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What is the Difference between Language and Speech Development?

Lea UhlAre language and speech the same thing? This is a misconception that Lea Uhl, teli Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist, encounters from parents in her work in Early Intervention.  “I speak with a number of parents who are confused about the difference between speech and language when I perform Early Intervention evaluations,” notes Lea.

Everyone enjoys hearing their child cooing or forming raspberry sounds. But did you know how important those “simple” sounds are? From infancy, children explore their mouths and begin to make sounds, that eventually become recognizable speech sounds, and then, speech sounds build to develop into language. The connection is obvious but there is a difference: 

  • Speech is the sound of spoken language and includes the formation of a sound, the nature of the sound quality and the rhythm and flow of the sound.
  • Language is the words we use and how we use them to share ideas and get what we want.   What a word means, how to combine words into a sentence, and how to use words are components of the language of a community.

Children need speech sounds to have spoken language. Infants and toddlers typically develop speech sounds from the easiest sounds to the hardest sounds.   By age 3, toddlers are expected to make the sounds m, h, w, p, b, t, d, k, g and f in words.  Errors in making other sounds, like l, r, and th are fine until older ages.

By combining these early consonant sounds with vowels, a toddler begins to build language skills. An infant’s coos begin to sound like babbling when he or she adds in early consonant sounds.  Then toddlers begin to assign meaning to those early babbles to mean things like MAMA, DADA, BALL or NO!  Around their first birthday, a toddler will typically have several words that have meaning, and by 18 months they will have grown their vocabulary to around 50 words.

Parents can encourage language development by:

  • Talking to their child, for instance describing daily activities such as “Now we are going to change your diaper!”
  • Singing silly songs and having a sing along; hand motions can develop gross motor skills at the same time!
  • READ! Make noises to go with each picture, be silly, introduce new vocabulary and have fun!

If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development you should speak with your pediatrician. If you have questions, call teli at 412-922-8322.

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