Stammer blow
The Oldie Magazine|September 2020
Stammer blow
A stammerer since childhood, Nigel Phillips enjoyed and endured a successful and stressful language-teaching career. Did anything help?
Nigel Phillips

‘Phillips, what’s your school number?’ barked the teacher taking the register. I pursed my lips, trying to reply, but the reply wouldn’t come: ‘W, w, www, www, w…’ Then I burst into tears of shame at my inability to pronounce the simple words ‘One, two, three.’

Fast-forward 75 years. ‘What’s your name?’ asks the friendly receptionist at the speech-therapy clinic. ‘N, nn, n…’ Again I am speechless. A whole lifetime since my schooldays, I am still stammering and still plagued by deep embarrassment and frustration.

Most cases of stammering, including mine, are now thought by psychologists to be ‘developmental’, originating in faulty brain development during the process of learning to speak.

Many children stammer for some time in their early years but about two in three of them grow out of it. Stammering can also, though comparatively rarely, be caused by head injury, stroke or other neurological problems. At least one in 100 adults stammers – and four times as many men as women.

Stammering differs from person to person and from one situation to another. For me personally, the situation is helpful when I can speak with some authority, or am feeling relaxed, confident and free from pressure. I don’t stammer at all when singing – whether solo or in a group – or reading aloud to myself.

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September 2020