Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from Ginny R. Littleton, NC

My son has a bilateral, severe hearing loss and will be entering the third grade. His second grade teacher suggested that cued speech might help with his reading, which is really hard for him. She says cued speech easy to learn, but it sounds too good to be true. Is it?

Question from Ginny R. Littleton, NC. Posted June 19, 2009.
Response from Marc Marschark - NTID

It has been estimated that only about 20% of English is fully visible on the lips (which is what makes lip reading or “speech reading” so difficult). Cued speech is a system of hand shapes and positions intended to make mouth movements unambiguous, for example, by adding different cues to “b,” “m,” and “p.”  (Note, these are not signs!) Cueing clearly helps with speech reception although, interestingly, most cued speech kids I have encountered do not cue themselves (that is, they do not use it when they speak). There is a wealth of evidence from the French-speaking part of Belgium, and a little from Spain, indicating that when cued speech is used both at school and at home, it significantly improves reading in deaf children. However, despite 40 years of trying, no one has ever shown it to help reading for children who are learning English. The folks in Belgium have suggested that this is because French (and Spanish and Italian) are very regular in their sound-to-spelling correspondences, while English is one of the most irregular languages. Add that to the fact that English has well over five times as many words as French, and the situation is not so surprising. Unfortunately, people hear about the French results and assume  they apply to English.  For more information on cued speech, language, and literacy, see the review by Jacqueline Leybaert and Jesus and Alegria in the Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education Oxford University Press, 2003, edited by M. Marschark & P.E. Spencer).