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What is the Difference Between Speech and Language?

There are many different ways to refer to someone who works in our field as we can work in various settings… speech therapist, speech teacher, speech pathologist, speechie, SLP (speech language pathologist), to name a few.

None of these are wrong, however our actual title is speech language pathologist because both SPEECH and LANGUAGE are important parts of our field.

Let’s break down the difference between speech and language?

Speech is how we say sounds and words.

There are 3 parts of speech:

  1. Articulation - How we make speech sounds using our mouth, lips, nose, palate and tongue. Many of us don’t think about all of the complicated steps it takes to make sounds. For example, to make the /m/ sound in the word mom, you have to put your lips together, breathe air in your nose, turn on your voice and then have the air come out your nose to produce the nasal sound.

  2. Voice - How we use our breath and vocal folds (vocal chords) to create sound. Your voice can be loud (yelling) or soft (a whisper). It can be high-pitched or low-pitched.

  3. Fluency - The flow of speech. This is also referred to as disfluency or stuttering when someone’s flow of speech is interrupted. For example if someone repeats sounds, words or pauses often while speaking.

Language refers to the words we use and how we use them, how we get what we want, share ideas and have our needs met. It is also how we can understand and interact with others.

There are 3 parts of language:

  1. Receptive Language - Understanding language that you read or hear. A child’s ability to follow directions “put on your socks” or understand what you are reading to them “what did the brown bear see?” depends on their receptive language abilities.

  2. Expressive Language - Expressing yourself through verbal or nonverbal communication. We use expressive language to convey a message to someone else, this can be done through speaking, facial expressions/body language (smile, crossing your arms), gestures (pointing or waving), using sign language or writing.

  3. Pragmatic/Social Language - Social communication skills are used to interact with others. This includes interactive play, conversation skills and understanding others points of view.


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