Speech Impairments Vs. Language Disorders: What's the Difference?
Updated: Feb 7
While speech and language are both terms describing the way we communicate, there are some subtle differences between the two concepts. Speech refers to the oral form of communication or the physical act of talking. Speech is the process of producing words, but language refers to the actual sounds and gestures used to communicate meaning. Language can be either written, spoken, or communicated through body language. Although both concepts are similar, impairments of speech and language each manifest differently in patients.
What Is Speech Impairment?
People with speech impairment have problems with the accurate production of words or sounds. They may stutter, speak unclearly, or use a hoarse, raspy voice. While many children do suffer from speech-language disorders, the inability to speak clearly may sometimes be considered age-appropriate. For example, a young child substituting certain sounds for others as he learns to talk would not necessarily have a speech impairment. By age 3, most children can understand more language than they can actually produce. Typically, it's only when speech problems continue beyond an age-appropriate level that they might be considered impairments that could benefit from speech services.
What Is a Language Disorder?
If a speech impairment means trouble producing words and sounds, a language disorder is a struggle in understanding the meaning of those words and sounds. It can also refer to the inability to put together the words needed to express thoughts or ideas or the inability to understand what others are communicating. Someone with a language disorder might have problems with reading, writing, or talking, even if they can accurately produce speech and correctly pronounce words.
Treatment for Speech and Language Disorders
Children and adults of all ages can suffer from speech impairments and language disorders. Some may experience both at the same time, while others may have one or the other. The audiologists at High Level Speech & Hearing Center can help identify and diagnose speech-language disorders with speech and hearing assessments for our patients in the greater New Orleans area. We can then tailor a treatment plan specific to each patient. For adults, speech therapy may be beneficial for correcting stutters and other problems. Children receive both speech and hearing services to help us provide the most accurate treatment possible.