Learning to Speak Visually with Cued Speech – An Interview with Aaron Rose

Aaron Rose

Aaron Rose

Aaron Rose was born profoundly deaf due to the genetic mutation Connexin 26. At the age of seven, he received a cochlear implant that he wears to this day. In school, Aaron didn’t request any assistive devices or sign language accommodation. “I feel that I do well enough with my implant and have good strategies for overcoming challenges in the classroom and the workplace,” he says.

After working toward a masters degree in deaf education and teaching three years in public schools, Aaron has embarked on a new career: teaching the use of Cued Speech.

“Cued Speech is a visual mode of communication in which mouth movements of speech combine with ‘cues’ to make the sounds (phonemes) of traditional spoken languages look different. Cueing allows users who are deaf, hard of hearing or who have language/communication disorders to access the basic, fundamental properties of spoken languages through the use of vision.” –cuedspeech.org

Obviously, Aaron is following his passion. He served on the board of the National Cued Speech Association and co-founded the Colorado chapter. For those of us, like Lipreading Mom, who aren’t as immersed in the teaching of Cued Speech, there are a lot of questions. I recently cyber chatted with Aaron, and he was gracious enough to fill me in.

How did Cued Speech start in the United States?

It was created in 1966 by Dr. R. Orin Cornett, who worked at Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University) as Vice President of Long-Range Planning. Dr. Cornett was originally a physicist, but found a second career in education, first with the Department of Education and then at Gallaudet. While at the Department of Education, Dr. Cornett read a report on the literacy rates of deaf adults and was struck by the fact that despite being visual, deaf people struggled to attain literacy rates comparable to that of native users of English. Therefore Dr. Cornett took the position at Gallaudet with the goal of creating a system that would convey English at the phonemic level. After a year or two of working on his system, he called on an employee of Gallaudet University who had a deaf child to see if she would be part of this “experiment.” The results would become a game-changer for deaf education. Dr. Cornett would go on to receive the honor of Professor Emeritus from Gallaudet University for his work on improving the literacy rates of deaf and hard of hearing children.

What is cued speech? A captioned video from the National Cued Speech Association

As for the first native cuer, Leah Henegar was the first child with hearing loss to be exposed to Cued Speech in 1966 and eventually her entire family learned to cue with her. Other parents in the DC metro area also learned about Cued Speech and eventually by 1980 Cued Speech programs had been established in Fairfax County in Virginia and Montgomery County in Maryland. At this point parents from across the country (and overseas) were learning of Cued Speech, and despite MUCH resistance from professionals (and Deaf people) they stuck to their decision to learn how to cue. Eventually we would see the formation of cue camps which arose out of the need for a place for families to come together to learn and practice Cued Speech.

Today Cued Speech is not as widely used in deaf education compared to sign language and oral education; however from what I understand the proportion of cuers in the DC metro area is growing compared to other modes of communication. The strongest communities can be found in Virginia and Maryland, North Carolina, Louisiana, New England, Minnesota, and Chicago, while Cued Speech seems to be catching on across the country. According to the General Accounting Office of the federal government, approximately two percent of deaf and hard of hearing students in the United States classify Cued Speech as their primary mode of communication today.

What’s even more interesting is that Illinois School for the Deaf is now the first state school for the deaf to integrate Cued Speech into its curriculum for literacy instruction after preliminary data showed promising results compared to previous approaches and interventions. Furthermore, all teachers of the deaf in the country of the Dominican Republic are now required to use Cued Speech for teaching literacy. The reality is more and more professionals are realizing the great benefits of Cued Speech for access to spoken language and literacy development, not just for children with hearing loss, but also children with other special needs.

Cued Speech is used internationally, and by my estimation in at least 20 countries based on what I’ve come across in my research. It has been adapted to over 60 languages and we continue to see Cued Speech growing in popularity, especially in the Middle East.

Image Credit: National Cued Speech Association

Image Credit: National Cued Speech Association

Interesting, Aaron. So Cued Speech isn’t another version of American sign language?

Comparing Cued Speech and American Sign Language is like comparing apples and oranges. Both are similar in that they are visual modes of communication. Beyond that the similarities end. American Sign Language is not based on the phonemes of spoken language, but rather is a separate language. Cued Speech uses hand shapes and hand placements to represent the consonants and vowel phonemes of spoken language. The basic rules of Cued Speech is that what looks the same on the lips (such as /m/, /b/, and /p/) must look different on the hands, therefore resolving the ambiguity inherent in speechreading without any visual cues.

Cued Speech, like American Sign Language, can be used as a form of social communication as evidenced by interactions among cuers at cue camps, social events, and communication within the family unit. Despite the having the word “speech” in the term Cued Speech, one does not need to voice in order to cue since researchers have proven that cuers can have full comprehension of the visual form of spoken language. However, because Cued Speech is based on spoken language phonemes, you can speak and cue at the same time, providing auditory-visual integration for those who might struggle with hearing technology and need something to support their auditory perception.

Cued Speech uses hand shapes and hand placements to represent the consonants and vowel phonemes of spoken language.

When describing the visual form of spoken language, we use the term cued language to describe what cuers are perceiving visually. Even though we use the term “cued language” for linguistic purposes, Cued Speech is not a separate language, but rather a visual system for expressing spoken language visually. In other words speech is to spoken language as Cued Speech is to cued language.

So how did you learn Cued Speech? What is your experience with teaching Cued Speech to others?

I actually never learned Cued Speech, but rather acquired it naturally through exposure. In the same way that hearing children acquire spoken language through auditory input, I acquired spoken language through visual input. I was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at 18 months and my parents eventually picked up Cued Speech a month later. I became an expressive cuer at age two.

I have taught multiple workshops and given presentations, and am also a co-founder of CLEAR Center (Cuers for Leadership, Education, and Advocacy Resources), which will focus on supporting Cued Speech instruction through resource development and training. I’ve given presentations to sign language interpreter programs and speech language therapists at the local Children’s Hospital.

Because of your insight, care to list any other facts or myths about Cued Speech?

1) Cued Speech is for anyone from babies to adults and is not actually limited to the deaf and hard of hearing, since some professionals have found benefits in using Cued Speech for specific challenges such as Down Syndrome, CHARGE syndrome, autism, and so on. There have been cases of incidental benefits for hearing siblings who might have oral apraxia or dyslexia as a consequence of exposure to cued language.

2) Cued Speech and American Sign Language are not mutually exclusive and we actually have some cuers who can code-switch between signing and cueing in the same sentence depending on who they are talking to. We also have individuals who are dual-certified in both sign language interpreting and cued language transliterating.

3) Cued Speech is relatively easy to learn compared to sign languages because it is a code, not a separate language. In a way it’s comparable to learning how to type. You just learn to match the hand cues with the speech sounds (phonemes) of the spoken language you are conveying. Some individuals even have taught themselves to cue without any instruction just by looking at cue charts and reading information online or purchasing products from the Cued Speech Discovery Bookstore. Most people seem to cite 12 to 18 hours of instruction as being sufficient enough in order for a person to be able to go home and practice by themselves without any further instruction.

4) In order to gain fluency in expressing Cued Speech at a natural rate, it takes at least a few months of practice. Some individuals have been able to get to a proficiency level that allows them to work as transliterators in the classroom within a year, so the logistics of learning Cued Speech is relatively much easier than mastering American Sign Language or even another spoken language since you are just learning another way to express spoken language.

Last question, Aaron. If I wanted to direct my readers to learning Cued Speech, where would they go?

Currently, individuals can work with the NCSA to locate instructors in their region or they can purchase materials or set up remote training through the Cued Speech Discovery Bookstore.

Some chapters offer workshops and if one is lucky, they might be able to find a cuer in their area who can meet with them to learn the system. It does not take long to learn how to cue. Most people often find themselves having mastered the system in less than 24 hours of instruction (more like 12 to 18 hours). They just have to go home and practice cueing words, then phrases, then eventually building up to the sentence level before they attain that fluency in order to match the natural expression of spoken language. Follow-up practice with other cuers is a must in order to get technical feedback on accuracy and clarity.

Cue camps are a great place to learn to cue and serve as an experience of being immersed in the Cued Speech community. Here you can learn more about the experiences of others who grew up with Cued Speech and gain access to a great support system. People will find the cueing community to be one of the most inclusive communities and don’t be surprised to find sign language interpreters standing next to the transliterators since we strive to include all modes of communication.

People can also join the Cued Speech group on Facebook to interact with the Cued Speech community.

Readers—I’m happy to note that Aaron and his wife are expecting their first child. Join with me in congratulating them—and sharing your thoughts about Aaron’s interview—in the Comments below.


14 thoughts on “Learning to Speak Visually with Cued Speech – An Interview with Aaron Rose

  1. Thanks for the great interview, LRM! I supply CART to a student who uses cued-speech, but unfortunately, there are no transliterators in our area. This is an area that may be of interest to some people who don’t want to take the time to learn ASL, but still have that phonemic awareness, like we do as CART providers.

  2. Great article, Shanna and Aaron. I live in Lawrence, KS, and am a fluent curt. I work as a certified ASL interpreter. I learned to cue quite some time ago from an east-coast student at a state university. I have kept up my cueing skills by self-practice and this year have attended two Cue Camps. Distance technology makes it easier than ever to learn or practice CS, and the benefits to literacy are incredible. Thank you for doing this article!

  3. I think he did a nice job explaining that Cued Speech is not a language, but that ASL is. That is important to note. Cued Speech is a mode to help people understand what a speaker is saying. I do not believe that children should cue back if they have hearing loss,but rather sign or speak. I believe they should communicate with language,because that helps their brain learn English or ASL. I have seen many successful students use a transliterator and use Cueing in class from them to understand the teacher. However, when they started to cue too much themselves,they lost the understanding and meaning of English. When they stopped using it expressively, they did better. I know this is one opinion. If it works for children,then of course, go for it. Kudos to him and all of his success.

    • Allison – You wrote something that I found very thought-provoking and I thank you for it because I strive to learn from other people’s opinions hence why I’m going to ask you a question. I’m curious as to why you believe cuers lose the meaning and understanding of English when they cue expressively? Do you have a specific example or scenario without naming names? I’m a native cuer. Began cueing expressively to my parents and sisters at 16 months of age after being diagnosed as profoundly deaf at 9 months old. The minute my parents started cueing to me, I was immediately exposed visually and directly to the native language used in our household. I cue to Aaron and my family and when I do, I’m cueing exactly how I would speak English to someone else without cueing so I view that as communicating with language. I am friends with cuers who are receptive only and when they express themselves, I typically don’t notice them struggling with conveying their thoughts/messages via English. Most have basic SEE skills. I always admit I’m not fluent in ASL because I sign more in English order. Again, I respect your opinion and other people’s and I’m here to learn from all of you! πŸ™‚

  4. I live in Olathe Ks and my daughter attends school with Shannon W. an oral teacher originally from St Joseph. I have been using cued speech with her some. I taught myself and see improved speech when I use it. It is amazing. I hope more people learn about cued speech!

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