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Distinguishing between speech, language, and social skills

Updated: May 16, 2019

Licensed speech-language pathologists are trained to work with a wide variety of speech, language and social communication disorders. Let’s break down the difference between speech, language and social communication.

Speech refers to HOW we say sounds and words. Speech encompasses articulation, voice and fluency.

Articulation is how we make speech sounds using the different parts of our mouth. For example, you make the /f/ sound by putting your teeth on your bottom lip and blowing air. Someone with an articulation disorder may make substitutions, omissions, additions or distortions that may interfere with how they are understood by others.

Voice is how we use our vocal folds to produce air to speak. Our voice has different loudness and pitches. Someone with a voice disorder may have abnormal vocal quality, pitch, loudness.

Fluency is the rhythm of our how our speech flows. People who have challenges with fluency may stutter.

Language refers to the meaning in the words we use and how we use them. Language can involve spoken or written language. Language can be divided into receptive language and expressive language.

Receptive Language is the language the we understand. People with receptive language delays may have trouble understanding what other people say and may have difficulty following simple directions.

Expressive Language involves expressing thoughts and ideas. Expressive language can include facial expressions, gestures, vocabulary, and grammar rules. A child with an expressive language disorder may have a limited vocabulary and use short sentences that are ungrammatical and incomplete.

Social communication, also known as pragmatic language, refers to how people communicate the unspoken, subtle rules of spoken language that allow people to connect. Knowing and using these rules makes it easier to communicate in academic and community settings. Someone with a social communication disorder may have challenges participating in conversation, using appropriate facial expressions or gestures to share how they feel.

Visit our key developmental milestone resource to see how your child is progressing.

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