Stuttering can be a big communication roadblock. Difficulty getting words out and clearly expressing thoughts and ideas can be very challenging for people of all ages.
In many cases, the stutter itself isn’t even the worst part of the condition - it’s the effects stuttering can have on a person’s daily life. Many children and adults feel they’ve lost control of one of their most basic and important functions, which can be an unnerving and frustrating experience. This can lead them to avoid social situations, be less active in a classroom or workplace environment, and feel a sense of embarrassment.
Fortunately, there are many different techniques that can be implemented in order to improve speech fluency. Just like learning any skill, these take practice and the results often don’t happen overnight. However, with enough practice and persistence, the seven different strategies covered in this article can improve fluency and help individuals regain control during their everyday speech.
The good news is that there are several different techniques that can be implemented in order to improve speech fluency. This post will cover seven different strategies to improve fluency, and how each one can be implemented in everyday speech.
Before we Begin: When to Seek Professional Help for Stuttering
Before diving in, let’s address one of the most common questions parents and individuals have: when is professional help from a speech therapist necessary?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Many early language learners naturally experience periods of stuttering and disfluency as they develop their communication skills. In many cases, time is the best remedy and they’ll naturally grow out of it. However, for a considerable number of children, stuttering can persist into adulthood if it’s not properly treated.
If you notice that your child is struggling with fluency, or their stuttering is having an impact on their daily life, it’s best to speak with your doctor or seek an evaluation from a speech therapist. Intervening early - before the stutter progresses - is often the best way to remediate stuttering challenges.
Specific signs to look for when decided whether to have an evaluation include:
- Your child’s stutter is getting progressively more severe overtime
- The stutter continues after their 5th birthday
- Your child’s speech sounds strained
- They’re actively avoiding social situations
Helpful Techniques to Improve Fluency
Below are several strategies that you can practice at home to help overcome a stutter. These are broken into a few categories:
- Techniques to prevent a stutter from happening in the first place
- Techniques that can be used in the moment of a stutter
- Techniques after a stutter has already occured
Easy onsets are used on words that begin with a vowel. They are used to prevent stuttering from happening. You will begin talking and using your voice very slowly and gently. Here’s how it works:
- First, take a deep breath
- Slowly exhale, letting out a small, easy breath - like making an /h/ sound
- Begin to slowly turn on your voice, starting with a very quiet sound
- Slowly increase your volume to a normal speaking voice
Here’s an example. Let’s say you were trying to say the word “apple.” Start by taking a deep breath, then let the air out slowly, and gently say, “hhhhHHHHapple.” Over time, you will get more used to this technique and the /h/ will not sound quite as pronounced.
The reason this increases fluency is because you are learning how to decrease tension in the vocal folds by gently voicing a word instead of closing the vocal folds hard to initiate the word. Tension is what creates moments of stutter and the more we can avoid tension, the smoother speech will be.
This technique can be used to change how you speak in order to prevent dysfluencies from occurring. When speaking, we use our teeth, lips, and tongue to form various sounds. But if there is too much tension when forming sounds, stuttering can happen.
In order to avoid stuttering and reduce tension, implement a technique called light contact. Let’s try an example.
Let’s say you are trying to produce the /t/ sound. Think about how you form this sound: the tip of the tongue taps behind the front teeth.
Now say the /t/ sound 3x consecutively, each with even lighter pressure each time. By the last /t/ sound, your tongue should barely touch the back of the teeth, but still just enough to still make the /t/ sound.
This amount of pressure should be used when speaking. The reduction in tension will greatly help improve overall speech fluency!
This technique is exactly what it sounds like - a stretched, or prolonged, syllable! Stretching syllables in words can help prevent stuttering from happening. When stretching syllables, you will want to stretch it for about two seconds each time.
Here’s an example. Try the word, “singer.” You would stretch the word as “sssiiingeeerrr,” allowing about two seconds for each syllable.
It may seem unnatural to stretch syllables this long. And it’s true - we don’t typically speak this way. But if this prevents you from getting caught in a stutter, then it can definitely end up saving time and frustration!
This technique is used during a moment of stutter. First you will need to identify what word you are stuttering on. After you do that, notice if there is any tension in your mouth. Try to release the tension. As you say the word, try to stretch the syllable you are stuttering and “pullout” or “ease out” of the dysfluency.
Here is an example. Let’s say you are stuttering on the word, “talking.”
- If the word sounded like, “t-t-t-t-talking,” then the moment of stutter is on the “t.”
- Now identify where the tension is. In this case, it’s at the tip of the tongue, where the /t/ sound is produced. Relax and release the tension
- Then stretch the syllable out to finish the word to ease out of the stutter. It should sound like, “taaaaalking.”
When we take time to slow down our speech, this automatically helps improve speech fluency. We can slow speech down in a couple of ways. Here are two examples:
- Slow down your speech by adding small pauses between words
- Slow down your speech by elongating vowels/sounds in words
If you are a parent or caregiver working with your child, be sure to model nice, slow speech in order to help them speak in a manner similar to you.
Syllable Timed Speech
This technique is part of the Westmead Program. How it works is that you will say a sentence with equal stress on each syllable. It is similar to speaking with a metronome.
If you are saying the sentence: “I went to the grocery store,” it would be pronounced “I-went-to-the-gro-cer-y-store.”
In order to help prevent your speech from sounding monotonous, make sure that you are still placing appropriate inflection on words. This can be tricky but you will get the hang of it over time!
Cancellations are a fluency technique that can be implemented after a dysfluency (stutter) has already occurred.
When a dysfluency occurs, pause and take a second to try to identify where the stutter happened in the word. Was it the beginning consonant, or on the vowel? Pay attention to your mouth and notice if there is tension anywhere that may have led you to stutter. Try to decrease the tension, then say the word again. Here is a simple breakdown of what to do when implementing the cancellation technique.
- Identify when you are stuttering
- Take a pause
- While pausing, identify the parts of speech that were involved in the stutter and what is creating tension
- Release the tension
- Repeat the word with less tension, stretching out the sound that was stuttered on
Want To Learn More?
Check out Expressable Academy for more detailed information on each of these fluency techniques. Just navigate over the left hand column and scroll all the way down. Click the Stutter & Fluency menu option, then the Fluency Technique options. Here you can also find more info on fluency related terms and even the anatomy involved during speech production.