On June 29-30th, cuers of all ages gathered at Nazareth College outside of Rochester, NY for the annual Cue Camp, which alternates locations every other year between New York and Maryland. Cue Camp is a place where people of all ages, hearing levels, languages, and backgrounds can come together to practice Cued Speech, meet other cuers, or learn the system from scratch in a single weekend.
Cued Speech is a manual system, a way of visually representing a spoken language using eight hand shapes and five placements around the face to indicate all the consonant and vowel sounds in any spoken language. It is not a sign language replacement, but rather, a visual way to communicate English, or any other spoken language. (For a detailed description of what Cued Speech is and is not, please read Hilary Franklin’s article on the subject.)
The “campers” at Cue Camp New York come from a diverse background: ASL interpreters, Cued Speech Transliterators, parents of deaf children, teachers, deaf adults, native d/Deaf cuers, native d/Deaf signers, hearing children, deaf children, with cochlear implants and hearing aids, and without. Cue Camp draws people from all over the country, and even from around the world.
So what is Cue Camp? It’s an immersion weekend of learning and refining Cued Speech skills. Different classrooms are broken down according to skill level: beginners, intermediate, advanced, and children’s rooms. In the beginner room, instructors work with people who have no experience cueing. They teach them the eight different hand shapes, which represent all the consonant sounds, and hand placement locations around the face (at the mouth, chin, throat, and side of the face) to represent all the vowel sounds. When a hand shape (consonant) is moved to a particular placement (vowel), it represents a sound unit. When used in conjunction with the lip movements of a language, the “cues” allow visual representation of the sounds that otherwise would be difficult to distinguish by lip reading.
The Cued Speech system itself is simple to learn in a single Cue-Camp weekend; even new cuers can cue anything and everything, once they’ve learned the basic building blocks of the system. Practice beyond that is mainly to improve accuracy and speed, until the system becomes so natural that a cuer no longer needs to think about what each hand shape represents, and is able to cue at the same pace at which they speak.
And that is what takes place in the intermediate and advanced classrooms. Cuers there have already been exposed to the system, and are there to improve their skills through constant practice. Another great benefit for more advanced cuers is the socialization with other people who use Cued Speech. From a parent’s point of view, it is invaluable to meet other parents of deaf children who are using Cued Speech, either as their primary communication mode, or in addition to ASL. (As I’ve explained before, the two are not mutually exclusive. My family uses ASL for sign language, and Cued Speech for English.) Even for someone who doesn’t want to use Cued Speech as a primary communication mode, it has tremendous benefits in teaching English and improving literacy, not just in deaf children, but for all sorts of educational needs, including those with Down’s Syndrome, apraxia, and Autism.
So why is it called Cue Camp? While cuers learn and practice Cued Speech in classrooms during the day, many stay on the college campus overnight, and continue the cueing fun through skits, songs, and conversation through the evening, and even around a campfire roasting marshmallows. Cue Camp is a fun way to spend an educational weekend. Kids of all ages are surrounded by adults who cue. Children under four spend the days playing with camp instructors who expose them to Cued Speech constantly through interaction. School-aged children enjoy a combination of fun activities, arts and crafts, and more formalized lessons in Cued Speech. They are never too young to learn Cued Speech.
The Cued Speech system might look awkward, even confusing, to someone unfamiliar with the mode. But to deaf children who are exposed to it constantly, it becomes as natural to them as ASL, or as natural as spoken language is to a hearing child. I highly encourage any parent of a deaf child, regardless of education method or preferred language, to attend a Cue Camp in your area. Check it out. See how it can help your child develop better skills in reading, writing, and understanding English, as a primary language or in a Bi-Bi program. Cued Speech isn’t widely known or understood in many parts of the country, and as a result, many parents are not presented with it as an option when considering education and communication for their child. So come see what Cued Speech is all about. Don’t knock it before you’ve tried it.