Are speech and language the same thing?  The short answer is no.  They are two very different areas of communication.  Some children may have difficulty with their language development whilst others have difficulty with their speech.  And for some children they find both language and speech challenging.  Here’s more of an explanation…

Language
This relates to words and the rules that govern their use.  Language is made up of 2 main components: our understanding of words (receptive language) and our use of words (expressive language).  Some of the receptive language skills we develop during childhood are:

  • Following directions e.g. get your shoes.  In order to follow these directions we need to understand and remember the key words.  As we grow, these directions become more complex containing multiple step and a range of concepts e.g. go to your room, get either your black or blue shoes and put them at the front door.
  • Understanding questions.  There are so many questions that pop up in our day-to-day lives, from ‘wh’ questions…’what do you want for breakfast?’, ‘where’s your hat?’, ’who is going to the party?’, ’why are you crying?’, ’when is your talk? to other question forms…’can you see it?’…’how do I make it?’…’is your sister ready?’.
  • Understanding concepts.  These range from basic, concrete concepts (e.g. big, soft, hot) to abstract, language based ones (e.g but not, either, before).

And then there are all the skills we need to develop in order to use of language effectively such as:

  • Vocabulary.  These are the words we understand and use correctly.  It involves a variety of word types including nouns and pronouns (naming words e.g. cat, he), verbs (action words e.g. walk), adjectives and adverbs (describing words e.g. smooth, quickly), articles (the little words e.g. a, the) and conjunctions (joining words e.g. and, because).  Children’s vocabulary usually develops rapidly in their preschool years.
  • Using correct grammar.  Early developing grammar includes regular plurals (e.g. cats), ‘ing’ endings.  Children move through a number of stages of grammatical development until they reach the fifth and final stage which includes being able to use irregular third person (e.g. he does) and contractible verbs (e.g. they’re running, she’s here).
  • Putting words in the right order in a sentence.  In order to make sense we need to use correct sentence structure.  Here’s an example “I walked to the shop” said without following the rules of word order could turn into “Shop walked to I the”.
  • Asking questions.  This is an important skills for learning more about the world.  Children begin with simple ‘wh’ questions such as “what that?” and progress through to asking more complex ‘wh’ questions along with other questions forms e.g. “why is the car not working?”, “is it my turn yet?”.

Speech
This is often referred to as pronunciation.  It relates to how we articulate the sounds in words.  Unlike language, speech is mainly concerned with the motor component of talking, that is, getting your articulators (lips, teeth, tongue, palate) into the right place to say the sounds in words correctly.  Stay tuned for our article about the different types of speech difficulties experienced by children.

It’s also important to note that you need language for speech but you don’t need speech for language.  A little confused?  Here’s an example, someone who uses sign language has developed a system of language but they use signs rather than speech to communicate their language.