How Cued Speech Can Support Literacy

The issue

Print literacy (reading and writing) has the power to open new worlds. All children should be expected to become literate, including deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. Within the field of deaf education, literacy development is a hot button topic. Due to inaccessible or incomplete auditory channels, many DHH children become literate in English using non-traditional methods that rely on visual channels.

Children must have experience with a language to be able to read and write that language, heretofore we will use examples for acquiring English. DHH children experience English in many ways: (a) using their functional hearing with or without hearing assistive technology; (b) with various sign language systems; (c) through written form; (d) via lipreading; (e) or with Visual Phonics. While these methods may provide access to English, DHH students often miss information. This missed information leads to a struggle in developing the skills needed to become strong readers and writers.

What we know

PDHH children need frequent, consistent, and accessible communication to support language development. They also need visual strategies to enhance their access to English. One option for visual access to English is through Cued Speech or cued English.

Despite its name, Cued Speech does not require the use of speech, only mouth movements with hand cues. Cued Speech has been adapted to over 64 spoken languages. Cued English is the most prevalent in the United States. Cued Speech is a phonemically-based mode of communication used to make a spoken language visual. Phonemes are the smallest unit of English (i.e., consonant/vowel combinations) and are the base of learning how to connect sounds to letters, letters to words, and the overall process of reading and writing. Cued English allows DHH children access to the phonemic code of English through vision.

While Cued Speech has been in use since the 1960’s, its prevalence among the deaf community is low. A 2014 survey showed that only 8% of approximately 7,000 students surveyed used Cued Language to access instruction in U.S. classrooms. However, there are pockets of native cuers in the U.S., some who also use American Sign Language, and many who have mastered written English.

One of the primary goals of Cued Speech is to support the development of literacy. Knowledge and understanding of the phonemic patterns of English is an integral part of learning to read English. This includes rhyming, segmenting, blending, recognition of syllables, and ways to manipulate sounds, letters, and words.

Cued English provides a pathway to those phonemic patterns through vision, bypassing auditory channels. Cued Speech is a visual mode showing the code for sound patterns in spoken language that may support the process of learning to read and write. For users of Cued Speech, reading then becomes learning the visual consonant-vowel code through print to match the language they already know via cued English.

Providing visual access to English in its native spoken form, cued English, also allows students to learn to decode many of the aspects of English literacy. Cueing visually conveys the phonological patterns of English, such as rhyming, that are not easily shown through print alone. This visual access to the phonological properties of English can assist in phonics (connecting sounds to letters), decoding, and morphology analysis (affixes, root words), all of which are indicators of skilled English readers. Cueing may also support vocabulary, reading fluency, comprehension, and writing skill development.

What we don’t know

While there is some research evidence that shows the positive impact of Cued Speech on literacy, primarily in French, more is needed, specifically on cued English and its impact on reading achievement and specific reading skills. We do not have strong research to understand how cued English can best be utilized in the classroom, home, or both to support English literacy development. Another area to explore would be the role of cued languages within a bilingual-bimodal program (two languages are incorporated, one visual and one spoken).


Existing research shows that early use of Cued Speech has a positive impact on literacy (phonological awareness, phonics/decoding, word identification, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and writing). While much of this research is based in French, many structures can be applied in English. However, more research is needed to support this.

Most research regarding Cued Speech is based on young children with early exposure to cueing. More research is needed on the literacy skills of older children or children who use sign language and cueing. Cued Speech may support bilingualism, allowing for a country’s signed and spoken language to be accessed as two separate languages, preserving the unique properties of each.

Posted on Jan. 17, 2020 by
Karla Giese
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Posted on Jan. 17, 2020 by
Stephanie Gardiner-Walsh
Illinois State University


Further reading

Mayer, C. C., & Trezek, B. J. (2015). Review of the literature. Early literacy development in deaf children,(pp.1-26). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.view details

LaSasso, C. J., & Metzger, M. A. (1998). An alternate route for preparing deaf children for BiBi programs: The home language as LI and cued speech for conveying traditionally-spoken languages. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 3(4), 265-289.view details