Speech AND Language - What's the difference?

Did you know that “speech” and “language” are not the same thing?

If you answered “no,” then rest assured you are not the only one! I didn’t realize there was a difference until I began to take and interest and study communication disorders in college. Speech-Language Pathologists support children with a wide variety of problems, from a speech impediment to social skills.

Let’s take a more detailed look at speech and language to recognize when a child may have a delay or disorder in one or both of these areas.


What is speech?


We speech language pathologists define speech as “the production of sounds that make up words and sentences.”

When we refer to speech, this includes three things: articulation/phonological skills, speech fluency, and voice. When we evaluate a child, we look at how he or she:

  • Physically produces the individual sounds and sound patterns with the mouth, lips, and tongue (articulation)

  • Speaks with an appropriate rhythm and fluency (stuttering)

  • Talks with an appropriate vocal quality for his or her age and sex (voice)


What is language?


Speech is the nuts and bolts, the sounds that make up words. But Language?? Oh, I love language. Language can be defined as “the words we use and how we use them to share ideas and get what we want.” Language is a symbolic system that can be expressed in spoken words, written words, and even gestural symbols (body language).

I like these examples of language that ASHA provides:

  • What words mean. Some words have more than one meaning. For example, “star” can be a bright object in the sky or someone famous.

  • How to make new words. For example, we can say “friend,” “friendly,” or “unfriendly” and mean something different.

  • How to put words together. For example, in English we say, “Peg walked to the new store” instead of “Peg walk store new.”

  • What we should say at different times. For example, we might be polite and say, “Would you mind moving your foot?” But, if the person does not move, we may say, “Get off my foot!”

Do speech and language problems always go together?

Not necessarily. A child can have difficulty with the production of sounds or words without any difficulty understanding others or using words well. This is a speech disorder - think stuttering, a lisp, or a lesser known speech disorder called childhood apraxia of speech (to name a few).

If a child doesn’t understand words and their meaning, he or she may have a receptive language disorder, whereas an expressive language disorder prevents a person from effectively using words to talk to others. A person may have an expressive or receptive language disorder or BOTH.

You can find information about what speech and language skills you can expect your toddler to have here. Do you have a 3-year-old? Check out these milestones! For a 4-year old, have a look here.


No matter the age of your child, if you have any concerns about his or her speech, language, or both - DON’T WAIT - contact us at Montgomery Speech Therapy for a free phone consultation today!


At Montgomery Speech Therapy (MST), we offer play-based and family-centered speech therapy for children - from toddlers to teenagers. With individual therapy sessions from your child’s home or school setting, our aim is to provide fun, motivating activities that drive your child toward becoming a confident and effective communicator.