What’s the Difference Between Speech and Language Anyway?

Written by: Tara Gray, M.A., CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech & Language

We often hear these two terms used interchangeably, but what is the difference? Speech and language are two distinctly different areas of communication. Speech refers to the sounds we make to communicate and language refers to the actual content of those words we use combined together. Speech is specifically about the sounds of spoken language, but language can be spoken, written, signed, and more! In terms of speech-language pathology, here at Small Talk, we work with kids who need help with speech, some who need help with language, and some who need a combination of the two. 


When we are working on speech, we typically work on articulation, phonology, motor speech, or fluency. 

Articulation = working on individual sounds the child produces in error

Phonology = working on patterns of sounds the child produces in error (these children often have difficulty discriminating between correct and incorrect productions)

Motor Speech = working on patterns of speech sounds with kids who have motor planning disorders, such as Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Fluency = working on the smoothness of speech to reduce stuttering


When we are working on language, we typically work on receptive language or expressive language.

Receptive Language = what the child understands (following directions, answering questions, etc.)

Expressive Language = what the child can communicate (naming, expressing wants/needs, formulating phrases and sentences, etc.) 

Speech and Language Delays/Disorders

Some children experience a delay or disorder in one or more of these areas of speech and language. Referring to developmental norms can help identify skills and when a child should have them to determine if they may need testing in the areas of speech and/or language.

A speech norm chart can be found here: https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/speech-sound-disorders/

Language norm handouts can be found here: https://identifythesigns.org/communicating-with-baby-toolkit/

If, in looking at these norms, you have concerns about your child’s development, contact us here at Small Talk to schedule an evaluation so we can help you determine if your child has any speech and/or language needs and how we can help!