What is the difference between Speech and Language?

We hear these words used together and even used interchangeably. Speech and Language Pathologists (SLPs) may be referred to as ‘speech teachers’, ‘speech therapists’, or ‘speechies’. I had one student who simply called me ‘Mrs. Speech Teacher.’ If you ask an SLP you will learn that many professionals are comfortable with these simplified labels, while others are not. Some prefer that ‘language’ always be stated, even in casual contexts. Now you may be wondering, what is the difference between speech and language?

What is Speech?

Speech refers to the production of sounds, and the shaping of these sounds into words. Speech may also be referred to as talking. This includes the sounds that we produce and how we produce them. Using our lips, tongues, teeth, jaw, vocal tract, and use of breath support. Speech includes the broad areas of articulation, fluency, and voice.

Articulation: How we produce speech sounds using our lips, tongue, teeth and palate.

Fluency: The rhythm of our speech; How and when we pause, take a breath, and whether we repeat words or sounds.

Voice: How we use our vocal tract and vocal folds to produce sounds

What is Language?

Language refers to how we use words, how we speak, read, write and understand.  It also includes social rules and nonverbal cues such as tone of voice and body language and can generally be broken down into three categories: 

Expressive Language: Language expression or output. This includes words, word approximations, babbling in infancy, use of phrases and sentences, etc.

Receptive Language: Understanding or comprehension of language. This can include comprehension of directions, understanding of vocabulary, comprehension of conversation, etc.

Social or Pragmatic Language: Social language/the use of language in a social context. This includes what we say and how we say it. Both verbal and non-verbal language such as body language and facial expressions.

Why see a Speech and Language Pathologist?

Speech and language delays and/or disorders do not always occur together, but they can. A child may have no difficulty understanding what is said to them, and be able to understand and use language rules appropriate for their age. But that same child may be unable to accurately produce the /t/ and /d/ sounds. Another child may be able to produce all of their sounds accurately as expected for their age, but be unable to follow 2 step directions or answer who, what, and where questions. A child may have difficulty producing /r/ and /l/ sounds, and also have difficulty using and understanding verb tense. 

Further, speech and language disorders are not exclusive to the pediatric population. An adult who has a stroke, for example, may experience aphasia which impacts their receptive or expressive language, depending on the location of the stroke. A stroke may also impact speech production; when this occurs it is referred to as apraxia or verbal apraxia – difficulty executing movements necessary for speech production, without the presence of paralysis or weakness.

An SLP can determine if a person requires speech and language therapy to address speech or language concerns. Remember that SLPs work with children and adults. If you are in the San Diego area and have concerns about speech and language development, our directory can help you find an SLP in San Diego to help you determine the next steps.

Cocoa Berry
Author: Cocoa Berry