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CS - Literacy

What do children need to be literate?

Whole libraries of books have been written on this subject but most educationalists agree that there are two things which are very important – probably essential - when learning to read.

  • An understanding of the language you are trying to read
  • An understanding of the sounds that make up that language and a knowledge of how the sounds tie in with letters – which is known as phonics.

Poor readers may have problems with either language comprehension or phonics or –at worst – both.

To help their young pre-school child to learn language, parents talk to them about day-to-day activities, read to them and play games with them.

To help their child be aware of the individual sounds which make up words many parents tell their child nursery stories (like ‘fee, fie, foe, fum’ ….etc.) and sing songs (like ‘Miss Polly had a dolly’…etc.) which have rhymes.

How does this work for deaf children?

Some deaf children will have enough hearing (with aids or implants) to learn English fully through listening, but many will not. Over the years deaf children who can’t fully ‘hear’ with aids, and who don’t have Cued Speech (CS), have struggled with literacy. It’s immediately obvious why:

  • Without CS deaf children get less English language ‘input’ – simply because of their deafness; if they need quiet listening conditions and good light to speech-read they will just see/hear less language. So they will understand less language than hearing children; sometimes they don’t understand English at all.
  • For most deaf children the sounds within the words are less distinct; or they can’t hear some of the sounds or maybe they can’t hear any sounds. So their understanding of phonics will be weaker than hearing children – or even non-existent.

Deafness can cut deaf children off from spoken language in its entirety and – inevitably - the sounds which are the building blocks of spoken language. No wonder they struggle with literacy.

Common ways to help literacy (without CS)

Teachers may use various systems of ‘visual phonics’ which can teach the sounds of English, but without an understanding of English deaf children can’t apply these sounds to a language they know.  They may suggest using British Sign Language (BSL).  This will give deaf children a language which they can use to think and to communicate but it has no direct relationship with spoken or written language. 

The combination of BSL and visual phonics can give deaf children ‘language comprehension’ and a knowledge of ‘phonics’ but the ‘phonics’ is in English and ‘comprehension’ is in BSL!  The two do not tie up, which is the whole point of learning phonics. 

What do deaf children need for literacy? 

Deaf children need a way to fully access and understand all of the sound-based spoken English in day to day interaction and one which also ties in with the individual sounds of spoken English.  They need ‘language comprehension’ and understanding of ‘phonics’ in the same language.  This is a prescription for Cued Speech (CS). 


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