Talking With Someone Who Stammers

Three friends talking in a pub

Tips for how to make things comfortable when speaking a person who stammers.

It can be disconcerting talking with someone who stammers, but don't be distressed by it. Just listen and be patient.

  • Advice. Don't go there. Don't tell the person to 'slow down', 'take a breath', or 'relax'. And definitely don't make the joke: 'Did you forget your name?'.
  • Don't interrupt or speak over them.
  • Don't try and guess or finish their words, it can be disempowering and unhelpful if you get it wrong.
  • Maintain natural eye contact, listen, and wait until the person has finished speaking.
  • Let the speaker know you are listening. Focus on what they’re saying, not how they say it.
  • Stammering varies. People who stammer can have most difficulty when starting to speak and less difficulty once underway.
  • People who stammer often find controlling their speech on the phone particularly hard. If you pick up the phone and hear nothing, give the caller plenty of time to speak.

Don't be afraid to ask them how you can make it easier for them. 

When someone stammers, you might assume they're unsure of what they're saying. They aren't. They're checking their speech and worried about how they say something. They may also talk very fast. If you miss something, ask them to repeat it. 

People who stammer usually find saying their name particularly hard. Please don't EVER ask 'have you forgotten your name?'. If you are about to meet new people, ask the person who stammers privately beforehand if they would like to introduce themselves or if they’d like you to introduce them.

If you are in a group of people nattering away, make sure you can see the person who stammers. If you see that they want to speak, interrupt the flow and invite them to share their thoughts. Set an example to others.

DIFFICULT SITUATIONS

Situations that many people who stammer find particularly demanding include:

  • Meeting new people (including meeting your friends and family for the first time).
  • Introducing themselves or others.
  • Job interviews.
  • Starting a new job.
  • Telephone calls. 
  • Asking for tickets with a queue behind them. 
  • Speaking through glass at a bank or the post office.
  • Ordering at a bar.
  • Talking above background noise.
  • Talking when others can overhear.
  • Talking to an authority figure of some sort.

You may recognise that several of these situations can be difficult even if you don't stammer. Someone who stammers may be especially concerned at these times about how people will react to their stammering, and may feel huge pressure to be or appear 'fluent'. Some people have even put off marrying because they are anxious about saying their vows.

Watch this short video from the BBC, 'Things not to say to someone who stammers' (clicking on the image links to BBC website).

A woman and a men at a desk, talking

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