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Is there an increased (stuttering) risk for bilingual kids?

Ran across yet-another article citing that bilingual kids have an increased risk for stuttering.  If this is true, then we would notice significant differences in the incidence and prevlance of stuttering between continents.  Not-so-much-stuttering in the States, way-much-more stuttering in mutili-lingual countries.  But since such a common-sense observation has yet to be noted, I’m thinking that the the hypothesis is pretty much bogus.

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  1. Pam
    April 7th, 2009 at 11:40 | #1

    Yep, bogus, pure bogus . . . . . it is so good to have you around to uncover this stuff.


  2. ralph
    April 7th, 2009 at 13:05 | #2

    I’m not saying my case is proof for anything, but I can relate to this.

    I’ve always stuttered moderately, and for the longest time I was able to go stealth with it. However, as I was growing old, around the age of 14 or so (I’m 26 now), I started to get interested in learning English (it’s not my native language), but I couldn’t afford the proper courses and so just got what I could from movies, TV, lyrics and the biggest dictionary I could afford. Then the web came and it got a whole lot easier.

    So I learned English in a kind of “organic” way, meaning that I don’t know the official terms for anything in the language (other than what verbs, nouns and adjectives are), and just decide what to say or write based on what “sounds right”. Given that I do most of my online reading in English nowadays, and even watch movies and tv shows with no need for subtitles (most of the time), I think I managed to pull it off.

    However, as I noticed my speech gradually but surely deteriorating over the years, I had many moments where I stopped to try and figure out what could be behind it. When I first read about the correlation between stuttering and multilingualism, that struck a chord. Of course, it could just be that my speech got worse because it was simply left untreated, but I have reason to think having yet another language pathway is muddling things – for me, at least.

    For example, a common observation I’ve noticed amongst friends who also started speaking other languages is that, as they get more fluent in them, they have a harder time accessing the right words in the old/other languages.

    In my days of covert stuttering, one of the things I did to mask the problem (the hesitations and freakishly long pauses) was pretending I couldn’t remember or think of the proper word, or that I had it in the tip of my tongue, etc. And now I really don’t. One day I noticed that I wasn’t pretending to not quite know what to say next: I was really at a loss for words. And in trivial situations when I shouldn’t have been.

    And it felt pretty obvious to me that this had a direct effect in how bad my stuttering appears to me, and in the anxiety it builds up inside of me, when I realize that speaking to me just got even more awkward.

    So I don’t know. Deep down I think learning a new language in such an unstructured way really did a number in my language paths (impacting everything that goes with it), and I am gonna follow developments in this area closely.


    Pam Reply:

    Wow, Ralph, what an amazing response. It makes me feel silly for having psoted what I did. I can relate to your disclosure of yuor covert days – I tried to hide my stuttering for close to 40 years, and it has only beenin the last 3 years that I truly feel liberated enough and comfortable in my own skin to stutter freely.
    I only know one language – English – but studied Spanish for 4 years in high school.
    I still revert back to covert habits once in a while, especially in highly anxious work-related situations. But I am much happier with being free, and I think I am a different person now.
    Feel free to check out my blog, where I do discuss some of my covert stuff. It is written in English!!!!!! Thanks for sharing this.



    Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

    Hi Ralph–Thanks for sharing! The thing is, your experience makes good sense to my way of thinking. Stuttering doesn’t appear to be a speech problem (at least initially). It only reveals itself when there’s improved linguistic proficiency (or perhaps added motoric complexity). So the better you get in a new language, the more you’ll stutter in it.

    And when we learn more stuff, mental organization becomes a bigger problem too! Boy did I learn this in grad school. By the end of PhD, I had memorized so much stuff that I couldn’t retrieve it all very efficiently. So I had to work on how to mentally organize my filing cabinets (data) so that I could actually retrieve it when needed. Perhaps this is similar to what you describe?

    In any event–thanks again for sharing. I always appreciate personal experiences and different points of view 🙂


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