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Cued Speech at NIEHS

By Blondell Peterson
June 2005

Barbara Dietz and her daughter, Jennifer
Barbara Dietz uses cued speech with her daughter, Jennifer, who lost her hearing at age 3.

The Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management sponsored a cultural education program on cued speech recently and will also offer a 4-week American Sign Language class beginning June 2.

Many of us are familiar with American Sign Language, but maybe not so familiar with cued speech. This is a more tailored form of speaking with the hands, a combination of hand placement at different areas of the face, lip reading as words are spoken and shapes created with the hands. In ASL, an entire sentence or phrase may be communicated with one or two signs, but with cued speech, each word is communicated just as it is spoken in a sentence.

The phonemically-based system uses eight hand shapes in four locations near the face to supplement the information available on the lips during speech.

"With cued speech you say everything as if you are talking like a hearing person," Barbara Dietz, Program Specialist, LRDT said. "With sign language, you have signs for words that can be said out of context. You don't get all the verbs and tenses that you do with cued speech."

Dietz's daughter Jennifer recently graduated from college, and has been "cueing" since she was five years old. Jennifer lost her hearing at the age of three because of congenital progressive deafness.

"I see cued speech as a tool for English while I see ASL as a visual language that helps better visualize words to those who cannot hear," Jennifer said. "For example, with cued speech, I can see the actual language itself. I can see the flow of English and how it should be said in order," she said. "With ASL, you have to guess the sign because one word can have so many signs and meanings to it. I tend to get confused and the flow of English is not right. But that is my opinion. It may differ with others who grew up with ASL but still have good English."

Dietz said she had never heard of a hearing child going deaf and it was a lot to deal with having no experience. There was no history of deafness in either hers or her husband's families.

Living in southern Florida, Dietz said Jennifer participated in a program for deaf children that was of little help. Her hearing loss was so severe that the hearing aids, at that time, were not adequate. After a year and a half, the family moved to Virginia where an audiologist said Jennifer needed more than just oral classes. She suggested either sign language or cued speech.

Dietz does not discount American Sign Language, but said her family chose cued speech because it was best for her child. "She needed more than an oral program," she said. "We didn't want sign language-only because we knew our daughter. If she could make one sign for 'airplane,' she wouldn't try to sign vowels and consonants for the entire sentence. So we went looking for a cued speech program."

According to Dietz, in a matter of four or five weeks Jennifer was starting to talk again and understanding what they cued. "It took us [adults] about six weeks to learn the basics of cued speech," she said. "It takes a bit longer to then put it all together so you can talk with it, but Jennifer was young and smart and she picked up on it quickly."

Jennifer has said, for example, if you want to say, "I need to go to the store to get milk" with ASL you might actually say, "milk store go" therefore you have to figure out the context. With cueing, you can say, "I need to go to the store to get milk."

"It's like when you have a new baby and you're trying to teach it to talk, you have to put those pieces in there," Dietz said.

Dietz said another phenomenal thing about this system is that you can cue more than 55 language, dialects and accents such as New York or a southern drawl. "It's just applicable to however you speak," she said. "The thing is, words have to be said and cued simultaneously. The words meet and Pete look the same on the lips. When you add the consonant hand signs for the "M" or the "P" sound, you have two different words. I'm not saying this happens overnight. It's just like teaching a child to walk or a different language. It takes a lot of years of input and repetition."

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