Speech and language

Having a stammer, a quiet voice or no voice at all can make speaking on the phone a challenge, and being self-conscious can make the situation worse.

Here you'll find tips to help you communicate with confidence, and BT products and services to make it easier to stay in touch.

What causes a speech impairment?

Lots of people live with some kind of speech impairment. As one example, around 1% of the adult population has a stutter – that's about 459,000 adults in Britain.

Some people have lived with a speech impairment since childhood. For some it might be genetic, others might develop an impairment following an injury or because of a medical condition, like a stroke.

A speech impairment can make someone feel less confident when talking. But by following some simple tips or making a few changes, someone with a speech impairment can easily make their voice heard in other ways, like using email or text messages.

Talking to someone with a speech impairment

If you know someone with a speech impairment, it's important to understand what factors can affect their ability to speak and communicate with ease.

These might include:

  • certain situations, like speaking on the phone or in front of a group
  • conversations including certain words, particular subjects or when being asked to give a particular response
  • stressful situations like interviews or making a complaint
  • health and emotions can impact a speech impairment, for instance if someone is ill, tired, stressed or excited
  • worrying about how other people will respond. 

Here are some tips that can help make someone with a speech impairment feel more comfortable when you’re talking to them:

  • try not to finish their sentences
  • let them express themselves freely
  • don't give them advice about how to speak
  • listen and be patient.

If you’re having problems understanding someone, ask in a sensitive way if you can help, for example by writing things down.

And confirm your understanding by asking closed questions that only need short answers.

Which phone features should I be looking for?

If you’ve got difficulty speaking or being heard, there are lots of phone features that can help you:

  • an answering machine can help you screen your calls because you know who’s calling and can decide whether to speak to them directly or let them leave a message
  • the Next Generation Text (NGT) Service can help you keep in touch using the NGT app or a textphone – see the NGT website for more information
  • speech amplification helps make quiet voices louder so the person you’re calling can hear you better
  • SMS Text messaging lets you type and send text messages to people’s mobiles or landlines using your home phone
  • hands free phones can help if you’re using text-to-speech devices like a Lightwriter 
  • a display that lets you see the number of the person who’s calling, so you can choose whether to answer (you’ll need a caller display service which you may be charged for – see your call package for details)
  • different ringtones for friends and family can identify the caller so you know whether it's someone you’re comfortable speaking to

Find out more about BT phones that can help with speech impairments

Where to get help and support

There are lots of ways to get help with a speech impairment. Often talking to or meeting people with the same or similar issues can be an immense help.

The British Stammering Association has loads of useful tips on living with a stammer or stutter, like information on speech therapy and support groups in your area. There's also lots of information for parents, teachers and employers.

Simple tips to improve your speech

Having a speech impairment doesn't mean you don't have a voice. Here are a few tips that can help you communicate more effectively:

  • if you know you're going to have a difficult conversation, think about how it might go, and what you might say
  • try out your conversations on friends and people you feel comfortable around
  • when you're making a call or starting a conversation, think only about the words you want to say, not what people might be thinking
  • try to speak slowly. You’re more likely to be understood and you won't get as stressed and anxious about the situation
  • if you're really worried, explain to the other person that you need a bit more time to tell them what you want. Most people will understand and be patient. 

We've got lots more tips on our Making calling easier page.

Try Before You Buy

We have over 200 'Try Before You Buy' centres around the country, where you can see and handle all our phones to help you find one that's right for you.

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We're here to help

Go to our Help and support section for tips and advice on making this site easier to use, using our services, understanding impairments, and contacting us. To get in touch right now, use the Email, Chat or BSL links.