What is the difference in speech and language?

Children develop skills in the area of speech and language over time, but although these two
areas of development are related, they are not the same thing. Speech is defined as how a
child says sounds and words such as how words are pronounced. Children with speech
difficulties may make sound substitutions (e.g., saying “tat” for “cat”, “thing” for “sing”), have
unclear speech or slurred speech, have a hoarse voice, or may have disfluent speech full of
sound and/or word repetitions, pauses, or prolongations. Speech difficulties could be caused
by a structural or functional deficit in the oral motor mechanism (e.g., such as having a cleft
palate or oral motor weakness), developmental delay, nerve damage, or genetic factors just to
name a few.

Language, on the other hand, is defined as how a child forms words together to understand
others, to share ideas and to get what they want. Language encompasses both
understanding as well as expression of various language concepts including: vocabulary,
sentence structure, word endings (e.g., -ing, -s, -ed), pragmatics (i.e., the social aspect or
“use” of language), and phonology (i.e., the sound systems in language). Children with
language difficulties may have difficulty understanding or processing what is said, expressing
themselves with age-appropriate vocabulary, word structure, or sentence structure, reading or
comprehending written passages, or interacting with others in a socially appropriate and
effective manner. Language difficulties could be caused by a developmental delay, learning
difficulties, genetic factors or processing difficulties just to name a few.
Children who have speech difficulties do not necessarily have difficulties in language, just as
children with language delays do not necessarily have speech delays. However, it is possible
that a child may have a combination of both speech and language delays. If you have
questions regarding your child’s speech or language development, it is important to get your
child formally assessed by a speech-language pathologist in order to determine if there is a
delay, and if so the degree and type of delay your child may have. Knowing more about your
child’s delay can be helpful in treating the delay and helping your child communicate more
clearly and effectively.

Sources: https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/

Bowen, C. (2011). Children’s speech sound disorders. Retrieved from http://www.speechlanguage-therapy.com/ on [October 28, 2020]

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