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How to speak easy


Stuttering was once seen as a psychological problem but is now considered a disorder of speech processing centres in the brain. James Mitchell Crow talks to a young woman determined to get to the bottom of the problem.


Speech pathologist Charn Nang was drawn to the subject of human speech in high school. – Adam Borrello

Imagine shying away from naming your newborn after a beloved family member because you stumble trying to pronounce the name. Or being unable to buy a train ticket because you can’t spit out the syllables of your local station. A stutter affects every aspect of life, says Charn Nang, who just completed her PhD on the causes and consequences of this speech impediment.

“Stuttering is one of those disorders that has been researched for years, but the exact cause is still unknown,” she says. Once seen as a psychological problem brought on by anxiety, it is now considered a disorder in speech processing centres in the brain. Growing evidence points to a strong genetic component.

Stuttering has been researched for years, but the exact cause is still unknown.

Nang was drawn to the subject of human speech in high school by the intersection of what seemed, at first, an incompatible pair of interests: languages and health. “Speech Pathology” caught her eye in the Curtin University prospectus and she never looked back, says Nang, now a lecturer at Edith Cowan University.

The speciality sprang from voluntary work with the Speak Easy Association, a self-help group for stutterers. “It made it easy to recruit people for my research, which can be one of the major challenges in speech pathology,” she says. “Many of them are now good friends of mine.”

Aside from digging out the causes of stuttering, Nang’s research focuses more on its impact and ways to help manage the condition. Male stutterers outnumber females four to one and so most research has focused on men. But women stutterers have different concerns on how it affects their relationships, says Nang.

“Women are a little-studied minority,” says Nang. It is something she means to change.

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James Mitchell Crow is a freelance writer and editor.
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