Speech Therapy vs Language Therapy


Believe it or not, there IS a difference between the terms “speech” and “language.”

You’ll hear us use these words a lot, so we want you to truly understand what they mean. Here is the short answer:

  • Speech includes the words that physically come out of your mouth and how you say those words and sounds. This includes the articulation of sounds, fluency of words and phrases, and the vocal quality of what is being spoken.
  • Language involves much more than just what comes out of our mouth. Language is a symbolic rule-governed system that refers to the words we use and how we use them to convey a message.

Overall, language can be broken down into receptive language skills and expressive language skills.

  • Receptive language refers to what you understand when others are communicating with you--following directions, understanding when someone asks you a question, pointing to a correct picture

  • Expressive language refers to what you communicate to others such as asking questions, naming objects, putting words together to create a sentence, and using gestures. An individual can expressively communicate in ways that don’t even include speech! These might be signs, gestures, picture symbols, or a special device.

In the context of therapy, you may see on our website disorders broken down into either speech or language.

The disorders listed under speech all involve how words and sounds are being produced.

In language disorders, it’s not necessarily that the child is saying a word or sound wrong, but there is something deeper going on in this language system. In a child’s language system, he forms thoughts of what he will say and then determines how to communicate them. He understands directions and follows them. He will hear mom say it’s time to go, and knows to head toward the front door. He thinks, “I want some milk to drink” and communicates that in some way to his mother. This may happen through speech by saying just the word “milk,” or the sentence “I want some milk.”  It may also happen without speech—through the use of signs, and gestures (pointing to the milk).

Now, let’s contrast this to speech. If a child is asking for milk and says, “Mo, I want tum mil pea.”—He is communicating the thought in his head that he wants some milk (language). But yet, that thought is a little hard to understand because some sounds are missing or said incorrectly (speech). This wouldn’t be a language problem but a speech problem.

Now that’s the broad answer of the difference between speech and language. I hope you understand a little bit better what we mean when we use the terms “speech” and “language.” Stay tuned for another blog where we go further in explaining language and how deficits in these areas can affect your child’s communication and success academically and socially.

For more information, please reference the following: https://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/language_speech.htm