The Early Learning Institute (TELI) | January 10th, 2018 |

What is the Difference Between Language and Speech Development?

Difference Between Language and Speech Development for ChildrenAre language and speech the same thing? Believe it or not this is a misconception that Lea Uhl, a teli Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist, encounters from parents on a regular basis in her work in Early Intervention.  “I speak with a number of parents who are confused about the difference between speech and language when I perform Early Intervention evaluations,” note Lea.  “Understanding the difference is very important when considering the right approach to therapy to help a child express themselves,” notes Lea.

So how are speech and language different?

Everyone enjoys hearing their child cooing or forming raspberry sounds. But did you know how important those “simple” sounds are? From infancy, children explore their mouths and begin to make sounds, that eventually become recognizable speech sounds, and then, speech sounds build to develop into language. The connection is obvious but there is a difference:

  • Speech is the sound of spoken language and includes the formation of a sound, the nature of the sound quality and the rhythm and flow of the sound.
  • Language is the words we use and how we use them to share ideas and get what we want.   What a word means, how to combine words into a sentence, and how to use words are components of the language of a community.

Do language and speech develop together?

“Most definitely!” notes Lea.  “You must have speech sounds to have spoken language. Infants and toddlers typically develop speech sounds from the easiest sounds to the hardest sounds.   By age 3, toddlers are expected to make the sounds m, h, w, p, b, t, d, k, g and f in words.  Errors in making other sounds, like l, r, and th are fine until older ages.

By combining these early consonant sounds with vowels, a toddler begins to build language skills. An infant’s coos begin to sound like babbling when he or she adds in early consonant sounds.  Then toddlers begin to assign meaning to those early babbles to mean things like MAMA, DADA, BALL or NO!  Around their first birthday, a toddler will typically have several words that have meaning, and by 18 months they will have grown their vocabulary to around 50 words.

How can I help my child’s speech and language development?

Parents play a critical role in their child’s speech and language development, and at the core of that role is being sure to take advantage of every opportunity to nurture your child and model the behavior you are trying to create. It is never too early to start! Here are a few suggestions from Lea based on her Early Intervention work:

  • Talk to your child throughout their day. Describe your daily activities with your child – “Now we are going to change your diaper!”
  • Sing silly songs. From the “Wheels on the Bus” to “Old MacDonald”, introduce music and encourage them to begin to sing along. Accompanying hand motions can develop their gross motor skills at the same time!
  • READ! Books are a fantastic way to introduce new vocabulary to your toddler. Make noises to go with each picture, be silly, and have fun!

What should I do if I am concerned about my child’s speech and/or language development

For both parents and their children, difficulty communicating through sounds and associated words can be very frustrating and isolating. “Sometimes childhood speech and language delays can be interpreted as behavioral challenges, when a child is just looking for a way to express themselves,” notes Lea.  “The two most common concerns I see from parents are, one, when speech sounds have developed but language hasn’t grown from those speech sounds, or, two, when a child is very quiet and not exploring sounds at all and  therefore no building blocks for spoken language.” If you are concerned, you should speak with your pediatrician and investigate Early intervention to have an evaluation.

Early Intervention Services can help your child achieve the developmental milestones to enable them to reach their full potential. If you have questions, call teli at 412-922-8322.

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