Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech – a study in rhetoric
Malala Yousafzai needs no introduction. Since the Taliban shot her on her way to school in October 2012 for advocating education for girls, she has become world famous (see “I Am Malala: Prologue” page 284, Access to English: Social Studies). The following is her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize of 2014. It is an extremely moving and effective speech. Some have already called it a classic.
You can watch the speech on the first website linked below as well as read it on the second website we include. The recording lasts about half an hour, while the text is quicker to read because it has no breaks for applause. Once you have finished it, work with the tasks that follow which will look into why it so powerful.
Form groups of four and work with the following.
A speech is a different form of communication than the written word. Often it tries to persuade, inspire and move its listeners. To that end, it has a particular set of tools at its disposal, tools that taken together are known as rhetorical methods. Malala makes good use of some of these in her speech. This is particularly impressive given that she is only 17 years old and is speaking in a foreign language – English. See if you can find examples of some of these rhetorical methods in action in her speech. Compare your results with another group’s:
- The use of humor to disarm the audience and gain its attention and sympathy.
- Words and phrases (refrains) that are used to underline points and give rhythm to the lines spoken.
- The stating of questions through which the speaker is in fact expressing an opinion – also known as “rhetorical questions”.
- The use of repetition to hammer home a point.
- Direct appeals to members of the audience as individuals.
- Setting up clear alternatives and choosing the most moral or virtuous ones.
- Using one phrase to focus the intention of the speech as a whole.
Work in pairs.
a) A good speech is well structured, moving from one focus to another smoothly. Look through Malala’s speech and use the suggested headings below to decide at which point in it she moves from one area to another. Compare your results with another pair. Did you pick the same places?
- Welcome and thanks
- Personal background and experiences
- Scope and ambition
- Hopes for the future
b) This speech moves smoothly from the local and personal perspective to the universal and general viewpoint. Discuss how Malala manages to make this transition. What effect does this have on the impact of the speech as a whole?
Work in groups of three
Watch Malala give her speech again on YouTube. Make a note of everything you find interesting about her presentation; i.e. how quickly or slowly she speaks, how she makes use of her intonation (varying the rhythm and strength of her voice), the way she uses gestures to emphasis points or to refer to others in the audience or the world in general, how she maintains eye contact while using a written manuscript, etc.
Then discuss in groups the effects of these techniques and compare your observations with those of the rest of your class.