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The must-knows about your child's speech and language development

Speech versus Language

By Catherine Wiberg
ILS Staff Blogger

Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.

Many people think of language and speech as the same thing, but they are different.

How to know the difference in your child's speech and language development


Language is the way that words are put together into sentences, the different meanings that words can share, the different meanings a single word can have, how to use words to get the results you want. Language reflects dialect, upbringing, culture, educational background, occupation choices, and even inside jokes.

For example, in Great Britain, the word “queue” means a group of people waiting in what Americans would call a “line” for an event, a turn at something, and so forth. Only when computers became popular did the British meaning of “queue” mean something to Americans waiting for their document to print from the “printer queue.” It’s the same word, but the language background gives it a different meaning. Many words in British English and American English have fun differences that I enjoy comparing and discussing.

Another fun example is American dialects. In the South, words have different meanings from what they mean in the Midwest. The east coast and west coast use different words for “soda pop” or “soft drinks.” Some say, “soda,” some say “pop,” some say “soda pop,” some even say “cola.” All are correct. It is a language difference, not a speech difference.

You’ll also find that people who start new careers feel like they’re “learning a new language.” I’ve experienced this many times. My husband joined the military and everything had a new meaning. I am still learning the language. I also have learned that different military branches have their own language distinct from other branches, even using the same words. Language meaning is everywhere.

What is the difference in my child's speech and language development?


Speech is about how words are structured and understood within themselves. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association defines speech as “verbal means of communicating” involving “articulation, voice, and fluency.”


Articulation refers to the way words sound. For example, do you say “mountain” with a strong “t” sound or “moun-en” skipping the sound of the “t” altogether?

When children are developing their speech and language skills, it can be hard to know what type of help they need. This is one reason that experts say “don’t use baby talk around your babies.” Although the singsong tone helps children understand the musical nature of verbal communication, demonstrating poor language and speech skills teaches children the wrong way to form words. Have you heard an adult say “widdle, iddy, biddy baby” and then heard an otherwise unchallenged three year old say the same thing or use the same sounds? Do you wonder if the three year old has a speech difficulty? Perhaps the child simply heard the sounds wrong for many years and learned to duplicate the wrong sounds. Perhaps the child has a problem.

When my daughter struggled with her “r” sounds, we began creating long sentences that used “r” in different parts of the word. My husband also speaks Italian and I studied Spanish as a youth. We also worked with her on rolling her “r” in order to get the American English sound more easily. We had fun talking about “red cars running around racetracks” in order to help her get the “r” sound. We also had fun talking about “rrrrred-eyed trrrree frrrrrrogs” rolling our R sounds. It would make her laugh, make me laugh, and make others around us laugh.

What is the difference in my child's speech and language development?


Voice is the actual sound of the vocal chords. If illness or overuse causes a voice to become hoarse, the person is experiencing a speech problem.

My children love it when my allergies get the best of me at least once a year because my voice “runs away” and they can’t hear me well. I experience a speech problem at least once each year when my allergies hit overdrive.


Fluency refers to the way a person times his or her speech – are there long pauses between words or within words, does a person stutter, do a person speak quickly?

Easy to Confuse Language and Speech

My other job is as an editor. I love working with words. I love helping other people improve their use of words. When I pause in conversation because I have completely forgotten the word I wanted to use, my fluency suffers, however, if I regularly cannot communicate my thoughts or feelings or understand when someone else communicates with me, it actually is a language problem, not a speech problem. Consider all the comparisons I gave earlier about language.

The must-knows about your child's development when it comes to speech and language.

I believe all of us can improve both our speech and language proficiency and it can be fun to learn how to help ourselves as we help others we love.

Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs

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