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Stuttering and Second

Language Learners
By: Zisi Gunsburg

What is stuttering?
Stuttering (also know as stammering) is a

communication disorder that involves

disruptions or disfluencies in speech and can
also cause a person who stutters to feel tension
and anxiety.
We all have disfluencies that come in forms of
interjection or fillers, revision, phrase repetition
and multisyllabic word repetition.
Stuttering-like disfluencies include single
syllable word repetitions, part-word repetitions,
prolongations, and blocks (NSA, 2013)

What causes stuttering?

The exact cause of stuttering is not known (NSA, 2013)
Stuttering has a strong genetic component (Montgomery, 2006).
Stuttering has neurological origins (Montgomery, 2006).
New research has found actual genetic mutations in many people who

stutter (Drayna, 2010).
Stress may make stuttering worse but does NOT cause stuttering
Stuttering is NOT caused by emotional problem(NSA, 2013)
Stuttering is NOT a nervous disorder(NSA, 2013)
Stuttering is NOT caused by other family members(NSA, 2013)

Facts and Statistics about

Stuttering affects approximately 5% of

children and 1% of adults

Stuttering occurs more often in males than
females with 3-4 times as many males than
females who stutter (The Stuttering
Foundation, 1991-2013)
Recovery from stuttering is affected by
gender, family history, age of onset of stutter,
age of intervention, and length of stutter

General therapy approaches to

target stuttering
Stuttering modification- Techniques to help

clients stutter more easily and as stress free

as possible

Fluency Shaping- Techniques to eliminate

stuttering such as breathing techniques

Integrated approach- uses a combination of

stuttering modification and fluency shaping

(Montgomery, 2006)

Bilingual Children
Some children stutter in one language more than another language. This may

be due to the fact that the child has greater linguistic skill in 1 language and
uses longer and more complicated sentences to communicate, the more
complicated the structure the more any person who stutters will be disfluent.
Additionally, there may be greater demands in 1 language, such as a
language spoken in school over a home language (Moffatt, 2003).

There is no definite evidence that stuttering is worse or more persistent in

bilingual children. Although there is some research on this topic, which shows
that stuttering is worse in bilingual children, results of the study lead many to
believe that stuttering that persisted later on in childhood were due to other
factors such as language delays and not bilingualism(Bernstien Ratner, 2009;
Moffatt, 2003)

Those who stutter at an older age may have difficulty learning a second

language because they are so focused on their stutter and getting the words
out that they cannot sufficiently put their mind to learning another language.
As quoted by an individual who stutters, "It is harder because my attention is
focused on my stammer rather than on the language(Survey, 1995).

As a clinician working with a bilingual client in 1

language, will fluency skills transfer from one

language to another?
Based on a research study, fluency skills
transferred almost at an equal rate from 1
language to the clients second language.
Does bilingualism affect outcomes of stuttering
According to another research study, simultaneous
bilingual speakers (speakers who learned both
language simultaneously from birth) showed
equal improvement as a result of fluency
treatment as did the monolingual speakers.

How Does Bilingualism/Second-Language

Learning Affect Fluency?
In young children who are bilingual or second-language
learners, stuttering may be noticed when:
The child is mixing vocabulary (code mixing) from both languages in one
sentence. This is a normal process that helps the child increase his skills in the
weaker language, but may trigger a temporary increase in disfluency.
The child is having difficulty finding the correct word to express his/her ideas

resulting in an increase in normal speech disfluency.

The child is having difficulty using grammatically complex sentences in one or both

languages as compared to other children of the same age. Also, the child may
make grammatical mistakes. Developing proficiency in both languages may be
gradual, so development may be uneven between the two languages

Adding a second or third language between the ages of three and five years of

age may cause stuttering to become more severe. However, this may be the case
only when: (1) the child is experiencing difficulties in her first language, (2) one
language is used more than the other or, (3) the child resists speaking the
additional language (Shenker, 2008).

Multicultural Issues
Different cultures view stuttering in a variety of

ways which can cause stuttering to impact them

Therapist should communicate with client and
family to learn cultural views on stuttering.
Some African Americans believe that stuttering is
caused by the mother eating improper foods when
nursing her baby, tickling a child too much, mother
seeing a snake when pregnant, cutting the childs
hair before he/she begins to speak, or the child
getting very scared as a baby (Bennett, 2013)

Individuals believe that stuttering can be

cured by hitting a childs mouth lightly with a

towel or placing nutmeg or crickets under a
childs tongue or wrapping garlic around a
stutterers neck.
Stuttering can be shameful in the Hispanic
Others, including many in our cultures and
societies today, believe that stuttering can be
stopped just by the client trying hard enough
to eliminate his stutter.
Clinician should not ridicule false beliefs, but
rather explain through research that these
beliefs are false.

Due to insufficient research that indicates that

bilingualism worsens the stutter, parents do

not need to avoid speaking 2 languages to
their children who stutter unless they see that
their child is definitely much more disfluent
in a specific language.
Do not interrupt a person who stutters or
finish his sentence for him.

Bernstien Ratner, N. (2009, March 18). Stuttering Onset, Language Development, and Bilingual

Issues with Dr. Nan Bernstein Ratner. Retrieved December 14, 2013, from Stuttertalk:
Bennett, E. (2013). Multicultural Issues. Retrieved December 2013, from Advance Healthcare
Network for Speech and Hearing:
Did You Know. (1991-2013). Retrieved December 2013, from The Stuttering Foundation:
Drayna, D. (2010, February). Genetic Research. Retrieved December 2013, from The Stuttering
Moffatt, C. (2003, July). Stammering and the Bilingual Child. Retrieved December 15, 2013,
from The British Stammering Association:
Member survey (1995, September). Stammering in a multi-racial society. Retrieved December
14, 2013, from The Brittish Stammering Association:
Montgomery, C. (2006) The Treatment of Stuttering: From the Hub to the Spoke. In, Current
Issues in Stuttering Research and Practice, Ed. Nan Bernstein Ratner & John Tetnowski.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Shenker, R. C. (2008, March). Stuttering and the Bilingual Child. Retrieved December 2013,
What is Stuttering. (n.d.). Retrieved December 2013, from National Stuttering Association: