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CS - Use with BSL

British Sign Language is a 100% visible language.
Cued Speech (CS) makes the language of English 100% visible.

CS and BSL can work well bilingually. 

Some well researched facts:

  • Approximately 90% of deaf children are born into hearing families.
  • All children have a main ‘window of opportunity’ when they are most able to absorb and develop language - this is from birth to approximately 4 years of age.  If this window is missed it may be very difficult to fully catch up. 

National Deaf Children’s’ Society (NDCS) research found that 81% of hearing parents with a deaf child never learn to fully communicate with that child.

How does any child learn a language? Actually, children do not have to ‘learn’ language in the formal sense of the word. They simply absorb it if certain vital factors are in place:

  • Constant exposure to language in everyday face-to-face situations.
  • Good language models – people who are fluent and able to give a complete representation of that language.
  • Context – observing the context in which words are used, e.g. the word ‘cat’ is used when a real cat is present - which leads to the ability to communicate about the cat when it is not present.

Deaf children, in a bilingual model require full easy access to:

  • BSL used by fluent users
  • accessible English used by fluent users
  • the language of the home as close to birth as possible, but definitely in early babyhood. 

Using BSL as a first language in a hearing home - Of course, BSL, as a visual language, is fully accessible to deaf children and a knowledge of it means that deaf children can be part of the Deaf community.  Whilst fully accepting the benefits of BSL and its importance to the Deaf community, hearing parents who take the BSL-first or BSL-only route need to be aware of potential problems.  All parents need to be the language model for their child, if this is to be BSL hearing parents need to learn BSL VERY quickly in order not to impede their child’s progress.  But there’s a mathematical issue:  estimates for the vocabulary of a typical 6-year-old child vary, but generally they are expected to use about 2,600 words and understand between 20,000–25,000 words.  Let’s calculate using a middle amount of 22,500 words: so a six year old must learn 3,750 words a year which equals 72 words per week.  So in order to mirror normal language development a parent must learn 72 new signs per week every week, with no weeks off!  And we are not all hard-wired to learn a new language (Ganschow and Sparks, 2001).

But there’s another problem:  when deaf children start school they will still need to understand English to learn to read and write.  When, but only when, they are literate they can access text-based education and learn yet more language through reading.

Using CS as a first language in a hearing home - Cued Speech (CS) makes the language of English 100% visible so it’s fully accessible for deaf children. 

For hearing parents Cued Speech is MUCH easier than learning a new language.  It is your own language in a visual form.  It takes only about 20 hours to learn and you can be reasonably fluent in a few months. 

When parents of deaf babies learn to cue and use it as they talk naturally with their child they, like hearing children, can learn the English language.  This is the same language they will need when they learn to read and the language which surrounds them.  

Cued Speech is not 'another language'; deaf children brought up with it do not need everyone around them to use it for the rest of their lives. Consistent input in the early years gives the child access to English at a language level; deaf children can absorb English this way at the same rate as hearing children. For day-to-day, repetitive communications they may only need to see words cued occasionally.  Once deaf children fully understand English they can use this internal language to help lip-read people who do not cue, and vitally, to become fully literate and to continue to expand their own vocabulary.

Using CS and BSL together –In order to give deaf children the best opportunity to be part of the deaf and hearing communities the following principles should be considered:

  • Each language (English and BSL) needs to be learnt through every-day, face-to-face communication and play with a minimum amount of teaching.
  • Each language needs to be learnt from people who are good models of it and the culture associated with it. BSL ideally needs to be learned primarily from deaf people and English (at least in its spoken form) from hearing people.
  • Each language ought to be be learnt by receiving it in a clear form. This is not a problem for BSL. If English is to be learnt through natural, face-to-face communication it must be delivered through Cued Speech if aural/oral practices (learning language through the use of residual hearing alone) are not sufficient.
  • The acquisition of each language should begin as early as possible.
  • The child should have an adequate knowledge of English to serve as a base for reading development by the age of about six years.

One advantage to using CS in a bilingual model is that it BSL can be used in its purest form while still learning any spoken Language and developing reading skills at a rate comparable to hearing children.  To hear one parent talking about bilingualism go to this link >>

For more information about how Cued Speech can be used bilingually with BSL, click here to read a report by Cate Calder, Education Officer, and Anne Worsfold, Executive Director for the Cued Speech Association UK.

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