Are speech and language the same?

Many adults consider speech and language to be the exact same phenomenon. However, professionals, such as speech pathologists, consider speech and language to be two different systems.

Speech is a verbal way of expressing language. Messages are output via coordinated oral neuromuscular movements, needed to produce sounds. It is possible to learn language without speech (e.g., some hard of hearing or deaf individuals may use sign language to express their ideas).

Speech involves:

Articulation - a way of making sounds (how a particular sound is produced). For example, in order for a child to say the word “tap”, he or she needs to learn how to place the tongue and lips for each particular sound.

Fluency- the flow and rhythm of speech.

Voice- coordination of breathing and vocal cords for generating sounds of speech.

On the other hand, language is a system of signs and symbols to convey messages/meanings within given social/cultural communities.

Language involves:

- Receptive language- auditory compression of messages.
- Phonology- the way the sounds are organized (d-o-g)
- Word meaning ( e.g., “ a chair” is an object for sitting )
- Making new words (e.g. , park- parking)
- Sentence structure (e.g. , She went to the park.)
- Pragmatics – social use of language within the context. (e.g. , “Would you pass the salt please? )

Examples of speech v s. language disorders:

Johnny is a four – year- old boy - with normal hearing, excellent auditory comprehension, and excellent vocabulary size. He can follow directions and use complete sentences. Johnny is having a hard time at school as his peers and teachers cannot understand him. His sounds are not clear, and he is frequently asked to repeat what he has said. (Johnny has a speech disorder.)

Lilly is a three - year old girl with normal hearing but she has difficulty following directions. She knows the meaning of over 50 words, and she has just started putting two words together. Her speech is clear. (Lilly has a language disorder.)

Some children may have both speech and language disorders. 

Beata Klarowska, M.S. CCC-SLP

Beata Klarowska is an American Speech Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) certified speech and language pathologist, licensed by the state of California.Beata cofounded Virtual Speech Center Inc. in 2011 and, to date, has developed more than 30 apps for speech, language, and cognition.


Speech and Language Development (Milestones)

By Beata Klarowska, M.S. CCC-SLP

Speech and language development begins very early, before a child says his or her first word. Early adult –infant interactions in the forms of facial expressions, vocalizations, and physical contact trigger a domino effect of speech and language acquisition and progression.



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