What is the difference between language and speech?

Quite often parents and teachers will report concerns about a “speech delay”. However, during assessment it may become clear that the child has a language delay. Are they not the same thing? No. Speech and language are very different.

Language is made up of socially shared rules that include the following:

  • What words mean (e.g., “star” can refer to a bright object in the night sky or a celebrity)
  • How to make new words (e.g., friend, friendly, unfriendly)
  • How to put words together (e.g., “Peg walked to the new store” rather than “Peg walk store new”)
  • What word combinations are best in what situations (“Would you mind moving your foot?” could quickly change to “Get off my foot, please!” if the first request did not produce results)

Speech consists of the following:

  1. Articulation
    How speech sounds are made (e.g., children must learn how to produce the “r” sound in order to say “rabbit” instead of “wabbit”).
  2. Voice
    Use of the vocal folds and breathing to produce sound (e.g., the voice can be abused from overuse or misuse and can lead to hoarseness or loss of voice).
  3. Fluency
    The rhythm of speech (e.g., hesitations or stuttering can affect fluency).