Why Not Both?

Growing up, I never really saw a conflict between sign language and Cued Speech. Even if I couldn’t quite articulate it yet at four years old, I could tell they were different and didn’t see any reason to pick one over the other. As I got older, people asked me about the difference, so I’d tell them that signs are based on words and cues are based on sounds. Sometimes they’d ask me which I liked better, and I couldn’t really answer because, well, it was like comparing apples and oranges. Later on, when I connected with other deaf adult cuers, I found that we’d often code-switch between Cued Speech and American Sign Language.

All of this, by the way, mirrors my experiences with other languages– notably, Mandarin and my 2011 study abroad in Beijing with other international students. We jumped between languages a lot, depending on what was most appropriate for the context. (One of these days, I need to post my story about having a conversation in ASL with the one other hard-of-hearing guy in the program, after a semester of full immersion in Mandarin.)

Personally, I find ASL useful for expressing emotions that may not have an appropriate English equivalent, whereas Cued English helps me articulate concepts in a precise, orderly manner. Sometimes I’ll combine the two– for example, I may use a classifier on my left hand to show spatial placement or shape while cueing a description with my right hand. That’s just me, though; others will almost certainly differ.

Some people seem to think using both will “confuse” deaf children. Thing is, I know people in Europe who grew up speaking as many as five, six different languages. Why can’t deaf kids achieve the same thing through ASL and Cued English? We’ve got reams and reams of research out there supporting bilingual education. Personally, I think Cued English would tie in perfectly with the Bilingual-Bicultural educational model in residential schools now, and I’ve spoken to several educators who feel the same way.

That said, I do understand the concern about Cued Speech taking precedence over ASL, or favoring a purely auditory-oral/”fixing deaf people” approach reminiscent of the days of Bell (as well-intentioned as he was). No matter how good our technological and educational approaches become, there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution; and we will probably always have a varying spectrum of deaf people in terms of language and speech production.

A fellow cuer, Aaron Rose, recently said of American Sign Language and Cued Speech, “You’re comparing apples and oranges, but at the same time both are used to nourish the body.” And that’s really probably the best way to look at it.

4 thoughts on “Why Not Both?

  1. You are absolutely right! While growing up as a Cue-kid back in 1980’s I have never thought about using both ASL and Cued Speech together. As adult, I start to see a lot of people are using both CS and ASL on Cued Speech group. I was like surprised. Well, that is their opinions. I respect theirs.. People can have both CS and ASL . That is fine. I just wanted to recommend the folks to try and use CS alone first for their deaf child to see if that works out for the child. If not,then use ASL both. The folks wants to use both CS and ASL which is fine..That is their decision. I understand completely. But for me, I would love to use CS alone for cuers and for non-Signers, I use ASL alone. If I have a deaf child of my own then I would love him or her to use CS alone because I want her or him in my native language. Second, if my deaf child wants to learn ASL then that is fine..It is up to the deaf child…I respect people’s preferences…On the other hand, I will tell you from my experience in the past. When I was using both ASL and CS I got confused. It was hard for me because of my written in language. ASL is not related with the Written English. That is a result. I nearly wrote in ASL ( almost) because I used ASL all the time. But now at this time, I try not to use ASL and write in English daily. It helps ! I read books without ASL every day. It helps! My English is eventually improving much better. It is obvious that ASL does not help me enhance my English skills. ASL is way harder for me. People cites that my native language is English. However, I still uses ASL to communicate with my deaf/Deaf ASL friends for social gathering group. It makes pure sense to me. Hope you understand my point. from native Cuer, Lindy


  2. Love your example of children in Europe learning tons of languages, why can’t we learn 2 here in America?? My daughter is 2 and I’ve cued and signed to her from birth, fully intending her to learn both, and she has been able to easily distinguish one from the other from infancy. Both is the way to go!


  3. I like the idea that it seems I could learn Cued Speech relatively easily (English is not my native language and I lack a lot of vowel sounds, so phonetics are a bit of an issue) compared to how long it would take to learn ASL. Plus if I learnt ASL I would not be able to use to communicate in England, where I live, but if I learnt the UK version I would not be able to use it in the US, where most of my friends seem to live…

    Yes, it may be a sign of laziness or lack of enough interest, but I don’t have the time and energy to learn not 1 but 2 sign languages, and keep them both fresh when I don’t have a chance to practice them regularly. Cued Speech would take me a bit of the way in the right direction.

    Oh, and re. European children learning languages: my first batch of stepkids did signing at school at singing time and story time. It was all pretty basic stuff (the wheels on the bus do indeed go round and round) but they were only little. I don’t know if they still do that.


    • Anna: I don’t know how to describe watching Cued British English. It’s like, I recognize the handshapes and some of the vowels, and usually enough words to put together a coherent concept, but wow. A lot of it doesn’t click right away because the pronunciation/cues are different. It’s still a helluva lot easier for me to pick up on than British Sign Language, though. I took one look at their two-handed fingerspelling alphabet and said, “No. Forget it.”

      Liked by 1 person

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