PG-4: EF-C
PRACTICE ELIMINATING DISTRACTING
FACIAL MANNERISMS

Facial mannerisms which occur with some regularity only while the person is cueing are usually acquired during the early stages of the learning process. The person consciously (or unwittingly) assumes certain facial sets (or "tics") as a reaction to temporary learning frustration. These "tics" usually disappear as the learning frustrations abate -- but not always. Why is this so? An in-depth discussion of the psychology of distracting facial mannerisms would not be appropriate in this manual, but a brief discussion of attitudes towards learning Cued Speech might be helpful before describing some of the most common "tics."

It is not unusual to hear cueing parents observe that their hearing children learn to cue much faster and better -- and with less effort. Implied in this observation is the "belief" that "the younger you are the easier it is to master Cued Speech." Is this really true? There are so many other variables involved besides age and so little research done to verify or deny this belief that it is impossible to generalize. We do know that adults very considerably in their seeming ability to acquire the coordinated motor skills of Cued Speech, but the same variability occurs among children. Nor do we know which of the many variables are most critical: intelligence, neuromuscular coordination, linguistic sophistication, motivation, practice strategies, presence of competing stimuli, or age.

As an adult there is probably little one can do to alter one's native intelligence or age, and neuromuscular coordination limits are built into the individual's nervous system. There is some anecdotal evidence that people who already know phonetics have less trouble mastering some aspects of Cued Speech. This is because phonetics courses invariable include a study of phonemics, and Cued Speech is baded upon phonemic principles. This manual contais considerable information about phonemics which should be helpful. Individuals who feel that tye need even more linguistic sophistication might consider enrolling in a formal phonetics course

Motivation is another variable which can sometimes be manipulated to the advantage of the individual learning Cued Speech. Granted, those people who are directly responsible for the well-being of deaf children, and who rely on Cued Speech for verbal communicaiton, have maximum motivation to acquire and maintain fluency. Of course their motivation for practice may vary considerably. Those of us who are less directly involved in day-to-day contact with hearing-impaired children may call upon less powerful forces such as pride, the urge to do things well, healthy competition with other learners, affection for a hearing-impaired relative, etc. Cued Speech workshops and local associations serve as effective supplementary motivational sources.

Practice strategies are perhaps the variables which can be most efficiently altered to facilitate learning. If one knows what to practice when, this can significantly improve one's cueing skills. This manual is based upon that assumption. Hopefully it has already helped you to cue more fluently.?

Competing stimuli can affect one's ability to learn a new skill. The mastery of Cued Speech is largely a "rote learning" task in the sense that hand positions and handshapes must become automatic co-responses with spoken syllables. In order to achieve this automaticity the cueing movements must be linked to speech sounds with a minimum of conscious planning. Achieving such automaticity takes concentrated practice with so many repetitions that hand responses become "over-learned." This is the same sort of "over-learning" one experiences while driving a car. We steer the auto and shift gears without consciously thinking about it -- unless something goes wrong.

If, let's say, one is a child with very little else on his mind but a poem to memorize, he can master the rote memory task quicklyand efficiently. The poem is his prime concern: an all-important, exclusive goal. But letps consider another "child" who is equally intelligent; however, other things compete for his attention while he is trying to learn the same poem:

Obviously this "child" is going to have a difficult time shutting out competing stimuli so that he can concentrate on memorizing the poem.

This "child" sounds very much like the typical adult who faces the task of practicing Cued Speech with too much else on his/her mind. If this adult can manage to "clear the slate" of competing stimuli temporarily, rote learning will become much easier. If he/she can't, then the learning process is going to take longer and require more effort.

How does an adult reduce competing stimuli? Pick a place for practice which is reasonably quiet and neutral. Don't practice in the kitchen if the kitchen constantly reminds you of other things you should be doing. Pick a time during the day when you are less likely to worry about other matters. Practice with another person who is learning to cue is an excellent way to neutralize competing stimuli.

Those of us who try to learn Cued Speech in the face of competing stimuli (and this includes the fear of not being able to learn!) run the risk of developing facial grimaces or "tics." A "tic" is an inappropriate, unconscious response such as clearing the throat or smacking the lips or sniffing during speech. A few of the "tics" which some people develop while learning to cue are described below.

  1. A blank or puzzled facial expression even though what one is saying should elicit an entirely different facial set. Unfortunately, this "poker face" is often learned while one is learning to cue and is the result of a genuine 'blank" at a time when searching for the appropriate hand position or handshape. If this is your problem, turn to PG-4: EF-D and work to counteract the "blank."
  2. Opening the mouth when speaking. Generally the lips should be lightly closed between oral utterances. When learning to cue, however, some will open the lips to speak and keep the mouth open until than can remember the cue position or handshape required. This mouth opening tends to disappear as people become more fluent, but sometimes it persists -- especially just prior to cueing a phrase or sentence. Knowing that one does this is usually sufficient to eliminate the "tic." Practice of synchronization skills PG-1: EF-H and PG-2: EF-H and EF-I may be a further aid in eliminating this distraction.
  3. Eyes turned away from the listener at inappropriate moments. It is both good communication and common courtesy to watch your listener while you are speaking. People learning to cue often get in the habit of "searching the heavens for cues" and roll their eyes upwards while trying to think of the right cue. Some workshop instructors have been known to encourage closing the eyes while practicing to shut out distractions. This suggestion may not do any harm unless the cuer decides that he/she can only cue accurately with eyes shut! The best way to avoid establishing such a "tic" is to practice with a partner who will remind you if your eyes wander or shut while communicating with cues.
  4. Shrugging the shoulders or emitting a long sigh (or both). Novice cuers sometimes do one or both of these things as a signal that what they are about to attempt is baffling, hard work, or frustrating. They are letting their feelings about the act of cueing get in the way of intended communication. Obviously, the hearing impaired child doesn't deserve to be repeatedly distracted by frustration messages related to the act of cueing. Save the shrug or the sigh for occasions when truly appropriate. A cueing partner will help you to eliminate this "tic" if you ask for candid monitoring for a few days.
  5. Smacking the lips or wetting the lips with the tongue. This is another "tic" which is often used to fill the "dead air" while one is deciding how to cue. It can become a very distracting habit if not checked early in the learning process. Request monitoring help from a family member or friend for a while.
  6. Smiling or frowning inappropriately. Such important facial expressions should be used only to communicate yor feelings related to the dialogue between yourself and your listener. Emotional reactions to cueing are self-indulgences we can't afford. Some frown whenever they make a cueing error. True, the sophisticated deaf child may very well notice the error, but he/she will not expect you to "highlight" the slip with an emotional outburst. We seldom bother to correct slips in our speech; cuers are entitled to the same fate. If your cueing slip has confused the auditors they will ask for clarification. If the slip should happen to be funny, enjoy the humor of it along with your auditor. We have obseved that experienced cuers know when they make occasional cueing errors, but they continue communicating without self-critical frowns or sheepish smiles. Learn from their example. The time for self-correction is during practice sessions, not while talking to a deaf child.
These are some of the more common "tics" which have been observed. There may be others. It might be wise to arrange for a periodic check. Ask someone who knows Cued Speech to watch you while you are communicating with a hearing-impaired individual and note any "tics" which you may be developing. Let them read this chapter first and then say, "Please watch me to see if I do anything with my face or body that I don't ordinarily do when just speaking (without cues)." Ultimately you must be the judge as to when the resulting observations should be taken seriously and when they can be ignored. Remember that your goal is improved communication with Cued Speech -- not some abstract perfection.

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