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Deaf Education Options Guide

Cued Speech


What is Cued Speech? It can be defined as a visual picture of the speech sounds and sound patterns that are used in the English language or any of the other 50 languages and dialects for which cueing has been adapted. Dr. Orin Cornett invented Cued Speech in 1966 at Gallaudet University. In American English, this system uses eight different handshapes in four different locations near the mouth. The shapes and locations in combination with the mouth movements eliminate the ambiguity of speechreading.

“Deaf children learn the cues much like they learn signs—a cued sequence represents a concept when it is connected with that concept.”75 Cued speech is also known as cued language or cued English. It visually encodes English speech sounds and patterns when aural encoding is incomplete or inaccurate. Cued speech is a finite system which provides access to languages, rather than being a language itself. Cued Speech is not meant to replace American Sign Language (ASL); each provides visually clear communication – ASL in the signed language, Cued Speech in the spoken language. The major purpose for Cued Speech use is to develop a child’s language. It is not intended to help a child’s speech. “Cued Speech does indicate the pronunciation of words and can be very helpful when used in conjunction with good articulation therapy.”76


Cued speech has quite a number of benefits. It can be learned in a relatively short period of time. Most parents can learn the system in a weekend. It takes about three to twelve months of consistent cueing to achieve fluency.

Most of the professional respondents felt that both deaf children and their parents would benefit from learning both ASL and Cued Speech. Professionals and parents expressed concern that parents who do not have a native grasp of ASL will be poor language models for their deaf children. Cued speech buys valuable time for the parents. They can begin the process of learning ASL while literally pouring the language they do know into their children during the critical language learning years. “The great majority of children learn language passively through exposure. Deaf children are able to do the same, but only with clear unambiguous access to language.”77

Cued speech positively affects literacy. “Hearing children become literate because they have a strong language base and an internal understanding of the syntax of spoken language long before they ever see the written word.”78 Cued speech can enable the deaf child to internalize the target language. The step of internalizing a language is critical to the process of learning how to read and write. “We learn to read and write by decoding and encoding a language we already know.”79

Cued speech prevents parents from over-simplifying their English because they are communicating in a language they are intimately familiar with. “Hearing people, especially parents, who live with deaf children often ‘dumb down’ their language to make themselves more easily understood.”80 When parents ‘dumb down’ language they use fewer idioms, adjectives, and synonyms. The language they use is anemic. Children need to be exposed to the orchestra of vocabulary and expressions that is within a language to gain native fluency. “A child with good verbal skills and a solid foundation of vocabulary will have a solid foundation for learning to read. This child will be more apt to develop higher level thinking skills and to understand advanced abstract concepts in later years.”81

Children that use Cued Speech speechread more accurately. There is improvement in auditory discrimination. Children who use Cued Speech generally read at or above grade level. Hearing families who use Cued Speech have better communication and fewer behavioral problems. Cued Speech makes it possible to learn to speak a foreign language in a clear and accessible manner.82


Cued speech users do confront some frustrations. One of the greatest frustrations is that it is not used as commonly as other methods. Deaf Cuers are dispersed geographically. Many individuals who cue also sign for companionship with other deaf individuals. They find this association to be really important. “No one but another deaf person can really understand what it’s like to be deaf, and the social support and role models within the deaf community are very important to the deaf child.”83

There are not enough Cued Speech transliterators. Cuers are encouraging interpreter training programs to help meet this need by including Cued Speech in their curricula.
For some families, “a very young hearing impaired child may have trouble expressing himself clearly until his speech skills (or expressive Cueing skills) have caught up with his receptive language abilities. Professionals and parents may opt to provide some children with basic signs to assist them with early expressive communication.”84 There is absolutely no reason that a child exposed to Cued Speech should not also be exposed to ASL concurrently. “Choose a formal communication method based on the information you have and don’t hesitate to add a second—just as you would a second language. Communication is too important to be compartmentalized and inhibited by external rules forced on you by one “camp” or another ASL and Cued Speech look entirely different and they convey two or more different languages. Early childhood is the optimal language learning period and children aren’t easily confused—adults are!”85

Cued Speech can be somewhat tiring to the adults and it is very important to stay in good physical form to prevent repetitive motion injuries. Other professionals are suspect of Cued Speech and are not familiar with the method, often making unfounded negative statements. Cued Speech provides something unique – sensory integrated visible spoken phonemes. Parents must determine whether this is appropriate for their child. It is not right for every parent/child pair. However, “Cued Speech seems to be an awfully good way to establish the language base with a young child.”86

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