When I was five years old and ready for kindergarten, I proudly walked to school for ‘kindergarten round up day’ to meet my teacher. I sported a side pony tail and wore a little plaid skirt, so excited to join the ranks of those before me on my path to educational success! Prior to entering kindergarten I had spent a year overcoming some major speech pronunciation issues. Unbeknownst to my mother, she had allowed me to suck on a pacifier way too long and I had incorrectly learned to make sounds. This is why I spent the first four years of grade school visiting a speech therapist three days a week until my R’s no longer sounded like W’s and my L’s no longer sounded like F’s.
During this time of overcoming a speech problem, I also struggled with a slight stutter. I like to think that it was my super-human brain that was moving too fast for my lips to follow, but in reality my stutter probably had nothing to do with superior intelligence! Eventually, I moved on to language greatness but I will never forget how energy-draining a stutter can be. If you are trying to learn a foreign language and overcome a a problem with stuttering, you may have a mountain to climb but it is not impossible!
Some people can develop a stutter when learning a foreign language or may find that an existing stutter is heightened during foreign language acquisition. There are several reasons for this, none of which come as a great surprise:
- Learning a foreign language can cause anxiety and stress which can enhance stuttering.
- New sounds are difficult to make and a learner can easily become stuck on a sound and thus start to stutter.
- A language learner can put a great amount of pressure on themselves to make the sound perfectly and their bodies respond by overemphasizing sounds.
When it comes to overcoming a stutter, the same principles apply whether you are in a foreign language setting or speaking your native language. The Stuttering Foundation has an incredible booklet on Self Therapy For The Stutterer that is available free of charge online. Here are just a few of the ideas contained within the booklet to get you started:
- Slow down your speech: This may seem obvious but many times when someone stutters they become nervous and their rate of talking actually increases. Make a conscious effort to slow down and over enunciate if necessary.
- Take short pauses between sentences: If you listen to someone else talk it may seem like they rarely stop to take a breath of air. Breathing is so second nature that we often don’t think about it at all. If you stutter, consciously make yourself stop after each sentence for a short break.
- Do not try to hide a stutter: This is a difficult rule to follow if you are self conscious of your stutter (as many are). If you try and hide your stutter then that becomes the focus rather than communication. The more you try to hide your stutter, your anxiety levels rise, and you begin stuttering even more.
- Maintain eye contact when speaking: Keeping eye contact with the person whom you are speaking with helps to reduce fear and embarrassment. The more that you can do to embrace your stutter, the more quickly you can overcome it.
If you have a stutter, persevere and continue to tackle language while mastering your stutter. Find great online tools to help, implement the changes, and celebrate when your stutter begins to subside!