kitchen table math, the sequel: cued speech and literacy -- must see

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

cued speech and literacy -- must see

This is incredible.

Under the category of "it's always worse than you think," Myrtle has clued me into a raging edu-war I'd never even heard of: "cued speech" versus American sign language. Myrtle says the conflict is essentially the conflict between phonemic awareness & phonics (cued speech) and whole language (ASL).

Here's a passage drawn from Cued Speech and Literacy: History, Research, and Background Information (pdf file):

With regard to children and adults who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, literacy is typically measured in terms of grade-level achievement. Studies have shown that the average American adult reads and writes at an eighth-grade level, and the average deaf adult at a fourth-grade level. The most recent data are from 1996, when the Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI) collected raw data from 17- and 18-year-old deaf students who were in school and took the Stanford Achievement Test, 9th edition. The section from the test used for measurement was the reading comprehension multiple-choice subtest of the SAT. The median score corresponded to the 4.0 grade level, which means that only 50 percent of 17 to 18 year old test-takers scored above the typical hearing student at the beginning of 4th grade, and 50 percent scored below that grade.2


The Cued Speech system visually represents the phonemes that occur in any traditionally spoken word or syllable. We usually think of phonemes as individual sounds or, more meaningfully, as consonants and vowels. Handshapes represent consonant phonemes, and hand placements represent vowel phonemes. Phonemes that look similar on the lips are assigned different handshapes or placements. By combining a handshape with a placement and a corresponding mouth shape, a visually clear, unambiguous representation of the phoneme occurs. It is possible to cue while speaking, though it takes time and practice to increase speed and proficiency in cueing skills. Many say it is akin to learning how to touch type. It is important to note that the production of speech is not required to be part of the cued message. Cued languages are clear through vision alone.

Recent research studies have produced some interesting findings. One study showed that deaf cuers make similar spelling mistakes as hearing children; for example, they might write “blue” as “bloo” or “done” as “dun,” which are phonemic representations of those words. However, deaf signers’ spelling mistakes tend to be related to sequencing, such as “bule” instead of “blue” (LaSasso et al., 2003).6

Also, deaf signers with weak literacy skills typically struggle with the idea of rhyming and do not understand how words such as bird and word are rhymes, but bear and hear are not. So much of their understanding of English is based on their memorization of sight words, not an internalized phonemic awareness of the language. However, deaf cuers typically have the same understanding of rhyming as their hearing peers and can identify rhyme pairs as well as produce spontaneous rhymes (LaSasso & Crain, 2003).7

Results of research studies have consistently shown that native deaf cuers with no coexisting learning or information processing disabilities have achieved literacy levels comparable to their hearing peers. Though no formal studies have been done recently to assess deaf adult cuers’ literacy rates, the studies that focus on deaf cueing children (aged 7-16) have shown them to outperform deaf signing and oral peers on several standardized reading and writing tests. Recent fMRI data show that deaf adult cuers decode phonemic information much as hearing adults do. Results are in the publication process.

Native Deaf Cueing Adults

Many cuers have gone on to college and graduate school and are succeeding in the workforce. A sampling of the colleges and universities deaf cuers have attended include Stanford, Brown, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Georgetown, Columbia (NY), Bryn Mawr, Louisiana State, Rochester Institute of Technology, Gallaudet, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Texas at Dallas, Boston University, California State University at Northridge, New York University, Penn State, Wellesley, and many, many more.

With cueing still very much in its infancy, we are looking forward to seeing where our current cueing adults will go. The Board of the National Cued Speech Association now comprises native deaf cuers who are taking over the reins of passing down cueing to the next generations of deaf children. Deaf cuers are part of the cohort of trained and certified instructors of the Cued Speech system, as well as teaching at the university level. The cueing community has come a long way in the last 40 years and looks forward to the next 40.


Cued Speech is a key to unlocking the code of English (or 60 other spoken languages and dialects) for children to develop language and literacy skills that are needed to participate fully in the world of work and family. The gift of complex language, communication with family members, and the foundation of skills for school and work is a precious one made available by the development of Cued Speech.

For me, what's especially shocking about this is that apparently cued speech is easy for a hearing person to learn.

American Sign Language, on the other hand, is not.

This means that many parents of children who are deaf from birth do not speak the same language their children do. I remember reading an upsetting article in WELLESLEY MAGAZINE, I think, about a mom having dinner with her grown daughter & the daughter's deaf friends.

The mom couldn't understand them because even after many years of study she wasn't fluent in ASL.

A "sign-cueing" war means parents are being urged to accept having their children taught a foreign language that will limit both their ability to communicate with their children and their children's ability to read at grade level.

Here's the website for the National Cued Speech Association.

YouTube: "Breaking the Code"

The man who invented cued speech created it in order to add just enough visual information to speech to make each sound look different.

Cued speech is visual phonics.

from the PTA

Cued Speech is a visual-manual communication system that uses eight handshapes in four different placements near the face in combination with the mouth movements of speech to make the sounds of spoken language look different from each other.

The cueing of a traditionally spoken language is the visual counterpart of speaking it. Cueing makes available to the eye(s) the same linguistic building blocks that speaking avails the ear(s). Until the advent of cueing, the term spoken language accurately described what had been the only way of distinctly conveying these building blocks: speaking. In fact, until that time, the sounds of speech and the building blocks were thought of as one and the same.
Nevertheless, speaking is simply a process of manipulating tongue placement, breath stream, and voice to produce a sound code that represents these building blocks. The blocks are assembled by way of the stream of sounds produced by these manipulations. Cueing is a process of manipulating handshapes, hand placements, and non-manual signals to produce a visible code representing the same building blocks. The blocks are assembled by way of the stream of cues produced by these manipulations. Because cueing is the visible counterpart of speaking, cued language is the visible counterpart of spoken language. (Fleetwood & Metzger, 1995)

grist for the mill

As more research on cued speech is published, it's going to become harder for schools to persist in using balanced literacy.

Here we have deaf children, who can't hear any phonemes at all, lagging 4 years behind hearing children in reading.

If it were possible to learn to read well using vision alone, there wouldn't be a gap.

Andrew & Jimmy could use cued speech

So now obviously I'm wondering whether Andrew and Jimmy would do better with cued speech. Autistic people, often, have a kind of "central deafness" -- that's what it used to be called sometimes -- they hear sound, but they're not hearing the sound segments.

What's confusing about autistic children is that some of them are also hyperlexic: they learn to read on their own, and they learn to read early. Which, of course, makes them seem the opposite of dyslexic.

Autistic children seem like the one group of kids who really do learn to read via "whole language."

Still, how many learn to read on grade level?

Andrew clearly has some kind of savant, hyperlexic skills for memorizing sight words, but he's nowhere near reading at grade level. He only started to be able to "hear" spoken language a couple of years ago, and his speech sounds like the speech of a deaf child. He can't form sounds and letters at all.

Of course, Jimmy doesn't "see" well, either (though Andrew does). Jimmy's problems with vision are the same as Andrew's problems with hearing.

It's not that Jimmy can't "see." He can. His acuity is fine.

But somehow images aren't getting processed. When he was little he seemed not to see anything unless it was in motion. Even an elephant at the zoo was invisible to him unless it happened to do something fun and motion-filled like poop. (Autistic boys, for all their problems, are as one with non-autistic boys on the hilarity of poop and pee.)

I always say Jimmy had to learn to see. As he grew older he got so he could make things out. He was obviously teaching himself to recognize things in the environment.

For Jimmy cued speech might be just a blur.

I think Andrew could do it.

I need to look into this.

Ken on Madison's reading scores
cued speech and literacy
forcing hearing children to learn as deaf children must
how to make a point


Rudbeckia Hirta said...

I wonder how this research extends to learning to read a language like Chinese.

Joanne Jacobs said...

My sister taught remedial English at a community college near the California School for the Deaf, which teaches sign language. She had a number of deaf students who shared a sign interpreter. My sister was shocked at the very poor reading and writing skills of her deaf students -- worse than the other remedial students. American Sign Language doesn't prepare students to read and write in English.

Catherine Johnson said...

I wonder how this research extends to learning to read a language like Chinese.

Good question!

I remember reading research about dyslexia being different in China (different on brain scans).

That's a VERY interesting question.

I'll see if I can find the dyslexia research.

Catherine Johnson said...

My sister was shocked at the very poor reading and writing skills of her deaf students -- worse than the other remedial students.

Right -- I was pretty sure I remembered this was the case.

I wonder if you could invent a form of reading that WOULD work for ASL???

In other words, I wonder if you could do a kind of reverse-engineering....sort of the way the man who invented cued speech worked from the spoken & printed word to a visual-spoken word.

Can't tell if I'm making sense.

Anonymous said...

According to Diane McGuiness in her book, "Why Our Children Can't Read And What We Can Do About It"

Chinese is not logographic. She calls this a misconception due to the syllable structure of the Chinese language. "Just under half of all Chinese words are only one sylable long...a word and a syllable at the same time. Most Chinese syllables consist of ony two basic sound sequences CV and CVC. The Chinese language has very few consonant clusters or "blends" and a grand total of 1,277 tonal syllables...this open simple syllable structure means that the Chinese language is riddled with homophones, those words that sound alike with different meanings, which makes it necessary to use abouty 200 classifiers. Ninety percent of all Chinese words are written as compound signs, with the syllable sign and the classifier sign fused together."

Then she goes on...

"Harold Stevenson and a group of American, Japanese, and Chinese scientists tested over 2,000 fifth grade children in Taiwan, Sendai, and Minneapolis. The children read text of comparable difficulty, with similar vocabularies averaging around 7,000 words. What they discovered first is surprising. Tawainese children do not begin by memorizing the 1,277 syllable signs, as whole language teachers might imagine. Instead, they are taught the individual sounds of their language using a Roman alphabet...Once these sounds are mastered they begin to memorize the syllable characters..."

At any rate, she also says that they found out that the Chinese children in Beijing who did not learn to read this way had difficulty identifying Chinese words out of context.

And the source she cites for all this is,

Stevenson, HW, Stigler, JW, Lucker, W & Shin-ying, L (1982). Reading disabilities: The Case of Chinese, Japanese and English. Child Development, 53, 1164-83

Then to make it crystal clear she says, "No culture has ever used the word as the sole basis for a writing system. Not even the Chinese."

Catherine Johnson said...



Catherine Johnson said...

Myrtle - how did you learn cued speech??

Did you take a class?

Did you use the CD?

Anonymous said...

I learned it once in college as part of a speech path class I was taking and then I learned it again about three years ago when we were convinced that my son would never speak. This is one website I used:

My husband and I practiced together until we were able to communicate slowly.

I also met a couple of deaf people online with net cams that were willing to practice with me.

Sam-Is-Mad said...


I was talking with friend who is doing the same course as I did about this last night. She was saying how one of her teachers is big on using it with hearing kids. Which I said sounds like a waste of time learing something extra, but then at least they will lear how to read.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, I am an SLP/college professor who has cued with deaf kids for years. Just wanted you to know that cueing has been used successfully with some children with autism, though there are not studies yet. Have you been in touch with the NCSA's Information Service for contacts/info? Well worth looking into.

Cathy Quenin

Anonymous said...

Geraldine E. Rodgers' "History of Beginning Reading" talks about things similar to cued speech and the history of teaching reading for both deaf and hearing students. Here is one paragraph from page 1076:

"In his 1979 talk, Cornett told of a little child born deaf in one of the most isolated parts of Australia, whose parents had taught her from infancy with his Cued Speech. Her speech developed absolutely normally, and at the same age as a hearing child’s speech develops, and even included the use of intonation! Yet, when a convention for educators of the deaf was being held in a Washington, D. C., hotel near which I was staying a year or two ago, there was no indication in any of the literature being distributed outside the meeting room, some twenty years after Cornett’s brilliant work at Gallaudet College, Washington, D. C., that any change had been made in the signing and sight-word methods for teaching the deaf. The “meaning” approach apparently still reigns supreme in the teaching of the deaf, despite the work of Samuel Heinecke, Abbe Deschamps, Alexander Graham Bell, Dr. R. Orin Cornett and presumably hosts of others over the centuries since the ill-starred appearance of the Abbe de l’Epee who began teaching the deaf in Paris about 1760"