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What is speech? What is language? How does Constant Therapy help with each?

Marissa Russell, MS, CCC-SLP | Aphasia, Communication disorders

After a stroke, brain injury, or diagnosis of a neurological condition such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, you’ve likely come face-to-face with a number of unfamiliar medical terms. If you’ve been referred to a speech-language pathologist, for example, you might say to yourself: “What a strange title! Aren’t speech and language the same thing?”

The short answer to this question is no. Understanding this distinction can help you grasp the nature of your communication difficulties and fine-tune your home therapy practice. In honor of Better Speech and Hearing Month, this post will walk you through the differences between speech and language and show how Constant Therapy can help with each of these skill areas. 

What is the difference between speech and language?

What is speech? Speech refers to how we use our mouth, lips, and tongue to produce sounds. You can think about this as the physical, motor movements involved in communication. Someone with a speech disorder may have trouble saying sounds clearly, using the correct sounds, and/or might repeat sounds and use unnatural pauses when they speak.

What is language? Language is the actual content we use to communicate. This includes rules about words and their meanings, as well as how we combine words into sentences that make sense. Individuals with language disorders may have difficulty talking, understanding, reading, and writing.

It is important to note that while speech and language difficulties can show up together, this is not always the case. Consider the following scenarios: 

  • Antonio has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He now slurs his words, though he understands everything he hears and speaks in full sentences. In this case, Antonio is only experiencing difficulties with the production of speech (i.e., slurring words). 
  • Deborah sustained a traumatic brain injury. While she speaks clearly, she now has trouble thinking of the right word to say even though it feels like it’s on the tip of her tongue. In this scenario, Deborah’s troubles are only related to language skills (i.e., finding the correct word to say in conversation).
  • Nadia has suffered a stroke. She has difficulty following directions and communicates in single words. When she speaks, the sounds are hard to understand. Nadia is experiencing difficulties with both speech (i.e., trouble with speech sound production) and language (i.e., trouble following directions, trouble finding words and combining them into sentences).

How can I practice speech skills at home? 

Constant Therapy provides a range of exercises designed to help with speech sound production. Imitate words, Imitate active sentences, and Imitate passive sentences allow for speech practice at the word and sentence levels. These tasks show visual examples, which can be helpful for individuals experiencing speech challenges. 

Imitate active sentences task to practice speech
To practice using clear speech in other contexts, try exercises such as Describe the Picture and Name Pictures. For practicing speech and language skills together, Form and say active sentences could be a great fit. Within all speaking tasks, Constant Therapy’s speech recognition software will give you feedback on your responses, allowing you to make adjustments as you practice. 

How can I practice language skills at home? 

Constant Therapy exercises address language skills at the word and sentence levels and beyond. To work on word-finding, try Name Pictures, Identify picture categories, and Identify picture features. If you’re more interested in grammar and sentence-level tasks, give Complete active sentences and Complete passive sentences a try.

Complete active sentences task to practice language

To explore the Constant Therapy exercise library in its entirety, click here.

Understanding the difference between speech and language can help you become more informed as you navigate rehabilitation after a stroke, brain injury, or neurological condition. For more information, ask your speech-language pathologist and consider the resources below.

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