The Basics

The Basics

When first learning about speech and language, it’s important to define some basic terms . Many people use the words ‘speech’, ‘language’, and ‘communication’ somewhat interchangeably.

COMMUNICATION

Communication is the broadest of these three terms. Communication occurs any time a message is somehow conveyed from one person to another whether that’s verbally or through some other means.

SPEECH

Speech is the most specific and narrowly defined term. Speech occurs when we use verbal words to communicate with others.

LANGUAGE

Language involves using a consistent and agreed upon set of symbols to convey a message to another person who understands what those predefined symbols mean.

Speech-language therapists and audiologists, however, mean something very specific when using these three words. Luckily, the definitions of the words are really very easy to understand.

Communication is the broadest and most encompassing of these three terms. Communication occurs any time a message is somehow conveyed from one person to another. Communication can take place in a wide variety of ways. The most obvious form of communication is verbal speech—when we are talking to someone, we are clearly communicating a message to them (as long as they are listening to us, that is!). But communication can also be nonverbal, such as when you shrug your shoulders to indicate confusion, or shake your head to indicate displeasure, or use your best motherly stare from across the room to convey to your five-year- old that he had better use his manners. In fact, much of communication is nonverbal; some studies have shown that even when we are directly speaking with someone, the words we choose account for less than 10% of the overall message, while body language and vocal intonation make up the rest.

Language is one very specific way of communicating with others. Language involves using a consistent and agreed-upon set of symbols to convey a message to another person who understands what those specific and pre-defined symbols mean. We generally call those pre-defined sets of symbols “words” and we put the words together in a pre-defined and commonly agreed-upon way to create sentences. Each language has their own set of words (“vocabulary” or “semantics”) and their own rules for putting those words together into sentences (“grammar” or “syntax”). Language can take a variety of forms: it can be spoken, written, signed, or beeped (think: Morse code).

It can also be further divided into two, more specific, categories:

  • Receptive Language, which is our ability to understand words and sentences that are spoken (or signed, or written) to us, and
  • Expressive Language, which is our ability to use words and sentences to effectively communicate our message to others.

Finally, speech is the most specific and narrowly-defined term. Speech occurs when we use verbal words to communicate with others. It requires us to put individual speech sounds together into words and speak them to someone else. The process of doing this—of forming sounds with our mouth and shaping them into words, phrases and sentences—is called articulation. Speech also includes the ability to use our voice properly, without harshness or hoarseness, and the ability to speak fluently, without word or syllable repetitions.

Speech Sounds

The following sounds are usually the first to develop: vowels, p, m, h, n, w, b, t, d

The next sounds to develop are usually: k, g, f, v, “ng” (as in ring), and y (as in “yellow”)

Finally, the hardest speech sounds are generally: r, l, s, “ch,” “sh,” j, “th” and “zh” (as in the end of the word “garage”)