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RETRACTED ARTICLE: Application of deep learning in Mandarin Chinese lip-reading recognition

This article was retracted on 21 May 2024

This article has been updated


Lip-reading is an emerging technology in recent years, and it can be applied to the field of language recovery, criminal investigation, identity authentication, etc. We aim to recognize what the speaker is saying without audio but only video. Because of the different mouth shapes and the influence of homophones, the current Mandarin Chinese lip-reading network is proposed, an end-to-end model based on long short-term memory (LSTM) encoder-decoder architecture. The model incorporates the LSTM encoder-decode architecture, the spatiotemporal convolutional neural network (STCNN), Word2Vec, and the Attention model. The STCNN captures continuously encoded motion information, Word2Vec converts words into word vectors for feature encoding, and the Attention model assigns weights to the target words. Based on the video dataset we built, we completed training and testing. Experiments have proved that the accuracy of the Mandarin Chinese lip-reading model is about 72%. Therefore, MCLRN can be used to identify the words spoken by the speaker.

1 Introduction

Lip-reading is a novel technology that only uses visual information to understand speech content [1]. “Read” or “partially read” what the speaker says by observing his mouth change. Lip-reading recognition is an important research topic in computer vision and human-computer interaction [2]. Identifying the characteristics of the lips can be applied to the field of language recovery, criminal investigation, identity authentication, etc.

Visual language information is important in speech recognition, especially when audio is corrupted or unavailable [3, 4]. However, due to the diversification and complexity of daily application scenarios, lip-reading recognition still faces great challenges in practical applications. First, the different people telling the same content will have different changes in their lips, which creates a lot of trouble in identification. Then, the light source illumination and face angle will also cause different shapes of the lips in the video, which will greatly impact on the identification. Finally, the presence of homophones is also challenging to identify.

Many existing researchers in this field have a similar research process, first extracting the temporal and spatial features around the lips and then matching these features with typical templates. Xiao et al. [5] established a mathematical model for the apparent deformation of a series of lip movements in the lip region during speech. Luo et al. [6] proposed a novel pseudo-convolutional policy gradient-based method to solve the problems that traditional Seq2Seq models often face during the learning process. Gan et al. [7] constructed the first Tibetan lip-reading dataset, named TLRW-50, and based on this, they proposed a set of lip-reading video quality assessment processes and algorithms. Currently, the research on Mandarin Chinese lip-reading remains at the stage of lip classification based on lip feature extraction.

Machine learning has been widely used in various fields of modern society and has achieved good results. Deep learning overcomes the difficulty of manually extracting feature in general machine learning methods and realizes the process of machine-autonomous feature extraction. In terms of lip shape recognition, many scholars adopt the method of first positioning and then recognition. Fenghour et al. [8, 9] demonstrated how to adapt existing deep learning architecture for automatic lip-reading. Guan et al. [10] proposed a new deep neural network that integrated fuzzy and convolutional units to achieve precise lip region segmentation. Some scholars focus on developing visual speech recognition systems based only on videos. Unlike previous works focusing on recognizing a limited number of words or phrases, they concentrate on unrestricted sentence-level lip-reading. Afouras et al. [11, 12] address lip-reading as an open-world problem, i.e., unconstrained natural language sentences and videos. Fernandez-Lopez et al. [13] designed an end-to-end automatic lip-reading system to balance available training data and model parameters. In addition, Chung et al.  [14] realized the automatic recognition of English sentence-level lip-reading based on deep learning technology.

One of the main obstacles to improvement in this field is the lack of datasets. Currently, there are only a few simple lip-reading datasets. We have established a Mandarin Chinese sentence-level lip-reading dataset named TMCLR-20. We propose a deep neural network named Mandarin Chinese lip-reading network (MCLRN) to train, validate, and test this dataset. Our proposed model is an end-to-end model based on long short-term memory (LSTM) [15] encoder–decoder [16] architecture, which combines spatiotemporal convolutional neural network (STCNN) and Word2Vec [17], and uses Attention model to optimize lip-reading recognition. The architecture is shown in Fig. 1. The experimental results show that our proposed model has strong recognition performance on the self-built TMCLR-20 dataset.

Fig. 1
figure 1

The architecture of Mandarin Chinese lip-reading network architecture

2 Dataset

We have established a text-independent speaker lip-reading dataset. The original corpus of the dataset was crawled from the Internet using a web crawler. The main reason for using this data source is that speakers in news programs have a precise mouth shape. Using this method, we obtained hundreds of hours of raw data samples. After post-processing, we got about 24 h of lip-reading corpus.

For the collected image information, we used the open source OpenCV lib library to intercept a \(128 \times 100\) lip region of interest (ROI), as shown in Fig. 2a. The lip image corresponds to the 48th to 68th landmarks in the 68 landmarks of the face. We extract ten consecutive frames in the middle of the pronunciation to form a continuous image lip movement sequence (from left to right, top to bottom), as shown in Fig. 2b.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Image processing process

Due to the computer GPU's limitations and the network architecture constraints, the video is divided into 2s on average. We separate the video from the audio and video and use the commercial voice transfer service to generate tags for the dataset. Unlike languages that naturally have spaces that do not require word segmentation, such as English or other languages that use basic letter spelling, Mandarin Chinese requires word segmentation for its structure. We use the word segmentation tool [18] for word segmentation after speech transcription. At last, the video and the label are checked manually. Finally, we obtain Tju Mandarin Chinese lip-reading 20h (TMCLR-20), a dataset of 42070 characters from 19961 words, as shown in Table 1. We randomly divide it into train, and test sets, where the train set consists of 37125 characters from 18723 words, the validation set consists of 1004 characters from 260 words, and the test set consists of 3941 characters from 978 words. The video clip in the dataset contains the speaker’s half-boby image. Figure 3 is a video sequence of lip rectangular ROI, for a speaker says “xiawu” lip movement:

Fig. 3
figure 3

The lip gesture of a speaker says “xiawu”

Table 1 TMCLR-20 vocabulary dataset

3 Methods

3.1 Network architecture

In the Mandarin Chinese lip-reading network, STCNN extracts visual feature information of lip movements. The LSTM-based encoder–decoder model encodes the lip visual feature information and decodes it into relevant textual information. The Attention model can make the decoder focus on the encoded content of a specific location without using all the encoded content as the basis for the decoder, thereby improving the model decoding effect. Word2Vec acts as a character encoding in the network. Unlike the commonly used One-hot, character information encoded by Word2Vec can be used for distance comparison. Information with similar semantic content is closer in the word embedding space. After character encoding using Word2Vec, the inference can be made more relative to the real context in the model inference process. From a probabilistic point of view, the model is a conditional probability distribution. It uses a general approach to learn a variable sequence under another variable sequence.

In the encoder–decoder architecture, the encoder reads the input sentence into vector c. The most common method is to use recurrent neural network (RNN):

$$\begin{aligned} h_t= & {} f(x_t, h_{t-1}) \end{aligned}$$
$$\begin{aligned} c= & {} q(h_l,\cdots ,h_T) \end{aligned}$$

where \(h_t\) is the hidden state of time t, c is the vector generated by the hidden state sequence. f and q are nonlinear functions. The decoder is usually trained to predict the context vector c and the next word of the \(\{y_1,\cdots ,y_{t-1}\}\). The decoder defines the probability on the output y by decomposing the joint probability into an ordered conditional probability:

$$\begin{aligned} p(y)=\prod _{t=1}^{T}p(y_t\mid \{y_1,\cdots ,y_{t-1}\},c) \end{aligned}$$

For RNN, each conditional probability is modeled as follows:

$$\begin{aligned} p(y_t\mid \{y_1,\cdots ,y_{t-1}\},c)=g(y_{t-1},s_t,c) \end{aligned}$$

where \(y_t\) is a nonlinear, single or multi-layer output, g is \(y_t\) probability function, \(s_t\) is the hidden state of the RNN. Encoder–decoder can effectively encode context information, which solves the problem of homophones to some extent.

3.2 Spatiotemporal convolutional neural network

Using convolutional neural networks (CNN) to run cascading convolutions on image space helps improve the ability of networks to fit complex computer vision tasks, such as image recognition. In the 2D convolutional neural network, convolution is performed on the convolutional layer to acquire features, and features are derived from the local neighborhood of the previous layer of feature maps. Then, add a bias and pass the result to a nonlinear function. In the j feature map of the i layer, the value at position (xy) is designated as \(v_{ij}^{xy}\), which is given by

$$\begin{aligned} v_{ij}^{xy} = f\left({b_{ij}} + \sum \limits _k {\sum \limits _{p = 0}^{{P_i} - 1} {\sum \limits _{q = 0}^{{Q_i} - 1} {w_{ijk}^{pq}} } } v_{( {i - 1})k}^{({x + p})({y + q})}\right) \end{aligned}$$

where f is the Sigmoid function, Tanh function, Logistic Sigmoid function, and Relu function, etc. \(b_{ij}\) is the bias of the feature map, and k is the index of the current feature map connected to the \((i-1)\) layer feature map, and \(w_{ijk}^{pq}\) is the value of the convolution kernel (pq) connected to the k layer feature map. \(P_i\) and \(Q_i\) are the height and width of the convolution kernel, respectively. In the downsampling layer, the resolution of the feature map is reduced by the pooling operation in the neighborhood of the previous layer of the feature map, thereby enhancing the invariance of the input distortion. The convolutional neural network architecture can be constructed by alternately stacking convolutional and downsampling layers. The parameters \(b_{ij}\) and \(w_{ijk}^{pq}\) of the convolutional neural network are usually studied in a supervised or unsupervised manner.

The convolution operation is performed on a two-dimensional feature map in convolutional neural network. When processing video analysis problems, capturing multiple consecutively encoded motion information is necessary. 3D convolution operations can simultaneously compute features of spatial and temporal dimensional. In this structure, the feature map in the convolutional layer is linked to multiple consecutive frames in the previous layer, as shown in Fig. 4.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Spatiotemporal convolutional neural network

Formally, in the j feature map of the i layer, the value at the position (xyz) is \(v_{ij}^{xyz}\), which is calculated by the following formula:

$$\begin{aligned} v_{ij}^{xyz} = f({b_{ij}} + \sum \limits _k {\sum \limits _{p = 0}^{{P_i} - 1} {\sum \limits _{q = 0}^{{Q_i} - 1} {\sum \limits _{r = 0}^{{R_i} - 1}{w_{ijk}^{pqr}}}}} v_{({i - 1})k}^{({x + p})({y + q})({z + r})}) \end{aligned}$$

where \(R_i\) is the size of the 3D convolution kernel in the time dimension, \(w_{ijk}^{pqr}\) is the value at the position (pqr) of the convolution kernel of the k feature map linked to the previous layer.

3.3 LSTM neural network

LSTM has a particular unit called a memory block in the hidden layer. The basic LSTM memory unit consists of three essential gates and a memory state. The input gate controls the input of the memory unit, and the output gate controls the output of the memory unit and the current input. The forget gate adds the internal state of the unit to the memory unit, thereby adaptive forgetting or resetting the memory unit, as shown in Fig. 5.

Fig. 5
figure 5

Basic LSTM unit

The LSTM iteratively calculates the network activation unit from \(t=1\) to T by the following formula. Thereby the mapping from the input sequence \(x = \left( {{x_1}, \ldots ,{x_T}} \right)\) to the output sequence \(y = \left( {{y_1}, \ldots ,{y_T}} \right)\) is calculated.

$$\begin{aligned} f_t= & {} \sigma (W_{fx}x_t + W_{fm}m_{t-1} + W_{fc}c_{t-1} + b_f) \end{aligned}$$
$$\begin{aligned} i_t= & {} \sigma (W_{ix}x_t + W_{im}m_{t-1} + W_{ic}c_{t-1} + b_i) \end{aligned}$$
$$\begin{aligned} c_t= & {} f_t *c_{t-1} + i_t *g(W_{cx}x_t + W_{cm}m_{t-1} + b_c) \end{aligned}$$
$$\begin{aligned} o_t= & {} \sigma (W_{ox}x_t + W_{om}m_{t-1} + W_{oc}c_{t-1} + b_o) \end{aligned}$$
$$\begin{aligned} m_t= & {} o_t *h(c_t) \end{aligned}$$
$$\begin{aligned} y_t= & {} \phi (W_{ym}m_t + b_y) \end{aligned}$$

where W is the weight matrixes, b is the bias vector, and \(\sigma\) is Sigmoid function. i, f, o, c are the input gate, the forgetting gate, the output gate, and the activation vector, respectively, which have the same size as the unit output activation vector m. \(*\) is the vector multiplication, and g and h are the activation functions of unit input and output, respectively. Here, the Tanh function is used. \(\phi\) is the activation function of the network output; here is the Softmax function. Traditional RNN uses multiplication to calculate hidden state:

$$\begin{aligned} S_t = f({{S_{t - 1}}, {x_t}}) \end{aligned}$$

where f is Sigmoid function, \(x_t\) is the value of the input sequence at time t.

According to the chain-based derivation rule, this form of function causes the gradient to be expressed as a continuous product. Many items less than one are successively multiplied to zero, so the gradient disappears. It can be known from the architecture of LSTM that it uses the accumulated form to calculate the hidden state, so its derivative is also a cumulative form, thereby avoiding the problem of gradient disappearance.

3.4 Word embedding model

Word embedding is a learnable word representation that allows words with similar meanings to have similar representations. Each word is mapped to a vector, and the vector values are learned like neural networks, so this method is often used in the field of deep learning. Each word is represented by a real-value vector, usually expressed as tens or hundreds of dimensions. The word embedding method used in this paper is the Word2Vec. Word2Vec is a statistical method for learning the embedding of independent words in a text corpus. Word2Vec is not a separate algorithm but a combination of two algorithms: CBOW and Skip-Gram. For the most part, CBOW works with smaller datasets, while Skip-Gram performs better on larger datasets.

The Skip-Gram model of Word2Vec used in this paper effectively learns high-quality vector representation from a large amount of unstructured text data. That is, given the training word sequence \({w_1},{w_2},{w_3}, \ldots ,{w_T}\), the goal of the Skip-Gram model is to calculate the similarity between the central word and the background word. The objective function f can be calculated as

$$\begin{aligned} f = \sum \limits _{t = 1}^T{\sum \limits _{ - m \le j \le m,j \ne 0}{p({w_{t + j}}\mid {w_t})}} \end{aligned}$$

where m is the word window length, and T is the entire file. First, we take the logarithm of the objective function f and bring it into \(p({{w_o}\mid {w_c}})\):

$$\log p(w_{o} {\mid }w_{c} ) = u_{o}^{T} v_{c} - \log \left( {\sum\limits_{{i \in V}} {\exp (u_{i}^{T} v_{c} )} } \right)$$

where \(w_c\) is the central word, \(v_c\) is the central word vector, \(w_o\) are background words vector in the word window, and V is the number of words in the vocabulary. Then, we take the partial derivative of \(v_c\), due to \(v_c\) is the optimization goal:

$$\begin{aligned} \frac{{\partial \log p({w_O}\mid {w_c})}}{{\partial {v_c}}} = {u_o} - \sum \limits _{i \in V}{p({w_j}\mid {w_c}){u_j}} \end{aligned}$$

It completes the optimization of the Skip-Gram model.

3.5 Attention model

Compared to cyclic networks that require sequence alignment, end-to-end memory networks based on the Attention model have performed better in language modeling tasks. In the Attention model, the conditional probability is defined as

$$\begin{aligned} p({y_i}\mid {y_1}, \cdots ,{y_{i - 1}},x) = g( {{y_{i - 1}},{s_i},{c_i}}) \end{aligned}$$

where \(s_i\) is the hidden state of i in the RNN. \(s_i\) is calculated as

$$\begin{aligned} s_i = f( {{s_{i - 1}},{y_{i - 1}},{c_i}}) \end{aligned}$$

the encoder maps the input statement to the tag sequence \(({{h_1}, \cdots ,{h_T}})\), which is related to the context vector \(c_i\). The context vector \(c_i\) is calculated by the weighted sum of its corresponding label \(h_i\), calculated as

$$\begin{aligned} c_i = \sum \limits _{j = 1}^{T} {{\alpha _{ij}}{h_j}} \end{aligned}$$

the weight \(a_{ij}\) of each label \(h_j\) is calculated as

$$\begin{aligned} \alpha _{ij} = \frac{{\exp ({{e_{ij}}})}}{{\sum \nolimits _{k = 1}^{T} {\exp ({{e_{ik}}})}}} \end{aligned}$$

where \(e_{ij}\) is calculated as

$$\begin{aligned} e_{ij} = a({{s_{i - 1}},{h_j}}) \end{aligned}$$

This alignment model scores the match between the input at position j and the output at position i. The score is related to the RNN hidden state \(s_{i-1}\).

4 Results and discussion

4.1 Implementation details and results

The extracted circumscribed rectangular area has a size of \(60\times 60\), and the extracted video is sent into the STCNN network. There are three convolutional layers and three pooling layers in the model. Each layer uses batch normalization (BN) and dropout for regularization to prevent overfitting. To obtain the spatial characteristics of the lip motion, the space-time convolution kernel is set to \(5\times 5\times 5\), the stride is set to \(1\times 1\times 1\), the pooling layer uses the maximum pooling layer, and the kernel size is \(1\times 2\times 2\). Downsampling is not performed on the time axis to ensure sufficient time series information can be obtained. All convolutional layers are padded in space and time. The pooling layer is connected to the fully connected layer, and the output tensor dimension is \(53\times 512\). Finally, the feature vector of the space-time convolution output is sent to the encoder–decoder model. Both the encoder and the decoder part use 3-layer LSTM. The number of hidden cells in each layer is 256. Each layer of LSTM uses a residual connection and uses dropout for regularization.

We train, validate, and test the model on the train set, validation set, and test set of the TMCLR-20 dataset. The project is implemented based on the TensorFlow library. We use a GeForce RTX 2080Ti GPU with 11GB memory for training, which draws 250 watts. To reduce the risk of overfitting due to the symmetry of lips, we randomly left-right flip frames, frame copying, and frame deletion on the video samples during training. The batch size is set to 20. We use Xavier [19] to initialize the network parameters. The optimizer is Adam [20]. We conduct a total of 300 epoch training. The learning rate is exponentially attenuated for each ten epoch with a decay rate of 0.9. All experimental results are calculated word error rate (WER) and accuracy (accuracy = 1 − WER). The formula for WER is

$${\text{WER}} = \frac{{S + D + I}}{N}$$

where S is the number of words replaced, D is the number of words deleted, I is the number of extra words added, and N is the number of words in the reference sample.

We use the beam search (BS) with a window width of 8 to decode. The eight most likely predictions are obtained for each time step, and their decoded sequences are retained. Table 2 lists the experimental results of the MCLRN on the test set. Figure 6 shows the effect of increasing the width of the beam window.

Fig. 6
figure 6

The effect of beam width on word error rate

Table 2 Performance on the TMCLR-20 test set

MCLRN is our proposed network, CL is curriculum learning, and BS is beam search. Figure 6 shows that the WER does not decrease significantly when the beam width exceeds 8. As can be seen from Table 2, the lip-reading accuracy is the lowest when only using the MCLRN model; the model used by MCLRN, CL, and BS all has achieved the highest lip-reading accuracy. Among them, the models using MCLRN and BS are higher than those using MCLRN and CL in lip-reading accuracy. It can be seen that CL and BS can effectively improve recognition accuracy, and BS has a more noticeable improvement in the experimental effect than CL.

4.2 Discussion

Currently, there is no Mandarin Chinese lip-reading research in the natural scene. We evaluate our method on three datasets and compare it with other methods, including the sentence-level datasets GRID [21], and the word-level datasets LRW [22] and LRW-1000 [23]. Figure 7 shows the loss curves for training and validation of MCLRN on the three datasets. The test results on GRID, LRW, and LRW-1000 are shown in Table 3a–c, respectively.

Fig. 7
figure 7

Loss curves of MCLRN experiments on the GRID, LRW, and LRW-1000 datasets, respectively. The blue and yellow curves correspond to the training and validation process

GRID is a widely used sentence-level dataset for the lip-reading task. There are 34 speakers, each speaking out 1000 sentences, leading to about 34,000 sentence-level videos. All the videos in GRID are recorded with a fixed, clean, single-colored background, and the speakers are requested to face the camera with a frontal view in the speaking process. LRW is a large-scale word-level lip-reading dataset collected from BBC TV broadcasts, including different TV shows and various types of speaking conditions in the wild. LRW-1000 is a naturally-distributed dataset for lip-reading with 1000 Mandarin Chinese words and over 700,000 total samples. LRW-1000 has diverse speaker poses, ages, makeup, and genders, making it challenging for most lip-reading methods.

Table 3 The results of different methods tested on the GRID, LRW, and LRW-1000 datasets, respectively

It can be seen from Table  3 and Table  3 that our proposed model achieves the highest accuracy, even though our model does not perform well on the LRW-1000 dataset. Table 3 shows that our proposed method performs slightly worse than that proposed by Maulana et al. [28] on the GRID dataset. This may be due to the difference between Mandarin Chinese and English, but our proposed method is also competitive.

Our proposed model is a lip-reading recognition model in the natural state, which can be applied to the actual scene. For reference, the accuracy of English lip-speaking experts on English lip-reading is 51.3% [14]. Our proposed model is more accurate than the English lip-reading expert’s recognition of English. Therefore, our proposed model can be used to identify Mandarin Chinese lip-reading.

5 Conclusions

The paper proposes an end-to-end model that combines STCNN and word2vec for Mandarin Chinese sentence-level lip-reading. The model is based on LSTM encoder-decoder architecture. The proposed method differs from the traditional feature engineering method and solves the problem that predictive sentences need to divide video into different word segments. Experiments prove that the encoder–decoder architecture can correspond the spatiotemporal feature information of videos to the textual information of lip movements, and the STCNN can effectively acquire the spatial and temporal features of the video. However, due to the limitation of the size of the dataset and the uncertainty of the Mandarin Chinese word segmentation, the word error in the experiment is inevitably increased. Expanding the dataset capacity is our next work. In addition, the existence of homonyms is one of the obstacles to lip-reading in Mandarin Chinese. These Chinese characters have the same pronunciation and cannot be recognized by visual information alone, which explains the increased in word error rate. Many aspects still need further research and improvement, such as exploring new network models to improve lip-reading recognition accuracy, etc.

Availability of data and materials

Data for this study are available on reasonable request.

Change history



Mandarin Chinese lip-reading network


Long short-term memory


Spatiotemporal convolutional neural network


Region of interest


Tju Mandarin Chinese lip-reading dataset 20 h


Recurrent neural network


Convolutional neural networks


Batch normalization


Word error rate


Beam search


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The authors would like to thank all anonymous reviewers for their invaluable comments.


This work is supported by the Joint Fund of the Ministry of Education for Equipment Pre research (No.8091B022117) and the National Key Research and Development Program of China (No.2020YFC2008703).

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GX conceives this study and conducts experiments. LH completes the creation of the dataset. YZ and MZ give essential suggestions in the experimental analysis. All authors provide helpful discussions and review the manuscript. All authors approve the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Meirong Zhao.

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Xing, G., Han, L., Zheng, Y. et al. RETRACTED ARTICLE: Application of deep learning in Mandarin Chinese lip-reading recognition. J Wireless Com Network 2023, 90 (2023).

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