The Differences Between Speech and Language

Janine Shapiro, CCC-SLP, BCBA

The technical term for my job title is “speech-language pathologist,” which sometimes is shortened to the acronym “SLP.”  More often though, I’m known to the public as a “speech therapist.”  In fact, when introducing myself, I’ve often found it easier to simply refer to myself as a speech therapist, as the technical term is a bit of a mouthful, and can sometimes lead to requests for repetitions.  And I’ll admit it, as an SLP, it’s embarrassing not to be understood.

But there’s a reason why the technical term for the profession uses the words “speech” and “language.”  They’re not redundant terms.  When parents use the word “speech” as a synonym for the word “language,” they run the risk that a professional may misunderstand their concerns about their child.  Here’s a quick primer about the meaning of each term:

Speech

Speech describes vocal communication.   Speech concerns are related to intelligibility, or how well the sounds, words, and sentences spoken can be understood by others.  Speech disorders include articulation disorders, phonological disorders, and apraxia. 

Language

Language is the form, content, and use of words and their combinations.  Form refers to grammar/syntax, content encompasses vocabulary, and use relates to pragmatics, or the ability to use language to meet social and other needs.  Language does not have to be vocal. Sign language as well as a picture exchange communication system are forms of language.  

Below is a video that further explains the differences between speech and language:

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