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That time they told me I had a stammer in Italian, so I thought I would speak three other languages

By Giada Perini

I was about eight years old when the first signs of my stammer started to show. I remember clearly  being able to read out loud in front of all my classmates with no problem at all, and then one day, for no clear reason, things started to become difficult. My reading was not fluent anymore. Then I realised I could not speak properly in public, and eventually the simple act of talking became a struggle. Apparently, at some point my thoughts became faster than my mouth muscles, resulting in the repetition of sounds and syllables, together with some blocks in which I was not able to say anything. Luckily, my family was able to provide the support that I needed, so that I could see a speech therapist quite often. My condition was not too serious, and the therapists were positive that I would learn how to control it as I grew older and became more aware of my body and mind. Safe to say I was still suffering, as I felt different and always chose the activities which would not put my speech under the spotlight. Growing up in Italy may not have played in my favour, as the school system uses oral tests as part of their way to assess students’ knowledge, so I often found myself in front of an entire class of pupils, stressed and uncomfortable, trying to answer the teacher’s questions. What fun!

As some may have easily guessed, my self-confidence was constantly undermined, as if adolescence was not enough. However, my brain was stronger than me and never felt overwhelmed, on the contrary, it started to notice patterns. For example, my stammer was not present when I was angry, when I was singing, and, surprisingly, when I was speaking in English during foreign language classes. As my speech therapist used to say, sometimes a stammer might be linked to a problem of rhythm which involves words and breadth, which is why most people who stutter do not do so when they sing. Of course, as a 12 year old preteen learning a new language, I did not know any of this, I just knew I felt better when I was not speaking my mother tongue – Italian. My love for foreign languages grew bigger throughout my adolescence when I decided I also wanted to learn French and Spanish. That said, people used to tell me that learning languages may not be a good idea as they were concerned that it would make my stammer worse, as the speech disorder was clearly still present in Italian. In addition, while dealing with my speech problems, I also had to deal with people who thought I was not good with language as they felt entitled to finish my sentences on my behalf, while I silently corrected their grammar mistakes. Furthermore, I had to explain to people that, despite what they were hearing, languages were my forte, as my brain knew that some words were too difficult to pronounce, so it was constantly looking for an easier, alternative, meaning. As a result, my mind was an open dictionary full of synonyms and different expressions. Imagine the frustration of being treated as if I was not smart enough.

‘I then went to study in England as an Erasmus student, and there, things changed.’

As soon as high school was over, I went to university to study languages, with my Italian still struggling a bit during oral exams, but I was mature enough to be in control most of the time – mainly thanks to weird deep breaths before starting to talk – it was a trick my therapist taught me as part of the breathing techniques which were meant to help my body and mind relax and come together. I then went to study in England as an Erasmus student, and there, things changed. For the first time in my life I was a ‘normal’ human being (who is?), with no trace of a stammer, because I was not speaking Italian at all. A few years later, I graduated and moved to the UK for a few years working as a teacher of modern foreign languages. I now work as a translator in four different languages, an achievement which many people struggle to believe. Foreign languages, so it seems, allowed me to explore different sounds and rhythms, and my own mother tongue speech improved too. As a matter of fact, my stammer seems to have disappeared in Italian, probably due to the self-confidence I gained while living abroad and (almost) forgetting I had a stammer in the first place. Foreign languages turned out to be my second chance, and my stubbornness, and belief in my skills helped me to pull through.

Sometimes a bit of persistence is all it takes to move past our hurdles in life and overcome all the ups and downs that we might have to face. It is not always easy, but I think that our will to be what we want to be is what accompanies us in every step we take. And if that step, even a small one, is a step forward, I think we are winning already.  

About the author:

Giada is a translator and localizator (someone who adapts a product’s translation to a specific country or region so that it matches the culture) working remotely for a company based in Liverpool, UK. Born and raised in Italy, she graduated in Linguistic and Cultural Mediation (BA) and in Modern Languages for International Communication and Cooperation (MA) at the University of Padua, Italy. In 2017 her passion for foreign languages and cultures made her move to Liverpool, where she lived for a few years and completed her PGCE at Liverpool Hope University. Her education was based on an international approach, as she took part in a number of exchanges and traineeships abroad which made her fluent in English, Spanish, and French. 

Giada believes that languages are bridges between people, cultures, and economic systems, and she uses her multilingualism and experience to translate content in a way where readers feel engaged both linguistically and culturally. She plans to support human translation by showing the positive impact of localization on marketing and sales, by shortening the distance between Humanities and scientific disciplines.

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