Speech and language. What do these terms actually mean?

Children Speakin

During the early years of life, children experience rapid growth and development in many areas. The development of skills during this time is fascinating and exciting. Speech and language is one developmental area during the early years where we observe skills and abilities emerge and develop. Speech and language skills are important for communication, learning and interacting and they continue to grow and develop through experience, exposure and support.

Often the terms ‘speech’ and ‘language’ spoken about together or are sometimes used interchangeably; however, they are different and each term is linked to a unique skill. So what do these terms actually refer to?


When we talk about speech we are talking about the production of sounds and how we produce them. So, speech is really our physical ability to talk and there are a few aspects which are important to effective speech skills:

  • The accuracy of the production sounds  (we refer to this as articulation)
  • What the speech sounds like to a listener (e.g. the vocal quality)
  • The rhythm of speech (we refer to this as fluency)

In order to speak we have to use many part of our body, including our lips. Our tongue, teeth, jaw, vocal cords and our breathing system also plays a very important role. So speech pathologists are interested in how speech sounds, its quality but also the physical movements to produce speech.


Language on the other hand is how we communicate. It simply is our talking and listening skills.

Both of these skills are very important for learning, participation and to be effective communicators – this is what they help us to achieve:

  • Our talking skills or how we put messages together are important as they allow us to convey thoughts, emotions and feelings. This is what speech pathologists call expressive language.
  • Our listening skills or what we understand or how we make sense of what people are saying, pointing to or writing are also important at home, school, for learning and many other activities. You will often hear speech pathologists refer to this as receptive language.

Language can occur in many forms – it can be spoken or written, through pictures or through gestures. There are also rules within language, such as grammar, word order and sentence structure which we learn as we are exposed to language in different environments and taught directly.

Children begin developing these skills from a very early age. Their experiences and environments provide learning opportunities to practise and learn language. Speech and language skills follow a predictable pattern of development, however individuals develop their skills at different rates.

If you have any concerns about your child’s speech and/or language development/skills or would like more information please call please call Kids at Max on 03 9702 4447.

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