best answer is: Depends. If you see them scrunching their eyebrows and looking perplexed as you repeat your statement, well, there’s you answer. Find another way to say the same thing, but continue speaking clearly and properly.

It’s More Frustrating for Them, I Promise

I’ve heard complaints over the years from people saying how frustrating it is to repeat themselves a lot, but I wish they could understand what it’s like to wake up every day with compromised hearing.

Personally, I’m hearing better than I have in a long time thanks to my new Phonak Naída V hearing aids, but there are still situations I find frustrating, such as heavy traffic. Also, there are people whose voices don’t translate well for me. Whether it’s foreign accents, mumblers, people who’ve had strokes – there are many reasons “speaking loudly” won’t solve the problem for some. They will still go frequently misunderstood or misheard by those of us wearing hearing devices.

Having patience, making eye contact, speaking as clearly as possible, facing us – these are all steps you can take to ensure you’re understood and heard properly. When all else fails, simply ask: “Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you to hear me today?” If you do, it’s important to know that some people still won’t be comfortable talking about their hearing loss, but tactful questions might change how they feel… for the better.

Steffani Cameron
Steffani Cameron
Steffani Cameron is a writer and photographer from Vancouver, Canada, who's gone "Full Nomad" and sold everything she owned to travel the world for five years. She's working as a digital nomad wherever there's a reasonably decent internet connection. She's worn hearing aids since she was two, and currently wears Phonak Naída V90-SPs.