Have you ever started speaking only to realize you don’t quite know what you want to say yet? Or maybe when you speak, people have a hard time understanding you for one reason or another. If that’s the case, it’s possible you’re experiencing a manner of speaking called cluttering.
Still, there’s no reason to worry if you think you might experience this type of speech. In our comprehensive guide, we’ll explain what cluttering is, how it manifests in speech, and how you can work on speaking with more clarity if that’s a goal of yours.
What Is Cluttering?
Cluttering is a fluency disorder where a person’s speech sounds jumbled and sometimes hard to understand. Oftentimes, people who clutter talk very quickly, too.
Unfortunately, cluttering isn’t as well known as other speech conditions, like stuttering. Because of this, the former of the two is often thought to be stuttering.
Cluttering vs. stuttering
Cluttering is often confused for or seen as synonymous with stuttering. Still, there are some key differences that separate these two speech types.
One main difference stems from the speaker’s intent. Someone who stutters when they speak usually knows exactly what they want to say and how they want to say it. On the other hand, someone who experiences cluttering often doesn’t know precisely what they want to say.
This relates to the other key difference, which is how the two speech types sound. While cluttering often comes off as disorganized, rapid speech, stuttering usually features a more organized train of thought that physically sounds different.
A person can experience both stuttering and cluttering however, so it’s not uncommon for someone to be diagnosed with stuttering while their cluttering goes unnoticed.
To better exemplify this fluency disorder, here are some interesting cluttering fast facts you should know:
- About a third of adults and children who stutter also have signs of cluttering.
- For children who are school-age, about 1.1% to 1.2% of them experience cluttering during speech.
- Cluttering seems to be more frequent in cisgender men than cisgender women.
- Chances are, you’re more likely to experience this type of speech if a family member does too.
- Research shows there might be key differences in cortical and subcortical activity in those who clutter.
The cause of cluttering is still heavily debated. The sheer lack of research surrounding this speech phenomenon is the main factor affecting the debate in its cause.
Still, there are some leading theories as to what can cause it.
Anecdotally, people have reported cluttering is associated with genetic factors. However, there’s not any solid research to back up this claim besides informal reports from people who clutter.
Neurological factors are also considered a leading theory since this speech type happens often with other conditions, such as autism, Tourette’s syndrome, and ADHD.
Types of Cluttering
Experts tend to recognize two types of cluttering: phonological and syntactic. Here’s a quick look into both of these key types.
Phonological cluttering refers to a type of speech where the clarity of someone’s speech is affected. In other words, this type of cluttering makes it difficult for people to understand you.
Your speech may be considered “unintelligible” since listeners can’t make out what you’re saying. This type involves dropping syllables or consonants from words, misspeaking, or simply having trouble finding the right words.
On the other hand, syntactic cluttering refers more to the structure of your speech. Instead of people not being able to understand you, they may have a hard time following your story.
People with syntactic cluttering oftentimes use lots of filler words and revise their story mid-speech. This affects how your message gets across to your listeners.
To better exemplify these types, let’s take a look at some common signs of cluttering.
If you think you have difficulty speaking, you might be experiencing cluttering. Although you’d need an official diagnosis, there are lots of signs that you may have this type of fluency condition.
Here are the most common signs of cluttering:
- Pausing unexpectedly
- Jerky speaking patterns
- Speaking very quickly
- Disorganized speech
- Not speaking clearly
Other cluttering symptoms
There are also some cluttering symptoms that may seem unrelated but are actually very common in people who speak in this manner.
For example, someone who clutters might also have:
- Difficulty hearing or understanding others
- A hard time paying attention
- “Sloppy” or “messy” handwriting that can be difficult to read
- Learning differences or difficulties that aren’t tied to a person’s intelligence
There are also some other conditions tied to cluttering, including:
- Auditory processing disorders
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Learning disabilities
How Do You Know If You’re Cluttering?
Many times, people who speak this way don’t even realize they’re doing it. To be diagnosed with cluttering, there’s one main criteria that a person needs to meet: rapid speech. Everyone who experiences this type of speech condition will find themselves speaking too fast at times. So, for example, if you talk too fast some of the time but not all of the time, you can still have cluttering.
However, this doesn’t mean you’re speaking at a rate that’s faster than an average speaker; it just means that you’re talking so fast, your brain can’t keep up. This leads to the disorganized thinking and speech typical of cluttering.
Who diagnoses cluttering?
Typically, a speech language pathologist (SLP) will evaluate a person’s speech to determine if they have cluttering. Sometimes cluttering can be tied to other problems in a person’s life.
For example, if a person seems to struggle socially in making connections with people, this could be another indication of this type of speech condition (as long as the person meets other criteria as well).
Other professionals — such as teachers, psychologists, or primary care physicians — will weigh in on a person’s speech capabilities if signs of cluttering seep into other areas of a person’s life.
If you have a cluttering diagnosis, it’s likely that you have at least one of the below criteria.
Someone who clutters when they try to speak typically uses pauses that aren’t organic to what the speaker is saying.
Because of these pauses, the overall quality of the speech is affected. It might sound jarring or jerky instead of a smooth conversation.
Over-articulation — when the consonants and syllables are blended together or missed entirely — is also pretty common in people who clutter when they speak. Someone who experiences this type of speech might not always over-articulate, but they’ll have moments when it seems like their speech is missing a few syllables.
Revisions and filler word usage
Someone who clutters might also switch up what they’re saying as they’re saying it. Revising what you’re saying as you’re saying it can be confusing and difficult to manage.
They may also use filler words excessively, to the point where their speech intent is muddied or lost. Filler words are words that people use — nearly always unintentionally — as they’re thinking of what they want to say next. These include words like “um,” “er,” “uh,” “like,” and many others.
Taking a look at some examples can give you a better picture of what cluttering looks like.
Cluttering can look different for everyone. No one person speaks the same. Still, looking at some examples can better demonstrate what this type of speech can look like.
With unnatural pauses, some people may begin to speak, but pause in a way that seems out of place and even jarring. For example, a person may say, “Today during,” pause for a few moments, and then quickly continue: “math class, I scored 100% on last night’s homework.”
Because cluttering also involves over-articulating, a person may use words that can seem to be made up, but are actually correct words missing consonants or syllables. For example, the multi-syllable word “unfortunately” may come out as “uh-ferchly.” This can make it difficult for the listener to fully understand what the speaker’s trying to say.
Revisions are also pretty common with cluttering. A good example of a revision would be if someone attempts to say “I love watching the anime ‘Naruto,’” but instead says something like: “I like watching — ‘Naruto’ is really — One of my favorite animes is ‘Naruto.’”
This can distract the listener from what you’re trying to say, just as using filler words when you speak can.
How to Stop Cluttering
Not everyone wants or needs to stop cluttering. Some people are perfectly happy with the way they speak and that’s OK.
However, for people who want to stop cluttering, there are a couple ways you can tackle this type of speech.
Therapy for cluttering
One of the first steps to stop cluttering is usually speech therapy. The speech therapist will evaluate your speech and come up with strategies that are specific to your needs to help.
For example, one of the goals of therapy might be cutting down the person’s rate of speaking, especially if they’re speaking too fast for someone to understand.
Although many people are uncomfortable with the idea of therapy, it can completely change your outlook on speech in general and can help you stop cluttering if that’s your goal. If you’re having trouble finding a verified speech language pathologist, organizations like the Stuttering Foundation can help.
This organization can give you vetted fluency disorder professionals near you so you don’t have to search and try out different therapists. To find a specialist, you can visit the Stuttering Foundation’s website at www.stutteringhelp.com or call the toll-free number (800) 992-9392. These professionals can give you tips, tricks, and strategies to help improve your speech.
This brings us to our next technique for combatting cluttering, which is practice.
Practicing not cluttering in speech
Practicing your speech in a safe space is a must if you’re trying to stop cluttering. For this, using an AI speech coach like Yoodli is ideal.
Yoodli uses AI technology to evaluate and analyze your speech and speaking patterns. For people who experience cluttering when they speak, Yoodli can pick up on how fast you’re talking, identify how many words you say per minute, and give you actionable tips on how to slow down. This can make a world of difference for those who have a hard time speaking at an average rate.
Yoodli also identifies every filler word you use, when you use it, and which ones you use most often. By knowing what your filler crutches are, you can nip them in the bud before and during your conversation. Practicing your strategies and techniques with Yoodli can be a complete game-changer for those who clutter and aim to stop.
Why Does Cluttering Even Matter?
Although there’s nothing wrong with someone who experiences cluttering in their speech, it can make it difficult for other people to understand the speaker’s intent.
Some people aren’t bothered by cluttering or stuttering, and choose to own it instead. TikTok influencers like Caitlyn Cohen and Ryleigh Spets give tips for non-stutters on how to respectfully listen to someone with a speech condition.
For example, Spets sometimes records herself on what she calls “a bad fluency day” to bring awareness to fluency disorders. Other TikTokers like @mimidarlingbeauty speak on stammering and how that’s affected her life.
If you’re bothered by your cluttering or just want to ensure that you’re being heard, getting therapy from a speech language pathologist and practicing with a tool like Yoodli can take your speaking skills to the next level.
The Main Takeaway
Cluttering isn’t inherently bad or “wrong.” Still, some people prefer to stop cluttering in speech for a number of reasons, such as boosted confidence when speaking and improved enunciation during speech.
Practicing your speech and speech pathology strategies with an AI speech coach like Yoodli can be one of the simplest ways to improve.
You’ll need to be patient with yourself, but if you have the motivation and willpower to put in some practice, you can get more comfortable with both conversational and public speaking.