George VI with Queen Elizabeth, the Queen MotherMany 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.

Overcoming Speech Impediments

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.

Allen FarmerA 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:

Some Common Speech Impediments

๏ Stuttering
๏ Lisps
๏ Speech sound disorders; this is further subdivided into articulation (phonetic) disorders and phonemic disorders

More Information About Speech Or Language Impairment

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 §300.8(c)(11]

Stories From The Field

Chris WagnerChris 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!”

Josef LoewinsohnVoice 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).”

Enriching Opportunities

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.

Can We Do More?

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!
Best wishes,
Photo of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, then Duke and Duchess of York, via The Telegraph

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Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.


  1. I have this movie. My friend Linda recommended it to me. Linda was a speech therapist so she really saw what was going on. Linda has passed but I bought the movie before hand. I will think of her when I can watch it.

  2. with me it was singing that cured my stuttering,……one night late my dad woke me up to watch johnny carson (which I thought quite odd at the time), Mel Tillis was on, and Johnny was interviewing him painfully slowly (Mel Tillis stutters badly when he speaks), but when he started to SING, I was completely floored!! he didn’t stutter at ALL when he sang, so I tried it with a song I made up that had every letter I stuttered on,…and BINGO!,…just like Mel, I didn’t stutter when I sang,…..thinking about WHY, I realized that when you sing, you are paced by the rhythm of the song, and when I applied that same pacing to talking, the stuttering disappeared!
    Now I am very proud of the fact that I once timed myself reading very, very fast, and I clocked myself at almost 600wpm, and you could understand every single word!
    so I am living proof, that if you just set your mind to something, you can overcome almost any adversity, it just takes persistance, and continually asking yourself “why”?

  3. I had the same problem when I was a kid as well and felt the pain when I saw the movie. ( The King’s Speech ).
    My speech problem only stopped ( partially ) when I accidentally heard my voice via the speakers when I used the mic during a Q&A session in high school. Everyone said I sounded good. I suppose it’s all about confidence.
    I do stammer at times when I am nervous or upset. I do have problems with certain words such as digital , electricity and Generation!!!.
    I read somewhere that if you are a left handed person and wrote with your left hand ( like me ) and was forced by your blessed parents to write with your right hand…you may have a problem with your speech ( stammer, etc ). Not sure if it is true but it definitely happened to me.

  4. “The King’s Speech” is mentioned prominently in this LA Times article ( from earlier this year as it focused on the steps former NHL player and LA Kings general manager, Dave Taylor, took to deal with his stuttering.
    For close to two years, Taylor worked with a Santa Monica-based speech therapist best known for her work with stutterers at the UCLA Speech Psychology Center.
    It is great to see people overcome obstacles – and we all face them.
    Ralph Hass
    – Heard on the “Thurman Thomas TV Show” for the Buffalo Bills
    – MSG-TV imaging voice for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres (2006 – 2009)
    – SHAW-TV imaging voice for the Western Hockey League since 2007

  5. For just a glimpse of what it might be like not to be able to get your words out, try monitoring yourself in ordinary conversation on phones with a delay of about half a second.
    For sure, it can’t be so frustrating as the real thing, but is alarming when you first experience it.

  6. Wonderful article. I studied Irish Literature from a Harvard professor
    whose lecture was a trial, he stuttered so badly. But when he read
    a poem or fine piece of writing, it was glorious. Tom Brokaw was able
    to deal with his impediment, which one can still hear!


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