Cue-Reading for Transliterators

One thing I have noticed among cued language transliterators: either they can cue very well expressively, but they struggle with receptive cueing (cuereading). Or, they struggle to cue, but they can cueread very well. I’ve encountered the former more often, and that lack of cuereading ability has always bothered me. I don’t blame my transliterators for this, by the way–  they do not get enough real-world practice with just one cuer (who often voices for herself).

However, as Cued Speech becomes more widespread, there definitely needs to be a set standard for transliterators being able to fluently cue both expressively and receptively. Right now, I would consider a transliterator who can comfortably do both worth her weight in gold, just because those kinds of transliterators are so, so rare.

I have had quite a few embarrassing situations where I was cueing a word correctly, but not pronouncing it correctly, and the transliterator struggled to voice for me. Often I’d switch over to sign language because that was what the transliterator knew, but that’s really not an ideal solution for several reasons.

First, you can’t assume that either the client or the transliterator will know sign language. Many deaf cuers and cued language transliterators do know at least a moderate amount of sign, but it cannot be a given. Second, even if the deaf cuer voices for himself, sometimes the transliterator may still need to voice for him because of a strong accent, a speech disability, or a mild illness that affects his ability to be understood clearly (like a cold). Third, some situations may call for the client to tell the transliterator something without voicing: perhaps an aside during a meeting or lecture.

Fundamentally, it’s an interpreter/transliterator’s responsibility to be able to communicate both ways in their chosen mode. I have always liked how so many sign language interpreting agencies and programs stress this, and I hope to see the same expectations in cued language transliteration programs as they expand.


One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was study abroad in Beijing for four months, with no accommodations for most of the semester. I’d enrolled into the full immersion track, which meant five straight days of class every week from 9 to 4, tutoring until 6, and homework until 10pm. Oh, and it was all in Mandarin; we weren’t allowed to speak in English except on weekends. The details elude me, but I remember we’d study between 20-50 vocabulary words every other day, usually in a deadline-induced panic to pass the next test.

Most of us had a meltdown at least once that semester. Mine came when I volunteered to be the class representative for our end-of-semester speech contest (seriously, I swear every Chinese course has a speech contest).

Early in the semester, I’d noticed that one other guy in the program had hearing aids, but I thought he didn’t sign. He’d seen my cochlear implant, but he thought I didn’t sign, either. We didn’t run into each other a lot since he was on the non-immersion track, which focused on non-language courses and allowed for about 500% more free time than the immersion students got, so of course they spent that time touring the city and interacting more with natives in one week than we got in an entire semester because we were holed up in our rooms doing homework.

So, we went on like that, hanging out with our own groups, not signing, until one day just before Thanksgiving. We were in the hallway together, and when he caught my eye, he tentatively moved his hands: “do you sign?” I responded, “Yes, I do!” And we made brief, hurried plans to sit together at the program’s Thanksgiving dinner just to have a conversation in ASL after nearly three months of spoken Mandarin and English.

Lest this sounds like the beginning to an epic love story: the guy was gay. Just to get that out of the way. Anyhoo, we did indeed grab a seat next to each other at the Thanksgiving dinner, and started signing while also speaking in Mandarin and English to the others, and oh my gosh. I can’t begin to describe what an absolute mindwarp that was.

Both of us had forgotten vocabulary in English and ASL. “There was the red… umm… red… oh geez, I forgot the sign for red. What’s the sign for red?!” Our grammar was all screwed up. Looking back on it, I’m amazed I maintained any semblance of coherency, shifting between three languages at the same time.

It didn’t stop there. At the end of the semester, I had a sign language interpreter and a cued language transliterator for our two-week study trip, because the other CLT broke her leg and couldn’t make it. We had several instances where I ended up translating for them (or trying to) because they didn’t know a word of Chinese beyond the basic pleasantries.

Language. It does funny things to the brain.

Transitions, Part II

One thing to understand: my parents had clashed with the local school district for years to ensure that I got cued language transliteration instead of sign language interpretation, as well as speech therapy services– particularly since there was no way they could have afforded those services on their own. From what I gather, there were several reasons for the district’s resistance:

  • I went to school in another district (first, the one near Chicago, then the ones in Racine while we lived in a neighboring district).
  • I attended private instead of public schools.
  • Possible underfunding and understaffing in the district, from what local educators told me years later.

I’m not saying these reasons were right or wrong; that’s just what we had to work with. Ultimately, it came down to this: as residents of our particular district, we were legally entitled to the best services for me, whether we got it directly from the district, or elsewhere. This did not stop them from throwing my parents curveballs, though. I think at least a couple times, it came down to hiring a lawyer and having him send mean letters to city hall.

So, when I enrolled in University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, my parents and I were expecting another similar fight. Much to our pleasant surprise, they just asked if we knew of any transliterators in the area whom they could hire. We gave them Rosie’s number, and they hired her immediately. Over that next year, they would proceed to train four or five of their staff– interpreters and captionists– in cued language transliteration. By the end of my second year or so, UWM had three transliterators who could cue fluently.