What is the difference between speech and language?

Commonly asked questions about Speech-Language Therapy

What is Speech Therapy and how can it help my child?

What Speech Therapy services are available at Skills on the Hill?

How do outpatient and school based speech therapy services differ?

What do SLPs treat?

How do OTs and SLPs collaborate for feeding therapy?

How do I get started?

What’s the difference between speech and language?

You might think that these two words are interchangeable, when in fact they mean different things. Speech refers to the actual sounds of spoken language, and requires muscle coordination of the jaw, tongue, lips, and teeth to produce the recognizable sounds that create language.  Language refers to the entire system of symbols (i.e., words, gestures) that are either spoken or unspoken, that are used to communicate meaning.  A speech disorder typically indicates that a child has difficulty with accurate sound production; a language disorder implies a breakdown in meaning, where a child has trouble understanding and/or using language functionally.

Speech disorders

Articulation: characterized by sound substitutions, omissions, additions, or distortions that diminish a child’s intelligibility when speaking (e.g., a child who says “ton” for “sun”)

Fluency: characterized by an interruption in the flow of speaking, marked by atypical rate, rhythm, and repetition of sounds, syllables, words, and/or phrases. Commonly referred to as a “stutter,” a fluency disorder can also be accompanied by tension and other secondary behaviors.

Voice: characterized by abnormal vocal quality due to deficits in pitch, volume, resonance, and/or duration.

Language disorders

Form (i.e., phonology, morphology, syntax): rules that govern sound combinations, word forms, and sentence construction.

Content (semantics): related to the meanings of words and sentences.

Function (pragmatics): system of language used within social context


Hearing disorders result from impairment of the auditory system, and can cause problems in detection, discrimination, identification, comprehension, and perception of auditory signals.