Grading Speech: The Problem for People Who Stutter

The journey of individuals dealing with speech impediments such as stuttering or stammering can be a daunting one. Within this journey, a significant issue arises: the way People Who Stutter (PWS) grade their own speech. In this comprehensive blog, we’ll explore how the severity of self-grading can exacerbate stuttering/stammering perpetuate the problem, and even foster a deep-seated fear of speech. The crux of the matter is that PWS often use a grading system that feeds and increases the risks of stuttering, which can hinder their progress. To overcome this challenge, it is vital for PWS to adopt a simplified approach to grading their speech.

Understanding the Grading System

The way PWS grade their own speech plays a pivotal role in their stuttering journey. Unfortunately, many PWS tend to use a highly critical grading system, which can have adverse effects on their journey to fluency. In essence, PWS often apply an overly critical lens to their speech, categorizing even the smallest speech deviations as failures. This hyper-critical self-assessment can be detrimental to their progress.

The Flawed Perception of Fluent Speakers

One key issue in this context is the disparity between how PWS and fluent speakers (FS) perceive speech. PWS and ex-stutterers tend to be highly attuned to spotting stuttering and judging every minor speech deviation, no matter how inconspicuous it may be to fluent speakers. This leads to a distorted self-perception, where PWS view their speech as riddled with mistakes, even when they might be relatively minor.

In contrast, fluent speakers make speech errors and deviations in their communication regularly. They may experience repetitions, forced words, long silences, halting speech, or other imperfections. However, the key distinction lies in how fluent speakers perceive these deviations. To them, these minor speech “mistakes” do not classify them as stutterers. Fluent speakers do not habitually monitor the speech of others for mistakes and often dismiss and forget their own minor errors.

A Case in Point: Winston Churchill

Even prominent figures in history, such as Winston Churchill, known as one of the greatest speakers of the 20th century, occasionally exhibited halting speech. This led to debates among many regarding whether he could be considered a stutterer. The point is, even individuals with highly successful careers can have minor speech deviations that fluent speakers overlook.

Fluent Speakers’ Perceptions

In the world of fluent speakers, minor speech deviations do not register as significant issues. Fluent speakers are primarily concerned with communication effectiveness within a reasonable time frame. Only speech deviations that markedly impede effective communication or are accompanied by visible facial or body contortions are classified as “failures.” These extreme deviations are the only ones noticed by fluent speakers.

The Role of PWS in Overly Critical Grading

PWS contribute to their fear of speech by adopting an overly critical self-grading system. They set their personal speech bar incredibly high, striving for an unattainable level of perfection. As a result, they consistently fall short of their self-imposed perfectionist standards, leading them to categorize even minor deviations as “failures.”

A Case Study: The Unjustly Graded Interview

To illustrate the impact of overly harsh grading, consider the case of stammerer, a PWS who reported a poor performance in a phone interview and labeled it as a “Fail.” In reality, when his WSSA coaching team reviewed the interview recording, they couldn’t find any definitive evidence of a bad incident. The stammerer had set his speech bar so high that he viewed it as unattainable, making it impossible for him to achieve the level of perfection he believed fluent speakers routinely achieved. In the eyes of the WSSA coaching team, including fluent speakers, the stammerers speech was not just fluent; it was exceptionally good.

Self-Sabotage and Fear of Speech

PWS who persistently grade their speech too harshly may inadvertently sabotage their own progress and fuel their fear of stuttering. It is crucial to recognize that fear of speech is distinct from stuttering itself. It may take PWS a considerable amount of time to overcome their fear of speech, particularly the fear of making minor speech deviations. PWS must learn to forgive themselves for minor speech errors and accept their human imperfections.

Overcoming Fear of Speech

Overcoming the fear of speech, often referred to as the “Second War” after stopping bad speech incidents, is a critical step in the journey to speech fluency. It requires PWS to:

  • Avoid appearing speech-disabled at all times.
  • Engage in continuous practice of C-11, or “Speaking like a King/Queen.”
  • Actively “vaccinate” themselves against fear by gradually speaking more in pressured-speech zones, such as speaking at Speech Anxiety Anonymous (SAM) meeting, which are hosted by World Stop Stuttering Association, the world’s ONLY Community of EX-stutterers and people who stutter, conversing on the phone, talking to strangers, addressing groups, and participating in Toastmasters meetings. Each time PWS slightly extends their comfort zone, they immunize themselves against fear and potential bad incidents.

Seeking Help with Grading

If PWS find it challenging to grade themselves properly, it is advisable to seek help and guidance. Discussions with a WSSA Coach or participation in WSSA Practice Sessions can provide valuable insights into effective self-grading. It is essential to remember that PWS, including ex-stutterers, often struggle to avoid overly harsh grading. The ultimate test for grading should be through the eyes of fluent speakers who have never experienced stuttering.

The Role of Harsh Grading

Harsh grading plays a significant role in perpetuating the problem of stuttering and preventing individuals from achieving fluency. Stutterers and ex-stutterers alike cannot afford to subject themselves to such harsh self-assessment. Those who continually grade their speech as “Fail” when it falls short of appearing speech-disabled to fluent speakers may struggle to overcome their fear of speech and may even risk experiencing relapses.

Some PWS Seek to Prove Inability

Interestingly, some PWS may actively seek to prove their inability to become fluent. This is not the case for everyone, but there are instances where PWS, who have successfully stopped having bad incidents, continue to perceive minor speech deviations as “bad.” They come incredibly close to speaking fluently but may prematurely conclude that they cannot achieve perfection, thus labeling the program as a failure.

Forgiving Minor Mistakes

It is crucial for PWS to understand that mistakes that are not clear evidence of a speech disability should not be classified as stuttering. PWS must learn to forgive themselves for minor speech errors and let them go. The process of overcoming the fear of speech can be challenging, but it is an essential part of the journey towards fluency.


The way PWS grade their speech is a critical factor in their journey to overcome stuttering. An overly critical self-grading system can perpetuate fear of speech and hinder progress. PWS need to simplify their grading approach, adopting a system that categorizes speech deviations as either “Pass” or “Fail.” It is crucial to remember that PWS have a hyper-critical perception of their own speech and should focus on how their speech appears to fluent speakers.

Overcoming the fear of speech is the “Second War” after stopping bad incidents. To achieve this, PWS must avoid appearing speech-disabled, practice speaking with confidence, and gradually expand their comfort zones. Seek help and guidance from WSSA Coaches or participate in practice sessions to refine your grading skills. All can be found at

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