Stammer and Stutter A Sure Case of Failure By Dr. Cdr. NK Natarajan

Recently a candidate had scheduled an interview with me on skype and he was not recommended five times in the past. He was not following my video tutorials and had only read my book and had taken coaching in one of the coaching academies in Delhi. He was presently working in an IT company and is doing very well. As the interview began, he came across as a very bright candidate and was very spontaneous in his responses. The first two sequences were very fine and I was beginning to crystalize my assessment when suddenly he got cornered in one of the questions and started fumbling thereafter. As is normally the case, when a candidate gets into a tight corner a little more of pressure is put on him to see if he bounces back and regains his composure but this candidate became very nervous and started stammering.


What is Stammering?

Stammering is speak with sudden involuntary pauses and a tendency to repeat the initial letters of words or can also be called as halting speech or stutter. A person with a stammer may be repeating either the whole word or part of the word too many times. So it might be like saying “da – da – da – dad” or “m – m – m – my”, or if it is the whole word “my my my my my name is is is, my name is, my name is…”. It is as if you are endlessly tripping up over the words.  Another way in which it feels as if the talking has just got “stuck” in some way, you just can’t finish the sound and get on to the next one. For example, instead of saying “seven”, it comes out as “sssssssssssseven”. For some people this prolonging of the sound can feel as if it has lasted for ages, even though it might be milliseconds of time.  

Some people don’t have any repetitions or any prolongations, but what they do have is total blocks in their speech. These can be almost silent. It is as if the mouth has become stuck. Some people say it feels like their tongue is stuck inside their mouth or the air has become trapped inside the voice box. The blocking can also be associated with struggle or excessive tension as you try to force your mouth to work. There may be extra noises as you push the words out. The harder you push, the worse the block. You may go back over the previous few words to try to release it and nothing happens. You may try to move your hands, feet or whole body to release the tension. Finally you do get the word out – relief, until someone says “What?” – because the blocking and struggling have meant that they have lost their place in what you are saying, or because the word came out in such a rush that they couldn’t understand it.

What Causes Stammering?

Research seems to suggest that a combination of factors is involved. Stammering is at root a neurological condition, based in the wiring of the brain. Studies have shown differences in the anatomy and functioning of the brain of those who stammer compared with most other people.

Genetics are relevant, as someone with stammering in the family seems more likely to develop a stammer themselves. As an issue that affects communication, stammering can have a deep and lasting psychological impact – which in turn can affect and aggravate stammering.

How does stammering affect people?

Stammering affects people in different ways and can vary according to the situation in which the person finds themselves: to whom the person is talking; how they are feeling about themselves and their speech; and what they want to say. Stammering can vary from adult to adult and child to child in its manner, frequency and severity – but is also highly variable for the person who stammers.

Stammering is not simply a speech difficulty but is a serious communication problem. For the child or adult who stammers it can undermine their confidence and self-esteem, and affect their interactions with others.

Factors Affecting Stammering

Various factors have an effect on the ease or difficulty with which people who stammer can speak.

These can include:

Environmental factors:

A child or adult who stammers may become less fluent when increased demands are made of the person in speaking situations, when the person has high expectations of him or herself in certain situations and with certain people (e.g. speaking on the telephone, at an interview) or when a specific response is needed (e.g. saying one’s name, address or phone number, having to use particular words). On the other hand, in some people this stress actually increases fluency.

Linguistic factors:

Children or adults who stammer does so on words which carry information and when using complex words of several syllables. They tend to stammer more at the start of sentences.

Physical factors:

Sometimes it is more difficult for people who stammer to speak fluently, for example when they are feeling ill, stressed, tired, excited, or upset.

Psychological factors:

People who stammer may become less fluent depending on: their feelings about their speech; their perceptions of themselves as effective communicators; and others’ reactions to their stammering.

How does this Effect in the Armed Forces?

In armed forces, one is faced with difficult and stressful situations very often and it is under these situations that one tends to stammer most. Under these situations if an officer is not able to give clear instructions to his team, he will not be effective and may lead the troops into difficulties.

Is there a Cure?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this. Though there are therapies, it is very long drawn and there are no great success stories. Hence, I would strongly recommend that all such candidates should not waste their time and effort in pursuing a career in the armed forces and should look for other opportunities.



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