Bilingualism and Stuttering

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There is a lot to think about when it comes to bilingualism and stuttering.

If you are learning or speaking a second language and you also stutter it is normal to feel like your fluency is really affected.

When you speak a new language you will find yourself:

word searching,

concept searching,

fighting for correct grammar

as well as facing increased performance stress, especially if the language is new.

Plus there are the delicate social expectations and differences across our diverse cultures which need your attention.

Add Stuttering to the equation and things can feel all too much. 

Today we really want to dive right into strategy for you! See, for the past 6 years we have been delivering stuttering therapy in the multicultural space for adults in Melbourne and online. 

So let’s get into this.

This article is long. And detailed.

Detail is our thing.

So perhaps grab yourself a nice cup of tea or glass of water. Pop your feet up. There you go… comfy?


And if you get stuck while reading all the info, remember, our team are just an email or phone call away. Feel comfortable to ask us any questions about stuttering. We are here for you.

Definition: Stuttering

If you ever wondered, stuttering is a motor speech disorder that impacts speech fluency and may involve behaviours such as sound or word repetitions, blocks where the sound is stuck and even secondary behaviours such as facial grimaces. 

What Treatment Approach is best to support Bilingualism and Stuttering

Smooth speech, an evidence-based behavioural modification approach which uses techniques such as starting gently, stretching and linking, can be applied to both languages successfully. When practised and utilised daily, smooth speech techniques give you control over your stutter. 

Definition: Balanced Bilingual

A person who is equally proficient across their languages. 

Don't Leave One Language at the Door When You Start Stuttering Therapy

Let’s stop for a minute.

Can you think about your language skills for us?

Which language is your dominant language?

If you have difficulty working it out, no stress! You may just happen to be a balanced bilingual.

When you know your language dominance we can target your treatment adequately.

We’ve uncovered some pretty solid evidence that language dominance affects the severity of your stutter.

That being said, you’ll see the same type of stuttering across all your languages and the weaker language will have a higher rate and frequency of stutters (Lim, Lincoln, Chan, & Onslow, 2008).

If there is a large discrepancy with stuttering primarily occurring in only one language, this may indicate an imbalance in language proficiency. 

And what about balanced bilinguals?

How badly do they stutter?

Well, usually balanced bilinguals have similar severity ratings and percentages of syllables stuttered across each language (Lim, Lincoln, Chan, & Onslow, 2008). 

In your assessment session, make sure you discuss language dominance.

Our team will ask you questions around your languages and stuttering. 

We will also take a speech sample in your core languages.

Multilingualism is the best thing for your communication.

Please don’t leave one language at the door before your stuttering therapy starts. Because we are waiting to work in both languages. We will custom design your treatment sessions so that you are practicing your speaking strategies in both languages. This will give you the best outcomes.

case study

A short time ago, we were working with a client who spoke Arabic & English. They saw Arabic as their dominant language.

From discussions and speech samples we noted that the stutter was more pronounced in English when compared to Arabic.

Since the client stuttered in both languages, we allocated speech tasks and home practice in both Arabic and English.

The client was trained to use the same stuttering techniques for both their languages. Early in the program our client was worried that the smooth speech technique of linking did not fit with what Arabic needed. See, they wanted to make sure they were true to the rhythm and flow of Arabic, even when using their stuttering therapy techniques. 


Naturalness is an essential part of fluency, so we discussed the top priorities to control the stutter.

A great solution was achieved. The client decided that when speaking English, their main goal to prevent their stutter was linking and when speaking Arabic, their main goal changed to soft starts.

This was a happy medium for the client who reported feeling as if they were in control of their stutter while also maintaining naturlaness across both languages.

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ok,ready for 4 clever tips for your fluency

We wrote these tips with bilinguals who stutter in mind.

If you are not bilingual, you will still find the ideas helpful, so keep scrolling for some fluency goodness!

5 Clever Tips for Bilingualism And Stuttering

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Tip 1. Poise

We know that pauses can be a risk factor for stuttering, but at times you may need additional time to code-switch. Our recommendation is to take your time. Have a breath, take a moment of poise to gather your thoughts and then speak. This will allow you more time to focus on your fluency techniques from the beginning of your phrase. If you are always stopping and starting due to code-switching from L1 or formulating ideas, brainstorm some measures to increase your vocabulary or use techniques to structure your thoughts more effectively.

Tip 2. Practise

We talk about this topic a lot! Some clients report that their stuttering increases in certain environments or when feeling a certain emotion. This is why transfer practice is essential. Role-play situations where you know your language skills and fluency skills will be challenged. Maybe it is the job interview you are preparing for or the newest proposal you will be making at this months meeting. No matter the situation, you need to practise your skills. 

Tip 3. Preperation

Think of your contingencies! While you can never be prepared for every situation or worst case scenario you can prepare! Control what you can control, and in this case, it is your fluency and vocabulary. Continue to update your vocab Trello boards with specific terms needed for upcoming meetings, networking events etc. Practice using this vocabulary daily while using your smooth speech techniques. If you know that your boss likes to throw out challenging questions, make sure you have a strong expressive language structure like our Positive Impact Statement to ensure that you are not overtly taken off guard. 

Tip 4. Proficiency

Just like any task that you are learning, the less proficient, the more you need to practice.

Therefore, why not focus on practicing and perfecting your fluency techniques in your less dominant language. It may be harder and more frustrating, but we promise, the more you commit to daily practice, the easier it will become for you to master.

Can stuttering therapy be effective if my speech pathologist doesn’t speak my language?

Yes, absolutely.

Lee, Robb, Ormond and Blomgren (2014) found that monolingual English speaking speech pathologists were accurate judges in assessing stuttering severity across their clients’ L1 and L2. Language familiarity was not necessarily a prerequisite for accurately identifying stuttering behaviours in unfamiliar languages.


We don’t need to be familiar with your first language to identify stutters. We will hear it. 

Van Borsel and Britto Pereira (2005) also found that speech pathology students were able to identify individuals who stuttered from those with typically everyday disfluencies (think of your pauses and “ums” when you speak) even if they were not familiar with their client’s language. 

Bilingualism and Stuttering: Are Both Languages Guilty of Making You Stutter?

Before you start thinking you could really dump that second language we want to assure you that stuttering is not associated with language development.

However, stuttering can really mess with the fluency rules of your second language and may further contribute to anxiety, frustration and communication confidence (Al Asiri, n.d.).

Some data speculates bilingual kids are at higher risk of stuttering but the research is still not solid enough to prove it. 

Other people believe that learning a second language increases the severity of the stutter, but to this day there is no proof for that either (AlAsiri, n.d.).

Stuttering doesn’t discriminate between languages, countries or cultures.

If you are a person who stutters, you are likely to face similar difficulties across all languages that you speak and in any country in the world (AlAsiri, n.d.).

Sometimes there can be common misconceptions among the public about what a stutter is. It is therefore essential that you advocate for yourself and other people who stutter.

Stuttering can affect your participation and comfort at work, school or even in the home but fortunately it will never interfere with your IQ. Don’t forget that. 

Juggling all the skills you need to move across both of your languages, managing a stutter, feeling less comfortable speaking at work or in class… uff we know how tough that can be.

It’s these feelings we encounter among the clients we love serving in our clinic.

I mean, this is why this post was written. 

If you are feeling worn out from your communication concerns, there are strategies to help with the heavy lifting and we can’t wait to show you.  

It is a skill and honour to be able to speak multiple languages, and at Voice Science, we strongly advocate for this.

Even though there is a range of conflicting research around stuttering in bilingual kids, we will focus in on you and your current situation. After all, you are a multilingual adult who stutters not a kid. 


AlAsiri, A. S. (n.d.) A Paper Investigating Stuttering and Second Language Acquisition. Retrieved from https://www.gvsu.edu/cms4/asset/777A03CA-E5D1-90B3-8FF97B7EA6E9ECB3/course_paper.pdf


Lee, A. S., Robb, M. P., Ormond, T., & Blomgren, M. (2014). The role of language familiarity in bilingual stuttering assessment. Clinical linguistics & phonetics, 28(10), 723-740.


Lim, V. P., Lincoln, M., Chan, Y. H., & Onslow, M. (2008). Stuttering in English–Mandarin bilingual speakers: The influence of language dominance on stuttering severity. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.

Van Borsel, J., & de Britto Pereira, M. M. (2005). Assessment of stuttering in a familiar versus an unfamiliar language. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 30(2), 109-124.

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