The Difference Between Speech and Language Development

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The Difference Between Speech and Language Development

I once taught a child who was a ‘selective mute’.  I had only been a teacher for about five years and had never come across a child who did not speak.  She would refrain from speaking all day and would not answer us.  She would just stare at us and allow other children to speak for her.  As soon as her mother arrived to pick her up in the afternoon, she would begin talking. It astounded me.  I referred her to the school Speech Therapist who told me that she was not a priority.  What the?

Let me explain.

There are two aspects of oral language development.  The first aspect is speech (expressive language) and can be defined as the ability to articulate sound and speak to be understood.  The second aspect is language (receptive language) which is the ability to understand what is being spoken by another person.

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Speech

The Raising Children Network is a fantastic place to find out more about speech and language development from professionals in this field.

Speech is how a child makes a sound to make a word.  There are many factors that affect a child’s speech.  These can be simple age-related, physical issues (for example being tongue tied) and hearing impairments.

As a parent, you know your child the best.  If you feel that they are having difficulty with their speech development there are plenty of places to go for advice and support.  Your local GP or child health nurse is the best place to start.

Language

Language is another aspect of Oral Language and is often seen in most situations as more important. The child I spoke about earlier who was a selective mute was not a major concern to the Speech Therapist because her ability to understand language (what is being spoken by another person) was good.  She could understand what I was saying to her at school, could follow instructions and could listen to her peers.  This meant that although she was having some difficulty with her speech, her ability to understand language still made it possible for her to communicate with others.

Student working

A checklist is a good place to start and might be able to give you an indication of where your child is up to with their language development.  Remember that these are just indicators so don’t stress if your child is exactly at the same developmental level as what is stated. Use this as a guideline and trust your own judgement as a parent.

As a parent, you know your child the best.  If you feel that they are having difficulty with their language development there are plenty of places to go for advice and support.  Your local GP or child health nurse is the best place to start.

What Can You Do?

There are so many things that you can do at home from when your child is young.  We have some ideas here that might be a good start.  As an educator and parent, my best advice would be to trust your instinct on how you believe your child is developing.

If you have any concerns whatsoever about their speech and language development (or any part of their development), speak to someone.  There is your local GP, free health services (child health nurse), your local dentist (oral health has a part to play) and educators (your childcare teacher) who may be able to advise you further if you have any concerns.

It is better to get on top of these things early to ensure your child has the best start to their education and learning.

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