Sunday, September 28, 2008

Returning to School Part 1: Cued Speech & Accurate Sound Representation

So, while I wear my implant all the time, I hear but not HEAR- I only truly understand the environmental noises. And while that is wildly useful (Some noises I've noticed in this past month: oven timer beeping, the door opening signaling the arrival of someone, being able to follow voices in my class discussion) I want MORE.

Classes loomed over me and with it, a certain sadness. It had everything to do with the monotonous repetition of sameness in how I process information. That is to say, I use sign language interpreters. I wanted it to be different yet I had known it wouldn't be this quarter.

I had a CART transcriber for my first two classes of chemistry. CART stands for Communication Access Realtime Translation. Basically, someone sits next to me with a special typewriter that is connected to a small laptop, and allows them to type down everything that's being said. It was very fascinating to see it in practice since she did indeed capture EVERYTHING that was being said by the professor (although not actually in realtime, more like a 7 second lag) It felt like the human dimension was being taken away although I loved the direct verbatim style, because I am wildly fond of reading and absorb well that way.

So, she asked if I liked it and said she'd love to transcribe for me the rest of the quarter. I replied that I liked it. I didn't say anything about her transcribing, though. I wish I could have both- the human interaction and the amazing accuracy without the paraphasing that can sometimes occur with interpreters.

An idea began simmering at the edge of my mind.... Since I can access the SOUNDS of language with my implant, why should I have to watch sign language interpreters if there's OTHER interpreters out there who can represent what I'm hearing more accurately? With sign language there's a slight lag as well as the problematic tendency of people using words that aren't present in sign language, so they get converted to their simplistic versions. The only example I can think of doesn't have to do with vocabulary but rather with English cliches, but I hope you will get the idea. If someone were to say the phrase, "elbow grease" it'd get signed as "hard work."

There is a way to match up signs with sounds other than SEE (Signing Exact English). It's called cued speech. Cued speech is the use of 8 handshapes to represent consonant sounds and 4 handshapes to represent vowels.

It's not a language, but rather a way of representing what's already there. Cued speech is universal, which also came of great interest to me. You can cue in Spanish, even cue a Southern dialect with accurate representation.

I started researching with a zest and emailing people. I asked my school if it was possible to get a cued speech interpreter. The response was:

"There is *one* cued speech interpreter in Washington State (that I know of). She lives in the Seattle area. We might be able to get her for future quarters.

This is something you'd want to discuss with us though."

I thought, "Hmm... so I WOULD be able to get a cued speech transliterator if I wanted to. Let's go ahead and learn it then!"

How does this apply to those of you with cochlear implants? Well, it can help with better lipreading, more accurate matching-up of sounds with words and maintain or improve speech. For me, I wish 110% to learn speech better so I can communicate easier with others. I also really want to redirect my brain to the IMPLANT, the auditory part of things instead of the visual. I found a site
at that said:

If development of speech is desired, Cued Speech can support speech and articulation skills by:

  • focusing attention on the mouth
  • reinforcing the pattern of phonemes within a word or phrase
  • identifying the speech sound(s) and syllables being targeted
  • being a motoric reminder and trigger of speech production
  • integrating sound, sight, and motor aspects to make learning more fun!

So, knowing that HSDC teaches cued speech to infants, I emailed them asking about if they knew where I could learn. Turns out they have an upcoming workshop for cued speech October 17 and 18th!! Both are all day but only $10 for me. Such a good deal because I know there are people who are professionals who will have to pay $120 for the same workshop. I'm going for sure. It will be easier learning from someone instead of going through it myself in a disorganized manner.
I worry, What if I am really terrible at cueing? What if I can't remember any of it? What if I fall in love with cueing? Even, what if I don't and this means I've exhausted all the possible options for language out there? Will it be hard to teach people close to me cued speech?

Those things don't matter yet and I know that. But I'm REALLY hoping I won't be bad at cueing and it'll be relatively easy to learn, needless to say!

The downfall is that there are not many cuers in this area. Cueing is actually practically unheard of around here. I was surprised to find that my mom, who works with deaf people, hadn't heard of cued speech.

I look forward to coming back and discussing how the workshop went, if it helps my speech in the long run, and seeing if I end up using cued speech in the future for classes or even for daily interaction!!

In the meantime, here is more information on cued speech. I encourage you to leave comments & thoughts.

Cued Speech Association Information Page
Short 10 Minute Film (With sign language interpretation, captions, and spoken English)


Barb said...

Tasha, do you have a friend or a partner who will learn Cued Speech with you? Learning to cue and learning to Cue Read can be slightly different. This all comes from my perspective as a hearing individual, but I hope it helps.

I found that I could practice my cueing while I was alone. I could cue in the car to the news or commercials coming over the radio. I could cue while reading a book. I could cue while walking or exercising and listening to my iPod. I didn't have to cue to another person to improve my skill. I just had to practice. But, I have to admit, I'm a horrible Cue Reader. I can't always tell what someone cues back to me unless I hear them speak. Why is that? Because no one cues to me! My son knows I can understand him when he responds verbally, so he doesn't find it necessary to cue to me. Therefore, he gets lazy and won't bother. I'm not often around enough native cuers to get good practice at Cue Reading.

In order to teach my hearing impaired son to cue, we cued TO him. He began to absorb the visual cues the same way a hearing person absorbs the spoken language around them.

So, my point here, is that for you to learn to Cue Read, which is your primary goal, you will need someone to cue to you frequently. The more the people around you cue to you, the more quickly you'll be able to absorb the shapes and gestures as the sounds they represent.

The class will be invaluable for helping you understand the concept of cueing and will teach you how to interpret it all, but you'll need more than 2 days practice.

My advise is find a partner, a roommate, a friend, a sibling, a parent, or all of the above and take them to class with you. You want them to cue to you in order to improve your Cue Reading skills.

Cued Speech really is the perfect complement to a cochlear implant. It is a wonderful tool that gives you the ability to understand what it is you're now hearing.

Aaron R. said...

You're not the first one to ask about the possibility of using Cued Speech for services in the classroom. I do know of one who grew up "oral" but struggled to get services freshman year of college. She had sign interps, but after learning of CS through an AG Bell leadership program she decided to check it out. The rest is history and now she's an advocate for using Cued Speech.

I would ask, do you lip-read well? If so, you should do much better with cuereading from the start once you learn the basics.

I'm getting my masters in Deaf Ed and Cued Speech is something that people really know nothing about, but don't let that discourage you.

Feel free to hit me up if you want to practice some cuereading via webcam!

- A native cuer since 2 years old.

M-B said...

Wanted to let you know I have pretty much been in the same shoes as you are. I still want MORE to this day with my cochlear implant. I've been so busy with life that I haven't had time to sit down and figure out how to receive therapy services for my implant. Poor choice on my part, but am working towards figuring that out. I did very well back in elementary/high school all because I had the CLT around to help visualize the auditory background noises/comments through Cued Speech. That access definitely trained my brain in associating sounds to who or what.

I also had CART back in college for one semester during my first year and although the notes were nice to have on hand, it still wasn't enough for me. Then when I transferred to another college, there were no CLT's available in the area so I was "stuck" with learning sign language and having to use interpreters in classrooms. I had a tough time with that.

As others mention, cuereading does take practice. As Barb suggested, I would definitely recommend you find someone who is willing to learn with you and the key is practicing as often as you can.

I'm SO excited there is a workshop next weekend and it's only for $10 bucks! Ask a friend or someone to take it with you!

Best wishes and good luck!

elizabeth said...

Great blog! I hope you'll consider adding it to the aggregator at Deaf Village ( -- we'd love to have you as part of our community!

Laurie said...

Great post. I had a transcriber for my college courses (when I wore hearing aids) and they were a great help. I did not know sign language so that was not an option. Transcribing services are better than no services!

There is a shortage of interpreters and transcribers everywhere so you are not alone. Even though you cannot get the cued speech like you want, at least a CART transcriber or something similar would allow you to participate in the classroom.

I, too, hear with my CI's but don't always HEAR everything. It takes time. Auditory therapy and books on tape were a great help in improving my comprehension. While the CI's are not an instant "fix" to HA's or deafness, they are far better!

Hang in there!