Cued Speech FAQ

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What is Cued Speech?

The following is extracted from the original description of Dr. Robert Orin Cornett. The descriptions are my own. This is not intended to be a definitive description. When reading the following, bear in mind that Cued Speech requires that BOTH the lip-shapes and the hand cues be observed.

Cued speech is quite simple in method.

Dr. Orin Cornett defined a phonetic alphabet of 41 sounds. He called that 'fonetik spelling'. Then he divided twenty five consonant sounds into seven groups of three sounds and one group with four sounds. (total eight groups)

All the sounds in each group are visually distinct from the other sounds in each group. Thus, 'B' 'P' and 'M' which look similar on the lips are placed in three different groups so that the hand sign for each group immediately identifies the proper sound that goes with the visual appearance of 'closed lips in a straight line'

The vowel sounds are classified grouped with four hand LOCATIONS, one at the throat, one at the chin, one beside the mouth and one at the side of the jaw.

Diphtongs are defined as a simple movement from one vowel position to another.

This describes the ENTIRE system!

The only big trick is to learn to make cue signs along with speech. The cues must be made as the words are pronounced, not as they are spelled. (Thus, in cued speech the letter 'C' does not appear since it is pronounced either 'S' or 'K'.)

The hand shapes that define the consonants are made with the fingers of one hand in combinations of open and closed fingers. The handshapes are identified by the first consonant in the group.

  • The 't' group consists of T-M-F and has the handshape of all five fingers extended and held together, somewhat similar to the fingerspelled 'b' with the thumb visible.
  • The 'h' group consists of H-S-R and the handshape is similar to the fingerspelled 'f', or a sign for 'perfect', with the thumb touching the index finger and the other three fingers extended.
  • The 'l' group consists of L-SH-W and has the handshape of the fingerspelled letter 'l'
  • The 'k' group consists of K-V-tH-Z and consists of the index and middle fingers raised while the thumb and remaining fingers are closed, rather like the fingerspelled 'u' sign with two fingers.
  • The 'd' group consists of D-P-zh and is signed with a single index finger raised., very much like the fingerspelled 'd'.
  • The 'n' group consists of N-B-WH and looks like the 't' group sign with the thumb folded out of sight , holding four fingers extended.
  • The 'g' group consists of G-J-th and looks like the sign for the 'k' group except with the thumb clearly extended.
  • The 'ng' group consists of NG-Y-CH and looks like a victory sign or the fingerspelled 'v'.

All these handshapes are made with the palm toward the person MAKING the cues (i.e. the deaf person would normally never see the palm of the cuer.) Generally the fingers are held in a horizontal position rather than vertical. The vowel positions groups are the base (to the side to the side of throat, towards the shoulder) which codes A-O-U-OE as in father-got-but-note.

  • The larynx position codes A-I-OO as in hat-is-good formed with the hand at the throat or collarbone center (larynx).
  • The chin position codes AW-E-UE as in ball-get-blue with the hand at the point of the chin.
  • The mouth position codes EE-UR as in feet-urn with the hand at the side of the mouth.

These vowel habndshapes are the full five fingers , with the thumb slightely extended in a relaxed way.

Diphtongs are coded by four movements as from throat to larynx to base or back:

  • 'ie' is larynx to base
  • 'ae' is chin to larynx
  • 'ou' is base to larynx
  • 'oi is also chin to larynx.

That's it!

Learning these 16 handshapes/movements is no more difficult than learning to fingerspell. It takes practice to learn to do the cues along with speech WITHOUT thinking about what to do.

It is the same as handwriting the alphabet letters, you just "do" it without thinking about it once you have learned and practiced.

Naturally one can speak slowly while learning to cue. Also, the cue learner has to learn to think of the phonetics of speech, which is not something people usually think about because they are not taught speech phonetics in school. One does not cue words the way they are spelled. Cornett emphasized: "Cue it as you say it."

Well, there it is!

(Contributed by Carey B. at 5 Jun 1994 and posted to DEAF-L by Donna A. Morere at 21 Feb 1995.)

Parent's opinion

The following explains why I believe Cued Speech is the best approach for deaf children of hearing parents:

I have recently been forwarded several messages concerning ASL and Cued Speech which have been floating around the DEAF-L list. I am a faculty member at Gallaudet and a firm believer in the need for all deaf children to be exposed to and learn ASL. On the other hand, as a mother of a deaf child, I am convinced, not by opinions and rhetoric, but by firm research, tha Cued Speech is the best way for my son to learn fluent English.

This was not an easy decision or one made lightly. I knew nothing of Cued Speech when my son was diagnosed. I was already a signer, and after almost a year of cuing, it is still easier for me to sign than cue quickly. I learned to cue and am concentrating on cuing in the home with Thomas because the research is clear: "Cue Kids" read at or above age level if they had that potential. Overall the average reading level of deaf adults is still at the fourth or fifth grade level.

As a scientist, I am also convinced by the theoretical aspects of Cued Speech as a means of accessing English. To be able to read with the ease of a typical hearing child, a deaf child should have two ways to attack words. One is to "look up" the word in the list of all the words he or she has learned. This is called lexical access. This is how a deaf child who is taught English by the "whole word" method approaches words. He or she must learn each word in its written form.

The second means of approaching a word is called phonological access. This approach requires that the child have some means of coding words based on how they sound. Cued Speech allows this type of access as each sound of a word is represented by either the cues or mouth shape. It has been clearly documented that a skilled cuer can clearly understand the exact message that is cued to him or her. In other words, Cued Speech makes spoken English fully accessible to a deaf child. This means that in the classroom, the child gets the exact same message that his/her hearing peers receive. This also means that a child can "pick up" words that are not directly taught to him/her, as she/he may see them being used in communication between other individuals. She/he may also "sound out" written words and match them to these words which have thus been passively absorbed.

The third reason that I think Cued Speech is the ideal mode for a hearing family to use with a deaf child is access to an accurate model of a language. Most parents of deaf children are not native signers. Many have never met a deaf person prior to learning that their own child is deaf. It is important for any child to have an accurate model of an accessible language at the earliest possible age. By the time an average deaf child is diagnosed in this country, she/he is already about 2 years old, and a significant portion of the critical period during which language is most readily learned has passed.

It is impossible to learn a new language fluently overnight. This being the case, the message to parents of deaf children who are told that the only way they can provide their child with language is to immediately learn a completely new language with its own grammar and syntax, and which even uses a different modality than their native language, is clearly that regardless of what they do, they will be inadequate.

The basics of Cued Speech can be learned in a week or less. After that initial training period, the parents can say anything they want to to their child (although they will be quite slow for aome time). They can communicate whith their child in their native language and provide an appropriate and correct model of that language. People who state that cuing "cannot get close enough to bring across full comprehension to be really useful" have simply not researched this means of communication.

This method was not developed as "a tool which might help facilitate lipreading and speech therapy". It was develoloped as a means of making spoken English fully accessible to a deaf child, a task at which it is succcessful. It was also not developed, nor is it intended, as a replacement for ASL. Those who know about Cued Speech know that the developer and the driving forces in Cued Speech are very much in favor of deaf children being brought up bilingual. This is certainly my goal for my son. He attends daycare with deaf providers and with both deaf and hearing children who can sign. He is developing a good identity of himself as a deaf person as well as simply a person. I want my child to have APPROPRIATE AND ACCURATE models of ASL, not my PSE or my husbands broken signs. Those who can provide the child with the best model of each accessible language should do so. This will provide the child with the greatest opportunity for developing both fluent ASL and fluent English.

(Contributed by Donna A. Morere at 21 Feb 1995.)

Feedback from a school principal about Cued Speech

I just had an interesting TTY conversation with the principal of a day deaf school about Cued Speech. I called because someone informed me that they used Cued Speech years ago, and I was curious of its results.

The principal stated that they still use Cued Speech as a tool in some classes, but the vast majority of the teaching is done in Signed English (a la SimCom). I then mentioned about all the glowing research reports about Cued Speech, its resurgence, etc., and asked why it wasn't becoming more popular at the school. Some reasons given, in no particular order of importance:

  1. It is not that easy to learn, in spite of what the proponents say.
  2. The children cannot make themselves understood as readily as with Signed English.
  3. The parents' involvement is not that encouraging. More parents use Signed English than Cued Speech, although most use neither.
  4. The children get admitted at various ages, not necessarily at early ages.
  5. Their children are having much higher literacy scores compared to average deaf children. The school is satisfied that using Signed English is working, and that some of the deaf students are doing as well as hearing students. [The good ones get mainstreamed, most with interpreters.]

Additional info: the school has about 150 students, aged 6 months (EIP program) to 15 years.

Caveat: it was only one TTY conversation, and the above five impressions that I got could be incorrect.

Note that ASL is not used for teaching at the school, and the teachers as a whole are not very fluent (my observation) in Signed English, let alone ASL.

Some of the children do know ASL, having learned it from their parents or older Deaf kids, but their oportunities to practice it are more limited than in residential schools. This is one reason a local Deaf Club had created an afterschool Deaf Kids Club a few years ago. Very popular, although they (40-50 kids) get together only once a month.

Now, two marvelous teachers recently formed deaf intramural sports teams, which is a good start although they only play every other week during school hours. The goal is to eventually play other local schools, maybe even the state deaf school. Was told that about 50 deaf kids, age 11 to 14, participate, and practice twice a week during lunch hour.

As a footnote, I found it intersting that the principal emphasized that Cued Speech is a good tool to teach speech. I, on the other hand, was emphasizing evaluating it as a tool to teach language.

(Contributed by Richard L. Cohen at 10 Oct 1994.)

Disadvantages of cued speech

Elysha Schwach says that as of 5 Dec 1995:
"I have finished gathering my info since my paper is due tomorrow, and I have not heard form one person who has used CS and doesn't like it. I don't know for sure why that is, but it makes a well rounded paper more difficult..."

Cued Speech Bibliography

Some of the material was contributed by:
  • The best introduction is the "big book":
    "The Cued Speech Resource Book For Parents of Deaf Children"
    by R.Orin Cornett and Mary Elsie Daisey, (c) 1992.
    ISBN 0-9633164-0-0 $32.25 (hardcover, 820)
    Available from:
    The National Cued Speech Association, Inc.
    P.O.Box 31345,
    Raleigh, NC, 27622-1345.

    Voice/TTY: (919)828-1218
    E-mail: <[email protected]>

    The comprehensive book includes the provocative accounts not only by parents but also by their deaf children here and abroad (translated by Cornett) and instructions. Two 12 year-old deaf Europeans (French and Belgian) acquired not only FSL or BSL but also TWO foreign languages through Cued Speech. Indeed, this is something else in that an oralist does not very easily acquire two spoken languages through oralism (I learned English and French not through oralism but through reading and writing as a kid). The articles by professionals in the book also tell how Cued Speech (visible speech) enables Cued children to develop speechreading and speech much better -- not like those who learn INvisible speech known as oralism). The book is such an eye-opener for someone profoundly deaf of deaf parents like the poster. What is most positive about Cued Speech proponents is their European-like belief in the importance of bilingualism (ASL and English) or even trilingualism as evinced by several European deaf children. This is antithetical to that of the rigidly monolingual Alexander G. BELL people who ban ASL. Not like oral children who are deprived of an opportunity to learn ASL at an early age and who almost invariably end up becoming anti-oralists, Cued children will develop a positive attitude with a good feeling about themselves when they get older with the acquisition of two entirely different modalities.

  • Choices in Deafness by Sue Schwartz.
  • Cued Speech Transliteration: Theory and Practice, by Earl Fleetwood and Melanie Metzger.
  • "Cued Speech Handbook for Parents" (1971) by Mary Elsie Daisey.
  • "Cued Speech Instructional Manual" by Mary Elsie Daisey.
  • "Becoming A Proficient Cuer"
    Melanie Metzger and Earl Fleetwood
    Videotape 108 min. Includes wkbk.
  • "Cued Speech Transliteration"
    Theory and Application
    Earl Fleetwood and Melanie Metzger
    Calliope Press
    115 pages
  • "Guide To The Proper Practice Of Cued Speech Transliteration"
    Earl Fleetwood and Melanie Metzger
    Calliope Press
    54 pages

    All three Metzger and Fleetwood references can be obtained from :

    Harris Communications
    6541 City West pkwy.
    Eden Prarie, MN 55344-3248
    1-800-825-6758 voice
    1-800-825-9187 tty

  • "Silent Dancing - A Journey of Discovery"
    Osmond Crosby

    This book is essentially a journal of the experience of a father using Cued Speech to communicate with his deaf daughter.

To find other deafness related bibliographies, browse

E-mail contact information

  • Dr. Robert Orin Cornett, father of Cued Speech, has a long list of addresses of Cued Speech schools for deaf children in Europe, and is actively corresponding with Cue people there.
  • Osmond Crosby is father of a deaf daughter and uses Cued Speech with her.