While it is not really the first time I recall myself stuttering (or stammering, as I used to call it back then), it is my first major memory of realizing I have a speech impediment that will cause me problems. The reason this memory popped back in my mind is because I was wondering about stuttering in other languages. I do stutter in all languages I speak. But I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of people only stuttering in certain languages, or not stuttering when they put on an obvious accent.
Anyway, back to my memory. I must’ve been 12 or 13, I was probably in the 6th or 7th grade. I was chosen (for what I can’t recall) to participate in a school debate. In my second language. Hindi. My history with Hindi is not a fun one. I disliked the subject so much in school, that I even now have nightmares about my 10 grade final exam which involved memorizing literature from 3 text books. I always went to “tuition” classes for Hindi, not that it helped much. Anyway, now that I agreed to participate in this debate, I started preparing for it. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the subject was, but I remember preparing for it with my Hindi tuition teacher, a kindly old woman who taught my friend and I for a few hours after school, when we’d rather be outside playing Tennis or Cricket. I had my essay written out, she marked it up, I wrote it out again. I practiced it, she praised my performance. I practiced it again the night before the debate, and I was good to go. Or I thought I was.
I got up on stage the next day in school, in front of a crowd of about 150 kids (or maybe it just seems like 150 now and it was actually more like 35). I started to deliver my memorized speech-debate. But my stomach knotted up, my throat went dry and my brain stopped working. I was panting for breath. I was stammering worse than I ever had. It seemed like every word began with a vowel that caused me to struggle and repeat it, excruciatingly. With things going so badly, my eyes glazed over. I stopped paying attention to the audience or the delivery stance and poise one had to have while debating. Instead all my attention was focussed on my own stress. All I could think of was finishing this ordeal as fast as I could so my heart would stop pounding in my chest. But the faster I tried to speak, the more I stuttered, the more I stuttered, the longer it took.
In hindsight, I don’t think I was ever nervous going up there to give my speech. I don’t think it occurred to me that my stuttering would be a problem. And when I got up there and it became a problem, it took over me. I can’t remember much after I was done. I can’t remember what I did, where I went or how I felt. Knowing me, I likely took my seat in the audience, listened to the next guy speak and when my heart and stopped beating, I probably forgot all about it.