Bilingual Stuttering Workshop

The first workshop that I attended on Day 2 of the NSA Annual Stuttering Conference was Bilingual Stuttering.

Again, I didn’t really know what to expect, and again, I was really impressed with the discussion and comments people made.

For me, I grew up in a bilingual household — my parents spoke Urdu as well as English. But I only picked up on the Urdu as far as some understanding. I rarely, if ever, spoke Urdu growing up. This was because others would usually laugh at what I was trying to say. So coupled with my self conciousness as someone who stutters, it was a receipe for never bothering to learn. And what was the point? Everything in the States is in English anyway.

In junior high and high school I took French. Again, I did pretty good “on paper” but rarely spoke because I was self-concious about how I sounded.

And now, here in Saudi, I’m surrounded by Arabic-speakers. I can read Arabic, but can’t speak or understand it.

So what did I take away from this workshop? The first thing that blew me away was that one of the presenters (a native English speaker who stutters) speaks a foreign language. At work. As part of her job. So, in front of clients, on the phone, the whole thing. I sat there in awe. Seriously? And here I am, afraid of practicing a few Arabic words at the office with friendly company?

Some said they stuttered while speaking another language, others said they didn’t. Some stuttered more because they couldn’t be covert — they couldn’t use another word to substitute because well, they didn’t know many vocab words.

I was sitting there getting a little nervous, though. I had a comment! And damned if I was going to come all this way and not say what I wanted to say. I was remembering the goals that I had set before the conference. Ok! So here we go.

Sutter, stutter, stutter, point sort of being made, stutter a lot more, nobody’s laughing, stutter, stutter, everybody’s just patiently waiting, stutter, stutter, make comment, ok, done.

Alrighty then.

What I managed to say is that I am afraid to speak in a foreign language because I know it won’t be perfect. And I want it to be perfect. I don’t want the listener to grab onto how I’m saying something instead of what the message is. This of course is a direct tie with stuttering — the person who stutters is afraid of how the message is perceived instead of what the message is actually saying.

I said that I needed to be more rational about this — it didn’t have to be perfect. Case in point, I’ve got a bunch of non-native English speaking engineers who report to me. Their English isn’t perfect. But they carry on anyway, not really caring. And I don’t care about how they’ve said something — and I can usually decipher the message.

Another important point they made is that we deserve to speak a foreign language. We don’t have to let our stutter get in the way of that, either.

Yes. I do deserve to speak the French that I learned. And Urdu. And Arabic. Need to get that into my head.

Another workshop done and another really great perspective on something that I had thought wasn’t going to change. I got a lot of encouragement and inspiration from those around me who were stuttering but still speaking foreign languages without any hangups.

This definitely had an impact on the trip to France that I took a few days after my Stateside vacation. But we’ll get to that in a few days.

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