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Communication & Language in Speech Therapy - The Same or Different?

Posted by Brian Spence on Oct 2, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Speech Therapy, Speech Pathology, Allied Health, Communication, LanguageA lot of the public tends to interchange the terms speech, language and communication. It’s natural for adults to do so, because they have been automatically communicating for many years. Even learning a new language is just that—learning the language. Communication as a whole is a different story, and this is important for anyone involved with speech therapy to remember. However, there are significant differences between speech, language and communication, so here is a primer on each.


Speech is basically the ability to articulate sounds. This involves a number of factors that children learn, mostly through mimicking their parents. There are the different individual sounds, which can vary widely by culture (the clicking sounds, for example, used in some African countries, are not used in English). There is also the ability to string those sounds together in an appropriate rhythm to create words. Then there is what’s called “vocal quality,” which is the ability to make sounds without distortion. Remember how you sounded last time you caught a bad cold, or had a really sore throat? Vocal quality in those cases is very diminished.


Language is really about shared meaning. When we put together the “hard c,” “short a” and “t” sounds, those of us who speak English understand that we’re referring to a domestic feline animal, or a “cat.” However, those sounds, strung together, will mean something else—or nothing at all—to someone who speaks another language. In addition to the meaning of a set of sounds, there’s the ability to transform words in meaningful ways (cats, catty) and to string words together in meaningful things called sentences that make sense to others (“the cat climbed the tree” rather than “the tree climbed the cat”).

Remember that languages actually don’t have to involve speech, as is the case with American Sign Language and Braille.


Communication moves beyond language, and is something that anyone traveling in a foreign land, who does not speak the native language there, has probably used to great effect. Gestures, drawings and even just a pleading look in the eye have all been used to communicate meaningful messages.

To learn more about speech therapy and other professions that help us communicate, contact us today.

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