Make Room For The Stuttering

What Goes Unsaid

Posted on: May 9, 2011

An article was posted in the UK newspaper “The Telegraph” (May 5, 2011) with the headline, “Colin Firth admits he is struggling to lose his stutter.” Firth portrayed Bertie in the movie “The King’s Speech”, the reluctant king who stammered. Firth, who does not stutter, learned to deliberately stutter for the role.

He did a brilliant job, as we know, as he won the Academy Award for Best Actor and the film also swept the other top awards, Best Screenplay, Picture and Director. Firth showed with grace and dignity the difficulties faced by a person who stutters. But Firth is an actor, only portraying stuttering. He has not lived with the daily challenges of not being able to speak easily and effortlessly like most people do, without even thinking about it.

In this article, Firth is quoted as saying  (about Helena Bonham-Carter, who played his wife, Elizabeth), “Whenever I was stammering if I caught her eye she was usually looking at her watch or yawning, hoping the moment passes as quickly as possible, fortunately when the cameras are on her she looks delightfully supportive.”

I wonder if Firth was even remotely aware that people who stutter often face listener reaction just like he described. People often look away when someone is stuttering, or glance at their watch or look otherwise uncomfortable or impatient.

This is the body language of negative listener reaction that is often so tough for people who stutter to face. When a listener looks away or yawns or tries to interrupt us or finish our sentences, it is not uncommon for the stutterer to feel invisible, de-valued, unimportant.

This is what makes stuttering so complex. It is often that which goes unsaid that results in stutterers feeling shame, embarrassment and/or inadequacy.  Non-verbal body language is powerful and conveys just as much, if not more, about how a listener is listening and responding to us.

Firth may have been joking or just making an indifferent remark when he mentions that the actress portraying his wife, Queen Elizabeth, would look away when he was stammering. He also states in this article that he is having a hard time “losing the stammer” he deliberately practiced and performed for the role.

I wrote a post just about two years ago called The Things We Take For Granted. In that post, I wrote this line:  “It is not what is uttered, or heard or seen. It is what is not heard, what is felt and what matters” (most).

It felt like the same theme again. We very often are more affected by what goes unsaid than what is said by us or our listener. Non-verbal body language says a lot!

What do you think about what Firth says about his co-star looking away and wishing his stammering moment would pass quickly? And what do you think about Firth struggling to lose a stutter/stammer he never had?

13 Responses to "What Goes Unsaid"

I’m fascinated that he said that. Was he implying that he was embarrassed or frustrated by her looking away? Body language can happen so subconsciously but it can be so powerful. Much of the time I think their reaction may not have anything to do with the stutter, but it is so easy to interpret their yawn, or look away, or glance at their watch, as a personal affront. Thanks for the post!

I was asked this same question from my SLP in a questionnaire form, I went on to say, I find that most people in general will automatically look away, yawn or fiddle with something so don’t realize the negativity they are giving off. I think I have over the years been able to judge who is generally interested in us and give us there patience or those whose eyes glaze over and will do whatever possible to get out of the conversation, and I think this is one of the main
things that really affects me. It’s that feeling of being un appreciated or invisible that can be quite damaging, with the listener not even realizing they are being negative.
Thanks for the post!

You are right in saying it gives us a feeling of being invisible or un appreciated .

Pam, I was shoked by his words – that every time he stuttered, she looked bored and yawned. I didn’t see the movie yet, and now I am afraid this image of her yawning will spoil the impression. I was getting this a lot when I blocked hard and long. People finishing my sentences, or just walking away without waiting when I finish or looking bored. It seems to be a benign reaction – no harm intended, but it seemed like they believed that my stutter made it somehow ok to behave like this with me. I heard of people developing stuttering at older age – one person on our NS forum stumbled on the name of his boss during an important meeting and then he had fear that he might start stuttering and this how it ended – he did started stuttering. I wonder if her reaction made Colin Firth afraid that he may not be able to stop stuttering. For me at least, fear of stuttering played huge part in my struggle.

Very nice post Pam and thanks for Posting it. I feel Colin Firth’s remark has sparked yet another debate about stuttering being an acquired behavior. This is such a shame. And to say that his co-actress used to yawn whenever he had to stutter on the screen goes to show how a fluent speaker views stammering in totality even though he meant to be joking out there.

Well, for Colin stuttering is apparently an asquired condition, and this of course will sparkle discussion of whether or not his stuttering is the same as other cases. Although for him, if he won’t be able to get rid of it, it will make no difference. I hope his belief that you cannot get real stuttering if you don’t have the genes for it will be stronger than his fear that it can become permanent. In this case there is hope for him.

I believe he should snap out of his role he played in king’s speech and move on with his life. The more he gets hung on to the role the more errors he’s gonna commit coz he ain’t a real stutterer. He doesn’t have what it takes to be a stutterer and that’s the genes; very few are blessed with it.


Great comments and discussion everyone! Very interesting, isn’t it? I read on face book that the Stuttering Foundation of America has named Colin Firth as honorary chairperson for National Stuttering Awareness Week. Why?
Wouldn’t it make more sense for a person who really stutters to have that honor? There are so many successful people leading great lives who happen to stutter.
One day the stuttering advocacy groups will look within their own ranks to highlight people making a difference and stuttering!

I agree with you Pam. If at all they wanted to give this position to someone from the movie, they should have chosen the screenwriter of that movie – “David Seidler” who himself had a stutter when he was young.

I don’t know why but I have the general feeling that Mr. Firth should now move on, and change topic. Sure, his acting was great, and the King Speech was an excellent movie, which did a lot of good for how stuttering is perceived by the general public. But I don’t think this qualifies him for giving views on what living with stuttering is like. I realise he wishes good, but I think it sounds false. And maybe it’s me being negative, but I don’t believe one minute in the fact that he is struggling to lose his stutter. if anything, this statement (assuming it is accurately reported) makes me think that he is rather trying to capitalise on his award winning role.
Having said that, I think he would do a decent honorary chairperson for the NSA week. After all, the concept of “honorary” includes a notion of someone from outside a circle getting recognition from within. My personal choice would rather have been to give that position to the film’s director, but it’s really a question of personal taste.

Poor Colin Firth – not only he can end up with stuttering, but he also may be denied camaraderie of other PWSs, because he isn’t “a real stutterer”. I used to have severe stutter (graded and documented). Now I have a bit left, but I speak mostly fluently and even though a bit of disfluency left, I never block as long and hard as I used to do. None in my family stutters. My two daughters do not stutter. I don’t think I have the genes. If I do, I don’t care. I am certain as I continue working on it, I will overcome it completely. Should I be called not a real stutterer? If he suffers from it and if this is out of his control, then I would just wish it won’t last for him. But “real” or not, it can be frightening for him and it can cause him pain. So my heart is with him.

I found this article by some professor who studies stuttering with analysis of The King’s speech from his, scientific point of view. It interesting there that he says that according to his research, it is possible to predict whether or not a child will recover by analyzing his or her stutter at the age of 8. He says that if Colin Firth’s portraying of King George’s stuttering is accurate, this type of stuttering predicts difficult recovery, which was the case with King George.

Very nice article Anna. But what i would like to hear is, there are cases where children outgrow their stutter as they’re in their developmental stage because the weak motor nerves responsible for stutter gets stronger and as a consequence they become normal speakers. The problem with stutter is the genes responsible for stutter gets passed on from generation to generation and in few cases it becomes active and in few cases it remains dormant. For example, even i don’t have anyone in my family who stutters but i cannot say for sure that my gr8 gr8 grandfather did or didn’t. That’s the problem with genes.

Once again, you hit a very main point about stuttering in this post. This is a great article!!! Thank you, Pam!

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