Cued Mandarin: Planting the Seed

After four years of studying Mandarin through Cued English, the two finally intersected, and I got the kick I needed to really tackle Cued Mandarin.

This is what happened: Candace Lindow-Davies, a mother of a deaf-plus son from Minnesota, went to a d/hh rehab center in China, and met a Chinese mother of a deaf-plus child. She had successfully used Cued Speech with her son, so she told the Chinese mother and rehab staff about Cued Speech.

She also invited the teachers and mother to attend the National Hands & Voices Conference last weekend in New Braunfels, Texas. Two made it, along with an interpreter.

Naturally, the news floated through the grapevine, and cued speech people started asking me to go. Mostly because I know both Cued Speech and Mandarin, AND I happen to live four hours’ drive north of the H&V Conference.

So out came my Mandarin Cue chart, the one that was developed by Cornett and a Chinese speaker several decades ago. After experimenting with the tones, I tweaked the Cued Mandarin system to better merge tones and diphthongs– double vowels, like mai, jie, luo, etc.– and drew a new chart showing these. (The old system’s way of cueing tones was OK with monophthongs, but awkward for diphthongs.)

That Friday, I left right after work for the conference, got there entirely too late at night, then the next morning, I met up with Tony Wright, who’s the regional representative for the Southwest branch of NCSA. Neither of us had any clue what to expect that morning; all we knew was that there were Chinese people here who were interested in learning Cued Speech, and we needed something to show them.

That morning was a mad scramble to compile a PowerPoint presentation along with some Cued Speech materials; Candace had hoped to introduce us to her Chinese friends over lunch. When our meeting got pushed off to later that night so their interpreter would have a chance to eat and rest, Tony and I spent the rest of the day chatting on various Cued-Speech-related things, going to lectures, and grabbing updates from Candace as she flitted in and out.

We finally met Miss Ma and Miss Cong in a small, quiet office on the second floor of the resort’s main building—a much-needed repose after a full day of lectures.

I still remember that nervousness, trying to figure out the best way to communicate. It’d been years since I had seriously immersed myself into Mandarin, and I’d forgotten so much; and there was my deaf accent, and then should we cue or sign or simcom or…?

Eventually, I sat down across from the Chinese women, with Tony voicing for me.

On the left, Miss Ma was tall and thin, with this sharp, intelligent face. On the right, Miss Cong, broad and round with curly hair, and wide eyes. Right between them was their translator Amy, tiny and wispy. And all three pairs of eyes fixed on me as I took a breath and jumped in.

I opened my laptop to show pictures of my family and introduced myself. I told them about minoring in Mandarin alongside my English degree, studying abroad in Beijing for four months, my childhood, my mother’s fight to get Cued Speech for me, and how Cued Speech had helped get me where I was today. In the meanwhile, Miss Cong jotted down several notes in her little book, and Miss Ma in her phone.

I then pulled out the copies we’d made of the Mandarin cue chart and exercise sheets, and walked them through how the system would work.

It’s funny, but after so much resistance or apathy in the US, I was struck by how remarkably receptive these women were to Cued Mandarin. After a couple of rounds, they understood how it was supposed to work.

In fact, Miss Ma would pick out things on the chart and explain nuances in Mandarin, or dive into a quick discussion with Miss Cong about how to cue particular sounds. Miss Cong asked several questions—good ones, I might add. One in particular—Miss Ma pointed out that when you have two tones next to each other, the second one will be emphasized while the first one is not. I said yes, Cued Mandarin can show that, and demonstrated.

I gave them the chart, and told them, I am not a native speaker. Although I’d practiced with children’s books, I hadn’t had the chance to test the system as thoroughly as I would have wanted. I encouraged them to tweak the chart as it best fit their language.

Soon they will be back in China with copies of the Mandarin cue chart and materials. I have Miss Cong’s email; she has mine. I told them to contact me if they needed anything, and I’ll be emailing them soon.

The seed’s been planted. Now, we wait and see.

3 thoughts on “Cued Mandarin: Planting the Seed

  1. Hi! That was a really interesting article. I am really interested in cued Mandarin. Is there any way I can access either of those charts? Thank you!


      • Thanks! I am curious about how cued speech can be adapted to different languages. I understand that the charts still need more work, so I won’t use them or distribute them. Are they still being actively worked on?


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