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Toddler

What’s the Difference Between Speech and Language?

Cara Barthelette, MS, CCC/SLP, Pediatric Speech Therapist
January 3, 2019 . 1 min read

The terms “speech” and “language” are often mistakenly used interchangeably, but in reality they are two distinct concepts. Speech refers to the physical ability to use the lips, tongue, palate, jaw, and voice to make sounds for talking fluently.

Language refers to the rules people share to express thoughts and feelings with others. It involves understanding words, using vocabulary correctly, and putting words together to express oneself.

Very young children often communicate by using “pre-language” skills, which include non-verbal ways of communicating, such as pointing, gesturing, nodding, making eye contact, and using facial expressions. At age three, language remains crucial for communication, but we start to also focus on speech as well.

Being aware of these differences can help us recognize that our children may be communicating with us even when they’re not speaking. The more we respond to their efforts, the more likely they will be encouraged to communicate!

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