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What are Speech, Language and Communication?

"Speech," "language," and "communication" refer to different concepts that are closely related. Sometimes children develop differently in one area versus another. It's helpful to understand these differences and to observe your child's development across these three areas.


A girl speaking on the phone

Speech refers to the sounds we make when we use language. Some children have trouble speaking clearly enough to be understood, or even speaking at all. Some children have trouble speaking even though they understand language very well and are eager to communicate. They may have trouble, for example, with using their voice or moving their mouths. It's important to help children communicate and share their thoughts regardless of their speech skills.

For more information about speech sound disorders, visit the American Speech-Language Hearing Association website (


image of a head with gears inside

Some children speak clearly and show good social communication skills, but have trouble understanding language and organizing their thoughts into well-developed sentences, stories or essays. These are referred to as language difficulties. Language is a system of symbols (words) organized by rules (grammar). Most languages are spoken but some languages are signed. Children with language impairments may have a hard time expressing their ideas in an orderly way or understanding complex messages.

For more information about preschool language disorders, visit the American Speech-Language Hearing Association website (


a father is pointing out something to his son

Communication is language in action. People communicate when they connect socially and achieve understanding. We often communicate using spoken language, but communcation can be achieved many other ways too, for example, through facial expressions, gestures, body language, or drawing. Children can have trouble with social communication even if they are able to speak clearly and use well-formed language. For example, they might have trouble understanding the social rules of conversations, or reading social cues.

For more information on social communication disorders, please visit the American Speech-Language Hearing Association website (

For More Information

For more information on speech, language, and communication, please visit the "What is Language? What is Speech?" page at the American Speech-Language Hearing Association website (


Image (girl on phone): Jomphong /; Image (brain gears): David Castillo Dominici /; Image: David Castillo Dominici /


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