Stuttering and Bilingualism

Some excellent questions and answers about stuttering and bilingualism, adapted from Garth Foote in an ASHA Leader article (March 1, 2013). Click here to read the full article.

Q: If a client is bilingual, which language should stuttering be treated in?
A: Ask the client or his/her parents which language causes them to stutter most (often associated with particular social settings). Treat in whichever language the most difficulty is perceived.

Q: Learning a second language seems to have caused a client to begin stuttering, or has made a mild problem into a severe one. What can be done?
A: Learning a second language can increase existing stuttering problems, although it does not generally cause a persistent stutter to appear. The stutter may have previously been mild enough to be unnoticeable, however. Likely causes for increased stuttering when learning a second language are related to increased social demands of new language settings. As familiarity and usage of the second language increases, stuttering difficulties can diminish to previous levels, especially when treated. Note: noticing increased stuttering is never a reason to deny a child the benefits of bilingualism.

Q: In a bilingual or multilingual client, how is true stuttering distinguished from normal word finding difficulties when learning a new language?
A: It is always best to address the client directly about what is observed. Replay a recording or recall a point in a conversation where this occurred, tell the client what you observed, and ask him/her what happened there. Did they have trouble finding a word, did they stutter on a word, or were they avoiding a word/sound by prefacing with "How do you say?" or "What's the word?"?