Wednesday, January 31, 1996

"Paying attention" to our speech

In answer to a comment about the need to *not * to pay attention to our speech in order to be fluent...

I'd say yes and no. Yes, of course, and that's precisely how we learn to speak
in the first place! We all experience long beautiful stretches of fluency.
That's also how we learn to sing, dance and recite acting parts... but ...
there is "something else" going on here that can challenge any zen master. To
use John's downhill skiing example, it's as if the mountain suddenly became
alive and sprang a mogul right in our path. Or, in Viki's piano example, as if
your finger suddenly became paralized on a passage you know extremely well.

The implication is often made that it is precisely the effort to control that
causes these stumbling blocks. While it is certainly true that focusing on the
lowest levels of detail of any motor skill causes problems I DON'T THINK this
is the fundamental cause of stuttering.

We pay undue attention to where we are going BECAUSE we are prone to falling. We ARE NOT prone to falling because we pay undue attention to where we are going!!!

Now, I have found that I can act internally to keep the mountain from becoming
"alive" and springing huge moguls in my path. Only small ones seem to appear
unexpectedly these days and I can usually handle them. If I find that they are growing in size I stop, take a breather, wait a few seconds for the mountain to calm down, then I start down the mountain again. This form of "monitoring" (or control) focuses not on what I am doing (words, breathing, sillables, whatever...) rather on how my whole body is feeling. In time this process has become less and less "conscious",... yes, more zen-like.

Again, the zen part is not in ignoring how I am turning on those skis - I was already very good at ignoring it, and still I fell... -, rather in tapping into some additional skills fluent folks can simply ignore. I have no idea how this translates biologically. Am I training new speech pathways? Am I producing extra amounts of some brain chemical? Whatever it is, I am firmly convinced it's not as trivial as learning to formulate speech without "paying attention" to it. I'll say it one more time: We pay attention BECAUSE WE STUTTER - We don't stutter BECAUSE WE PAY ATTENTION.

Friday, January 26, 1996

Stuttering and Toastmasters International

I've been a member of TI for about 8 years. Even though specific speeches are aimed at different skills, such as "using your body", "voice variety" etc., the choic of
topics is completely fee, so it's easy to weave in information about stuttering at
any time. In one speech I used a HUGE block at the very beginning as an "attention getter". It was a fake, but did it get their attention! The rest of the speech was
about stuttering. It was a great opportunity not only to explain how I deal with stuttering, but also to make recommendations they could apply to their acquaintances and loved ones.

The important thing to remember is that fluency is only ONE of the "skills" that make one a good public speaker or communicator, and it is not the skill TI focuses on, so it's not a substitute for therapy or for a support group such as NSP. It's wise and fair to let the club know that some prolonged "pauses" might not be a dramatic choice for our speech, and that some repetitions may not be under our control,... but, beyond that, there is plenty of room for the kind of constructive evaluation that everyone gets in the club.

I have no doubt that, at least in a large number of cases, a stutterer can become a BETTER speaker than a non stutterer. Better in the sense that a listener would rather hear and see her or him than another, fluent but boring, speaker, but isn't this what really matters?

Of course increased confidence in public speaking also had the welcome side-effect of decreasing tension and increasing my ability to "control" my stuttering. This reinforces the general "strategy" I have often advocated to get at stuttering in indirect ways. Examples I have mentioned in the past are training in dance, singing, martial arts etc.

Monday, January 22, 1996

Speech hesitations in foreign languages

It's an interesting question, but, coming from a biligual
(English/Italian-native) stutterer, I would say that both the nature and intensity of the hesitations experienced in trying to speak a new language have very little, if anything, in common with those of stuttering. Foreign language hesitations appear simply cognitive in nature, those of stuttering seem to come "from somwhere else" and "feel" uncontrollable. Trying very hard to speak a foreign language DOES end up in more and more fluent speech. The opposite can happen with stuttering ("trying" hard can have the opposite effect). There absolutely nothing comparable to stuttering blocks in learning to speak a foreign language.

What could be an interesting research area (and it has been discussed on and off on this list) is how different levels of fluency (in a language sense) affect fluency in a stuttering sense (I wish we had different words to express the two notions), i.e. how stutterers perform as they reach different levels of foreign language ability. My subjective impression was that I actually stuttered LESS while I was in the beginning stages of learning English.