Find out what it can be like to stammer and how a society that values fluency has shaped the experience.
If you stammer, life can be an obstacle course. Everyday situations that fluent speakers take for granted can be really tricky. Things like ordering food, making a phone call or answering the front door can be a nightmare. Or when baristas ask for your name so that they can write it on a coffee cup.
It can be frustrating if you're not always able to express yourself easily. Speaking can be a real physical struggle for some, leaving them feeling exhausted. But it's the unkind and unhelpful reactions from others that can have the biggest impact if you stammer.
Being laughed at or mocked for stammering is a very real possibility for some. It can make people who stammer feel anxious about speaking. Anxious about being turned down for job interviews or promotion. Or being thought of as less intelligent, nervous or 'odd'. Or being humiliated when bar staff refuse to serve them, thinking they've had one too many drinks. When all they're doing is stammering.
All this can have a huge impact on someone's mental health, emotional well-being and self-esteem. People might socialise less or choose a job that doesn't involve much speaking.
NOT ALWAYS OBVIOUS
It might not always be obvious that someone has a stammer. One reason for this is that stammering can vary from day to day, from situation to situation. Another is that a lot of people find ways to minimise or hide their stammer some of the time or all of the time. They might do this to avoid negative reactions and judgements, and to feel accepted. It's common for people who stammer to:
- avoid using certain words.
- scan sentences ahead in their mind for sounds they might stammer on.
- substitute feared words for others that are easier to say.
- try to hide a moment of stammering by pretending something else is happening.
- say less.
- avoid certain situations they know they'll find difficult.
Some people might change their fast food or restaurant order to something they won't stammer on. They might avoid going into certain shops, or call in sick when there's a staff meeting.
Some people minimise their stammer by using a technique or a strategy. They might have learned these in speech & language therapy or from a stammering course. Reasons for doing so might be to avoid negative reactions or to feel more comfortable and in control of their speech. Or maybe a bit of both.
Some people go to great lengths so that no one ever finds out they stammer. This is sometimes called 'covert' stammering', or maybe 'interiorised' or 'hidden' stammering. It may not be obvious they stammer, but they might be thinking about it constantly. See Covert Stammering to read about the effects this can have.
FLUENCY IS KING
Stammering is hardly seen in society. In the media, in politics, in public life, fluency is seemingly valued above all else. You see it in Parliament when politicians are jeered for stumbling on their words. Or when people are told to 'slow down and take a breath' if they’re struggling to speak.
Eloquence is equated with fluency and 'good' communication. Job advertisements often have 'excellent communication skills' on their list of requirements. This can make people who stammer feel uncomfortable about applying. But not all fluent people are engaging speakers. And lots of people who stammer are effective, even brilliant, communicators.
The stigma around stammering can start from a young age. With children seeing their parents worry that there's something wrong with them. Being singled out at school for being different. Being told by teachers and peers to 'spit it out', 'slow down' or 'speak properly'. And people making jokes like 'Did you forget your name?'.
Portrayals in TV, films and literature over the years have had a damaging effect. Stammering is often used as a device to indicate weakness, dishonesty or low intelligence. Characters 'going on a journey' to overcome their stammer give the impression it can be cured. When it can't.
These portrayals and misinformation have reinforced a negative view of stammering. A view that has created an environment where disfluency isn't always accepted or understood.
STAMMERING AS A POSITIVE
Not everyone regards their stammer as a negative. Many appreciate the positive things their experience of stammering has given them. Things like empathy, patience, listening skills and resilience.
There is an emerging culture of people who take pride in being someone who stammers. A handful of writers and artists are celebrating stammering. Some people are starting to challenge society's demand for fluency and assert their right to stammer. Find out more about this movement on our page What Is Stammering Pride?.