What is the difference between Speech and Language?

May 27, 2009 at 11:55 pm Leave a comment

Often, when parents first contact me with concerns about their child’s communication, it is important for us to differentiate between speech and language.  For most people, speech and language are synonyms, used interchangeably to describe “talking.”  For a speech-language pathologist, it is important to clarify a parent’s concern as being primarily related to “speech” or “language” prior to an evaluation.

In general, speech refers to the actual production, or articulation, of sounds by the mouth.  If you are concerned about your child’s speech, you may be more concerned with how your child is speaking, rather than what he or she is actually saying.  He or she may be very difficult to understand and use many different patterns of sounds or have difficulty with producing only one or two sounds (such as /s/ or /r/).  When we talk about speech, we are referring to the actual sounds, rhythm or voice your child is using.

Language refers to what your child is saying.  Often, I ask if a parent is concerned with the words the child is using.  For example, how does your child put words into sentences, use grammar or different forms of words such as plurals or -ing verbs?  If your concerns have more to do with the sentence structure or the way your child is creating phrases and sentences, rather than the sounds he or she is using, your concerns may primarily be about his language. (Please note, in this example, we are talking about expressive language needs which often co-occur with receptive language or comprehension needs.)

For more information about the difference between speech and language, please visit my website at www.twomeyspeechtherapy.com/treatment-areas

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May is Better Speech, Language and Hearing Month! Language Modeling

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