By Stephanie Ciccarelli
July 20, 2011
Many famous leaders and media personalities have risen above speech impediments including Moses who led the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity in the Exodus, modern day American actor James Earl Jones, and as you may have gathered, King George VI of Great Britain (pictured at right).
In this article, we'll take a look at the kind of challenges people with speech impediments encounter and also provide a venue for discussing how to overcome stuttering and other issues that make speaking difficult.
Bertie was a stutterer who never thought his voice would be thrust on the global stage let alone be made king. Even so, after his brother Edward VIII's abdication in 1936, he dutifully reigned as king of England during a critical time in world history leading up to World War II. Bertie needed to make a big speech to comfort his people and inform them of what was to come. Did I mention Bertie had a stutter?
Many great leaders have been afflicted with speech impediments yet have risen to the challenge and overcame their challenges.
This past year, a movie was released called "The King's Speech" starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush. The film won numerous accolades as it shone light on the host of struggles Bertie (George VI) experienced to simply communicate comfortably in public and via live radio broadcasts.
A documentary was also produced by The History Channel and featured the narration of voice artist Allen Farmer.
I happened to see the production and was impressed by Farmer's ability to tell the story of George VI in such a delicate, authoritative and honorable way befitting a king.
Here's a sample of Allen Farmer's work from The Real King's Speech:
à¹ Speech sound disorders; this is further subdivided into articulation (phonetic) disorders and phonemic disorders
I happened to visit the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities website, a great resource that includes a 7-page white paper on speech and language impairments detailing everything from what speech impediments are to how to get help. You can also read the article on speech and language impairments in Spanish.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, defines the term "speech or language impairment" as follows:
"(11) Speech or language impairment means a communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child's educational performance." [34 CFR Â§300.8(c)(11]
Chris Wagner is living proof that someone can overcome a speech impairment and pursue a career as a voice talent. His difficulties were getting S or C correct, mainly tongue placement issues. Tongue twisters like "She Sells Sea Shells By the Sea Shore" were routine exercises for him.
Wagner writes, "I spent 12 years in speech therapy in school. When asked by a speech therapist in Junior High School what it is I wanted to do, I said 'Be on the Radio.' She just chuckled and shook her head 'You won't be able to do that.' Did I ever show her!"
Voice artist Josef Loewinsohn also has a story to tell, sharing "I stuttered so bad when I was a kid, I couldn't get a sentence out in under 3 minutes. Now I can cruise along quite comfortably at well over 400 wpm if the need be (I can usually get a 10 second legal read in under 5 secs, totally usable)."
While I'm not a trained speech pathologist, I did help a couple of kindergarten aged children with speech therapy during a high school teaching co-op placement at a local elementary school. I met with two children on a weekly basis for half hour sessions and taught them how to create sounds that you and I take for granted including forming vowels and how to place consonants. The resource teacher supplied me with a number of activities to help guide the children. Many of the exercises were focused on pronouncing sounds that were unique to their particular challenges. Each session brought them closer to their goal of speaking freely. Looking back on the experience, the impact, though small and short in duration, was greatly enriching and beneficial.
Perhaps there is an opportunity for voice artists here to provide a community service? Many of us are familiar with reading for the blind but how many talent are focusing on literacy and speech development? It's an interesting question to ponder.
If you'd like to share tips that you have for overcoming specific speech difficulties or impediments, please post them as comments below. We could all benefit from your story!
Photo of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, then Duke and Duchess of York, via The Telegraph
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