Speech Versus Language – What’s the Difference?

Written by Rachel Saldanha


Certified Practicing Speech Pathologist
B.Sc, B.Sp.Path, C.P.S.P

So, you ring a speech pathology clinic to enquire for an initial assessment for your child. The receptionist asks you – what concerns do you have regarding your child, is it speech or language?

You may feel a bit stumped because up until now, you did not realise that there is a difference!

Do not fret, you’re not the only one!

Believe it or not, this is a common question that is asked amongst parents and other allied health professionals. Parents can often be confused about the difference between speech and language and are often not aware that there is a difference! 

Understanding that there is a difference between speech and language is very important when determining what the right treatment approach is for your child. 

So… how are speech and language different? 

According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA): 

Speech is the spoken sounds that make up language. It includes the formation of a sound, the nature of the sound quality and the rhythm and flow of sounds.

Not to make it more confusing, but there are different areas of speech!

This includes:

Articulation – the way that speech sounds are produced using our mouth, lips and tongue.

Voice – the change in volume or pitch of our speech.

Fluency – the rhythm of our speech – this can often be impacted if a stutter is present.

Okay…so now that we know what speech is … what about language?

Language refers to the words we use and how we use them to form sentences to share ideas and make requests. Language is made up of two areas 

Receptive language – the way that you understand language

Expressive language – the language that is spoken

Do language and speech develop together?

Most definitely!

You must have speech sounds to have spoken language. Typically, infants and toddlers develop speech sounds and then later combine these early consonant sounds with vowels to form words.

This is how a toddler begins to build language skills! By the age of 1, a child is starting to say their first words. 

Now that you know the difference between speech and language, this may help you distinguish what your child is specifically having challenges with. Speech and language difficulties do not always happen together, it can sometimes be one or the other. 

So remember, language is what you say and speech is how you say it!

References: 

ASHA (2023). What is Speech? What is Language?. Retrieved from https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/speech-and-language/

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