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The King's Speech

With reference to the example of King George VI, and the film The King’s Speech, to consider the condition of stammering.

by Tim and Vicky Scott

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

With reference to the example of King George VI, and the film The King’s Speech, to consider the condition of stammering.

Preparation and materials

  • The trailer of the film The King’s Speech on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=TC8gRaGJEz4 (check copyright).
  • PowerPoint slides showing pictures of the real King George VI with the Queen Mother and their daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.
  • Information about stammering can be found on the website of the British Stammering Association (www.stammering.org).
  • Be aware that there may be children in your assembly who stammer.

Assembly

  1. Ask students if they have ever felt frustrated when they were trying to communicate something but people were not listening or were not trying to understand. Challenge the students to remember how frustrated they felt. Say that this is a problem frequently felt by people who have a speech impediment.

    Speech is very important. What we say has the power to bring great joy but also cause real sadness.
  2. This year is the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI. King George VI was king of the UK and the British Commonwealth from 1936 until his death on 6 February1952.

    George became king unexpectedly, following the abdication of his elder brother Edward (King Edward VIII), who gave up his throne in order to marry a divorced American lady called Wallis Simpson. Edward VIII had been king for less than a year when he abdicated, leaving George to become king a few years before the outbreak of the Second World War.

    King George suffered from a stammer, which began when he was a young boy. As a child, he was forced to write with his right hand, despite being left-handed by nature, and throughout his life he suffered from ill health.

    The 2011 Oscar-winning film The King’s Speech has drawn attention to King George’s courageous battle to conquer his stammer.
  3. Show the trailer of the film The King’s Speech, and ask the students if they have seen the film and what they felt about it.

    The King’s Speech has caused more people than ever before to think about stammering or stuttering (the two words have the same meaning).They are asking what it is, who it affects and what causes it. Since the 1930s when the film was set, knowledge about the condition has improved a great deal.
  4. What is stammering?

    Stammering is ‘characterised by stoppages and disruptions in fluency which interrupt the smooth flow and timing of speech. These stoppages may take the form of repetition of sounds, syllables or words [e.g. to-to-tomorrow], prolongations of sounds so that words seem to be stretched out [e.g. mmmmmmmmmmmilk], and can involve silent blocking of the airflow of speech when no sound is heard’ (Enderby, quoted by the British Stammering Association). Some, though not all, experts believe it is also marked by repetition of whole words.

    Stammering varies in severity from person to person. Some people only have a very slight stammer. Even those who suffer badly from stammering do not have it all the time. It is often less severe or may not be apparent when singing, whispering, in choral speaking and when acting. For some people it is worse in stressful situations, such as public speaking, for others, the stress improves the stammering.

    Who does it affect, and how many?

    –  Up to 5 per cent of children under five go through a phase of stammering. Recent research has demonstrated that it is possible to predict which young children with stammers will grow out of it and recover normal speech by their teenage years.

    –  About 1.2 per cent of all schoolchildren stammer. In the UK that comes to about 109,000 children between 5 and 16.

    –  About 1 per cent of all adults suffer from stammering.

    –  Very occasionally adults will develop a stammer as a result of a brain injury such as a stroke.

    –  Among the under fives twice as many boys as girls stammer; among adults about 4 men stammer for every woman.

    These figures are provided by the British Stammering Association, who add that the figures are the same throughout the world, across all cultures and in all social groups. They also say that there is no evidence that people who stammer are less intelligent than those who don’t stammer.

    What causes stammering?

    No single cause has yet been found. There is evidence that in some people at least it is inherited. There also appears to be a difference in the left hand side of the brain in sufferers. Sadly, statistics show that children who suffer from stammering are more likely to have faced bullying. We know that anxiety, perhaps the result of bullying, can be an important factor in causing stammering or making it worse.

    Is there a cure for stammering?

    No cure has yet been found. But stammering can be improved with speech therapy and constant practice. The highest success rate is with children under five. With very young children, good speech exercises can stop the difficulties developing into a lasting stammer.

    There are some artificial devices that can help people who suffer from a stammer to slow their speech down so they can then talk more audibly. Unfortunately, once the device is removed, the stammer comes back.

    With a great deal of hard work and encouragement, people with a stammer can control it to the extent that they may work as university lecturers, or even appear on University Challenge.

    There are still many discoveries to be made about the condition so that treatment can be improved.
  5. Sadly, statistics show that children who suffer from stammering are more likely to face bullying. They can become frustrated and shy. They can lose confidence, find it hard to succeed at school, and have difficulty getting good jobs.

    No one should be abused and mistreated because he or she is different.

    Showing people that you value what they have to say helps all of us because this shows that you value them as human beings.

Time for reflection

Imagine having a stammer and being bullied just because of the way that you speak. How will you feel?

Is there anyone that you look down on because of a speech difficulty?

Is that rational?

How could you change your attitude to be kinder and more accepting?

Think about how you can support someone who finds communication difficult. Usually all that is needed is time, and for you not to try to guess what the person wants to say – give space and patience and the words will come out.

Prayer

Lord God,

we thank you for all speech therapists and scientists

who are working hard to ensure that we have a better understanding

of speech conditions such as stammering

so that people who suffer can get the help they need.

We pray that you will comfort and encourage
those who suffer abuse because they have a stammer.
Help us to be a community where all people are able to be themselves.
Amen.

Music

‘I may speak in the tongues of angels’ (Come and Praise,100)

Publication date: February 2012   (Vol.14 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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