The Difference Between Speech and Language!

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In everyday conversation, the terms “speech” and “language” are commonly used interchangeably, but they are actually very different conceptually.

Language refers to a rule based symbolic system, where we use words or gestures to convey a symbolic meaning or message between ourselves and the listener. Language can be broken down into receptive language and expressive language. Receptive language refers to language that we can receive and understand. Expressive language refers to the language that we can utilize and produce.

Language can be broken down even further into five categories: semantics (vocabulary use), morphology and syntax (grammatical construction of language), phonology (the patterns in which we combine different sounds to create words), and pragmatics (social use of language).

On the other hand, speech refers to the preciseness and accuracy in which we can produce a particular speech sound. In order to produce speech sounds, we need our lungs, our larynx (i.e. your voice box), and articulators (our teeth, tongue, and lips). If speech is impacted, the speaker will be more difficult to understand.

When a child or adult has difficulty in any one of these areas of language or speech, it may significantly impact their capacity to understand others and express themselves.

-Jeff Greenfield, MS, CCC-SLP