Monday, July 29, 2013

Learning Cued Speech in a Matter of Hours

This past weekend I taught a Cued Speech workshop to a small number of individuals, of one who calls herself hard of hearing and has some vision challenges and another who was born in France, but moved here and is raising a deaf child of her own. What struck me was how quickly those individuals caught on to the essence of Cued Speech and figured out how to match the cues with the phonemes of spoken English. They felt confident enough to go home and practice cueing by themselves after only a matter of hours.

Over the past years I've heard stories of people teaching themselves to cue just by looking at the cue charts and using workbooks purchased online. I know this is true because one of them is a board member of Cued Speech of Colorado and a cued language transliterator for one of the CSCO junior members.

Think about that for a second. They taught themselves how to cue... How is that possible? Cued Speech really is simple enough in that you have eight handshapes with four hand placements and four hand movements to convey all the phonemes of spoken English. As long as you know how to decode words.

The crux of learning Cued Speech is essentially decoding spoken English at the phonemic level. Let's take the word 'cat.' The word itself has three phonemes - /k a t/, but because Cued Speech is a consonant-vowel system, you have to ask yourself TWO questions. What is the hand shape? Where is the hand placement or movement? Hand shapes represent the consonants (or vowel only) and hand placements or movements represent the vowels (or consonant only).

Now one important thing to remember about how spoken languages are articulated. We pair consonants and vowels together. So we don't sound out each word as in /k ... a.... t.../, but rather sound out words in syllables because that's just how it is in running speech - /ka t/. Cued Speech is a syllabic system in that it pairs consonants and vowels together, so hand shapes and hand placements are conveyed simultaneously, making it easier to convey spoken language fluently and at a natural rate.

Now let's break down the word 'cat' in terms of cuems.

/k/ - hand shape 2
/a/ - at the throat.
/t/ - hand shape 5
    - at the side * (Many words don't end in a vowel, so where do you end up? At the side)

The cue notation for /kat/ would be 2t5s, so you're conveying two cuems: /ka/ - 2t and /t/ - 5s.

A word that ends in a vowel is 'batty' - /b a t ee/, therefore the last cuem is where the vowel is.

/b/ - hand shape 4
/a/ - at the throat
/t/ - hand shape 5
/ee/ - at the mouth

The cue notation for /ba tee/ would be 4t5m, also two cuems.

Still confused? Don't worry. Not everyone knows how to decode spoken English readily because they really never were taught to do that in the real sense of purposefully showing the phonemes of this language visually. Speech language pathologists typically have this ability to decode spoken language into speech sounds because it is ingrained into their training as professionals who support both articulation and language acquisition. They have to learn the IPA system after all.

Now everyone who takes a Cued Speech class or workshop either uses their decoding skills they've acquired through schooling or experience, or they learn to think about the speech sounds we produce in running speech. Once they get over that hump of decoding words, then they are already on their way to mastering Cued Speech by memorizing the hand shapes and hand placements or movements that correspond with each consonant or vowel phoneme.

Now if you really want to teach yourself how to cue, you should check this CD out, created by IDRT.

You can also go to the Cued Speech Discovery Bookstore to find more products that can help you learn Cued Speech.

Then there's the Cued Speech Initiative out of University of South Florida with a page for materials to use for learning.

Don't take this as criticism of sign language, but many parents who started out learning sign language, but switched to Cued Speech cite their frustration with learning new sign vocabulary and how much easier it was to learn to cue. The point of the matter is they already know the vocabulary of their primary language, so more cognitive effort is spent on matching phonemes to hand cues instead of matching new vocabulary in another language to existing vocabulary in the primary language. For some, matching vocabulary in one language to another is easy. At the same time others struggle with the kinesthetics of sign vocabulary.

In other words, to acquire sign language requires more than a workshop or two, but rather real immersion in the deaf community with exposure to different situations for acquiring new vocabulary. People tell me it took years for them to really be fluent in sign language because of the amount of vocabulary they had to acquire and the grammatical structures they needed to internalize. Some might be able to learn it faster than that because they have access to more resources and Deaf mentors, but the reality is that's not the case everywhere in the United States.

Let's move on to advanced cueing and consider the logistics of becoming a fluent cuer at the conversational level or even working as a cued language transliterator. Envision a college level course where the goal is to learn Cued Speech and become fluent. The course would be set up so that students learn the system in the first few weeks, and the rest of the semester is focused on improving fluency and all the things that come with being a professional or transliterator that provides cued language services. Ideally, students would be expected to gain fluency at the sentence level by the end of the semester and by the end of the year, fluency at the conversational level. So hypothetically, a cued language transliterator program should only take a year for someone to get to the position of entry-level work where they receive additional on-the-job training in order to meet state standards for certification or endorsements. I can attest to this because I have trained sign language interpreters who were to start working as transliterators in a matter of months... They didn't get to that certification level by the first day of school, but within a school year, they certainly got close.

Northern Virginia Community College offers a 3 credit elective course in Cued Speech (INT 295 CS-1) as part of "interpreting topics" in their interpreting program, while Nazareth College, Teachers College, Illinois State University, and University of South Florida offer Cued Speech courses for their respective fields related to hearing loss (SLP, Deaf Ed, and Communication Sciences and Disorders).

USF students in the communication disorders program who take the Cued Speech course are required to perform a skit in front of a camera at the end of the semester as part of their evaluation. See this youtube search page for multiple videos to see the varying levels of fluency.

Hopefully ten years from now, we'll see Cued Speech courses as part of every post-secondary program that offers a degree in deaf education or related fields and more Cued Speech instructors across the United States. This shouldn't be an unrealistic goal since the logistics of teaching Cued Speech is relatively simple compared to the logistics of training interpreters to be qualified enough for RID and EIPA standards.

In a nutshell, Cued Speech is simple enough to fit on the back of a business card... yes, a business card, designed by a native cuer.

Now go forth and learn Cued Speech.


Joan Ruypert said...

Thank you so much, Aaron. It's so
validating to have a native cuer give out this kind of information! I will give this as reference to any new professional/parent who is seeking information on Cued Speech

Simon Roffe said...

Excellent blog Aaron. You should write more. :-)

Gonetomars said...

Absolutely agree! Here in the UK we used to (and occasionally still) offer two-day intensive courses where an entire family could learn the whole system in a weekend. Now we've found it's not just more cost-effective, but also more efficient, to offer Skype courses of 6 45-minute sessions. In that time we can train someone to cue really fluently and accurately, with just a little more speed needed.