The difference between speech and language, according to a Speech and Language Pathologist

The difference between speech and language, according to a Speech and Language Pathologist

In common discourse, speech and language are often used interchangeably. However, when it comes to childhood development – as well as the disciple of speech pathology in general ­– speech and language are terms used to describe two very different things.

Here’s what you need to know about the difference between speech and language.


Speech refers to the way we create speech sounds with our articulators. Our articulators include our lips, tongue, teeth, jaw, voice box and roof of our mouth. We move these articulators together in specific patterns to create a speech sound, and then to create a string of various speech sounds to make up a word. This involves the precise coordination of multiple muscles, making it  a very complex process.


Language refers to the content and meaning of what we say and understand. Language is not just spoken, but can be written, pictured in symbols and expressed through gestures and the body. Language includes:

  • Vocabulary: Understanding and using the different types of words we use including nouns, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, verbs, prepositions, conjunctions etc.
  • Syntax: How we structure words to create sentences of different meaning. For example, creating a simple sentence like “the cat is sitting” or more complex sentences like “the baby was held by the mother”. This also includes how well we understand the meaning of these sentences.
  • Morphology: How we make small changes to words to alter it’s meaning. For example, we add ‘ing’ to the end of verbs to show that the action is happening now, ie. “she is jump-ing”, and add ‘ed’ to the end to show that the action has already happened, ie. “she jump-ed”.
  • Pragmatics: The different functions of what we say. For example, making a comment, requesting for something, instructing someone, asking a question etc.
  • Social language: This includes how we use language appropriate to the situation for example, we use different language when playing with friends compared to when we are inside a classroom.
  • Higher level language : Understanding the meaning of non-literal sentences and using these. For example, sentences like, “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “He looks blue”.
  • Gestures and facial expression: How we move our body and change our facial expression to send extra meaning to another person and to understand better what another person is saying or feeling. For example, if a child is pointing to the sky and smiling, we can understand that they may be excited about seeing a plane fly by.
  • Spelling: Using letter sounds to create written words.
  • Reading: Decoding written words and understanding the meaning of them.

When a child is difficult to understand, it is hard to tell if they have a speech disorder, a language disorder or even both disorders.If your child is struggling with speech and language, a Speech and Language Pathologist will be able to accurately assess  what their challenges are and help them overcome it.

If your child is struggling with speech and language, reach out to the Lizard Centre. Our accredited Speech Therapy programs will ensure your child gets the help that they need to become effective communicators.