The trap of "practicing"

This blog post is about an issue that comes part and parcel with speech therapy: practicing. But first, I need to tell you I recently took up bellydancing. I go to class once a week, and it is very enjoyable. It’s a healthy and fun thing for women to learn. Now let me explain what this has to do with speech therapy.

 The problem is I don’t have much time to practice dancing. I do it forty minutes a week in class, and maybe for about twenty minutes on weekends when I can find the time. Yet I still I feel I am getting better. Just after one month the moves and motions and postures are becoming much easier for me.

Learning a skill

That is usually the way it works with a new skill: you practice, and gradually you get better. I used to play the guitar, and although I’m not very musical, I was once diligent about practicing enough I could play competently. I did this for a few years, until I realized that I'd never be a musician and there were other things more worthwhile for me to pursue.

The weird thing is it never worked that way with my speech. When I was a kid taking speech therapy, I was told I had to practice. Practicing speech techniques is pretty dull, (dancing and guitar are much funner to practice) but I could buckle down and make myself do it. I could practice a half hour a day for a few days, and notice very little difference. I’d still be stuttering. Or I would be fluent for a couple minutes, and then fall back to stuttering. What gives? I would be told I needed to practice more. I could practice a half hour a day for a few days, and notice very little difference.

An uphill battle

If I invested that amount of time into anything else, I would notice a difference. If I practiced and learned a piece on the guitar, I could play it – and wouldn’t all of sudden stop being able to play it mid-song. But with practicing speech techniques, there was little or no payback, or at least that's how it seemed.

I’m not knocking practicing, or speech therapy. I’m not saying practicing can’t help.

Why practice?

I realize now that I was practicing for the wrong reasons. I was practicing in order to be able to hide my stuttering, because it was supposed to stop my stuttering. That is what I was told. That is like me practicing guitar and thinking I’m going to wake up the next day as Leo Kottke, or that Arcade Fire was going to be calling me soon to request that I tour with them as a lead guitarist.

 I think of it as “grounding” or “steadying”, a stabilizing and meditative activity. The fact is “practicing” speech techniques CAN help. I would like to stop calling it practicing, though, because it implies something it doesn’t really deliver. I think of it as “grounding” or “steadying”, a stabilizing and meditative activity. It can help take the edge off. It can help boost confidence. It can help calm nerves. You can get satisfaction though hearing your voice stutter-free. It can make day-to-day verbal interactions a bit easier. But it cannot allow you to hide your stuttering.