Teaching Hearing People Cued Speech…

…it’s not just about mechanics and understanding which “th” words are voiced and which are voiceless. (Yes, the “th” is different depending on the word!)

It’s about collaboration, understanding, and communication. Oh, and motivation. Not mine. Theirs.

But, first… a bit about me. I’m a native cuer. I’m also deaf—profoundly deaf. And I don’t exactly have the best auditory processing skills. I can discriminate the difference between high heels clacking down the hallway and a loud bang close by. But I’ll hear a weird sound every so often and say, “What’s that?”

Most of the time, it’s usually an air conditioner, heater, fan, or vacuum cleaner whirring. Even in a coffee shop, I still have to take a few minutes to process that rattling, banging sound that is a cappuccino or Frappucino™/frozen/blended drink mixer.

So, forget speech discrimination. I’ll be very upfront with you—I can barely understand a thing someone says, unless I’m reading lips, or even better, if the other person is cueing or signing. So, then, how does a deaf person like me teach hearing people how to cue or improve their cueing skills?

Well, it’s pretty interesting. After all, there’s always a certain amount of first-day jitters going into a new teaching situation, especially with brand-new hearing cuers. I never know who’s going to pick it up quickly, who I might have trouble getting through to (and want to bash on the head with the nearest blunt object), or who I might have a hard time understanding. Because, after all, cueing is supposed to help facilitate communication in English, right?

What I’ve found, though, is that most times the hearing people taking the workshop or class become pretty darn motivated to learn and to communicate with me. Unlike learning from a hearing instructor, whom they can just ask questions to and talk and banter with during breaks, learning to cue from me becomes a “full-time” effort.

The abstract component of learning to cue is gone when learning from a deaf instructor, especially for those who are learning how to cue “just in case.” I’m not talking about parents who will go home and start cueing to their kids or babies. I’m talking about college/graduate students in the fields of deaf education, speech-language pathology, audiology, etc., who may or may not ever have to cue again professionally in their careers.

They gotta learn how to cue because their instructor (me) needs it for optimal communication purposes. It doesn’t matter that I’m a fluent signer. It doesn’t matter that I’m a proficient lipreader. What matters is that they are all encouraged to develop their cueing skills and communicate with me as best as they can, in my native (and preferred) mode. What starts out as an abstract concept becomes reality very, very quickly.
It doesn’t matter whether I have students learning or trying to improve their speed and fluency. What matters is being able to walk into a classroom and deal with all types of learners and proving that I’m not only as good as a “normal” hearing instructor, but in some ways, I’m better! I provide a benefit that hearing instructors can’t provide—stark realization of the importance (and immediacy) of learning how to cue. It warms my heart when I see students helping each other out if someone’s not sure how to cue something to me. (It’s similar to ASL students learning from Deaf instructors as opposed to hearing instructors.)

But I will give people a hard time if they try to resort to signing instead of cueing. I may be pretty flexible as an instructor and let people take cueing breaks, but if I see someone start to sign or just voice because it’s easier, they get “the look” from me.

Case in point:

A few years ago, I taught an intermediate-level class at a cue camp, and I had two parents (husband and wife) who signed and cued. They had already admitted they were signing more with their child because that’s what they started out doing, but wanted to rededicate themselves to cueing.

At one point, the father started signing to me, asking me a question. I refused to answer, and just stared at him. He asked the question again, and I still stayed silent.

THE LOOK

“Oh man! You want me to cue this, don’t you?”

“Yup.”

Works every time!

*Originally posted on wecue.net on September 21st, 2008 … Modified for Deaf Echo on September 21, 2010 (wow, exactly two years!)

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