Q&A: Communications graduate student reflects on overcoming her speech impediment

Laveen, Arizona communication graduate student Rachel Masch poses for photo on Feb. 20 in a Moore Hall classroom.

It was the day she would deliver her first speech in a college course. Rachel Masch nervously read off her flash cards, trying to slow down her pace so she could deliver her speech clearly. As Masch continued speaking, her stutter and lisp started to appear. These speech impediments caused Masch to struggle as she stumbled over her words. 

On that day, Masch's speech impediments impeded on her public speaking. But today, the Laveen, Arizona communications graduate student has decided to not allow these impediments to affect her life.

Masch went from being an anxious public speaker her freshman year of college to teaching her own Introduction to Communication (COM 101) class at Central Michigan University.

Over the years, Masch found a love for public speaking and was set on studying communications. She took courses to help improve her public speaking and eventually became a speech tutor. Her experiences over the years eventually led her to major in communications with an emphasis in health and family communication. 

Masch refuses to try to hide her speech impediments and instead embraces that her impediments make her different. She hopes students struggling with the same thing can learn to embrace it as well and let it become something that makes them original.  

Central Michigan Life spoke with Masch to discuss how she deals with her speech impediments and what it is like being a communications major who is teaching her own class.  

Central Michigan Life: What is some advice you would give to students who struggle with a speech impediment?

Masch: Don’t let it interact with how you maintain your life. It’s something that makes you unique. If you know how to make it be a part of you I think you’ll actually show and be more proud of it. 

Whenever I do stutter, I laugh it off like, "Yeah I stuttered. Deal with it." I accept it and I don’t put it on the back burner and hide it. I let people know,"Yeah I have a stutter and I’m proud of it and although it sometimes interferes, I wouldn't change it because it’s who I am."

How have your communication skills changed over the years?

Well I was very nervous when I began public speaking. I would stutter so bad, I would talk so fast to a point where I would mess up with what I was saying. But I didn’t let my lisp or my stutter stop me from still communicating and so I just had to work on it much harder than other people in the communication program. That meant I took classes to help with that, and it inspired me to actually become a speech tutor in my undergrad in which I helped people who had the same problems as I (did).

Do you have any specific stories from when you were tutoring in undergrad? 

A girl came in and she was very anxious and nervous for giving her speech and she still had a week until she had to give it. We worked on harder words, such as words that are hard for her to enunciate or pronounce in a loud manner because I used to have that problem. If I had to talk louder, my stutter would get worse. 

So we worked on starting like talking and then getting louder. I also helped give her some breathing techniques that help me. So when I’m either getting really nervous or when I’m really excited and I find myself stuttering more frequently, taking a breath from that kind of resets and focuses your mind, this is just my opinion, and I was hoping that could help her too and it did.

What is it like teaching a class at Central? 

I actually really enjoy it. I like being able to help students to not be afraid of public speaking. And I think the way I approach it helps, due to the fact that I mess up too. I have a speech impediment and showing that I’m just an average person, I really think allows me to work with students at another level. I really think also the age is important too. I’m very similar in their age, I’d like to think that I know what they’ve experienced. Putting these all together, I really think that I create a good environment for teaching COM 101 and I hope I continue.

What has been the most challenging thing you have encountered with teaching so far?

Most likely my anxiety and when I stutter. It mostly happened the first semester that I was teaching. It was my first time teaching, and my anxiety with them was that, "okay they’re not going to take me seriously due to my age," but also, "what if they judge me because of the way that I teach or the way that I act?" So I try to not let that interfere but it was very challenging the first year because I constantly had that in the back of my mind. 

When I would see students talking while I was talking it really made me self-conscious because I was like "What if they’re talking about me and my teaching abilities and they’re making fun of it?” I was very much more cautious of what I said and what I did so they wouldn’t see me as someone who is incompetent.

What do you plan to do with your major and what you’re emphasizing in?

What I plan to do once I graduate is to work for a women’s organization – whether it'll be helping them find homes or through domestic abuse or violence. Since I will have a background in communication, I will hopefully like to become a director of something like that or become a manager. You have to have strong verbal (skills), as well as background in communicating. (With the emphasis in health and family communication) I’m actually looking at sexual abuse when it is dealing with family members as well as with women.