The Difference Between 'Speech' And 'Language' Impairments

‘Speech’ refers to the sounds we make when we are talking. We put strings of sounds together to create words. For example, ‘Cat’ is made up of 3 sounds – C, A and T. The number of sounds in a word does not necessarily correspond to the number of letters when spelling the word. For example, ‘Fright’ is made up of the sounds F, R, I and T (the ‘I’ would be pronounced like ‘eye’).

Different sounds develop at different ages, for example, ‘m’ is typically acquired at around 3 years old, whereas ‘v’ is not typically acquired until 6 years, and ‘th’ until 8 years (Kilminster & Laird, 1978). Children initially will not be able to produce certain sounds, or produce all the sounds in a longer word and so employ phonological processes e.g. saying ‘lectic’ for ‘electric’ or always producing ‘k’ as ‘t’. For more information on phonological processes used in typical development, see here: LINK. All children employ phonological processes up to a certain age. Norms for elimination of phonological processes can be found here: LINK.

Speech Sound Disorder (SSD) is an umbrella term referring to slow development of, or a difficulty with, speech development. An SSD could include articulation disorder, phonological disorder, childhood apraxia of speech and motor-speech disorders. If a child has a speech sound disorder, they may have difficulty producing certain sounds past the age at which those sounds would typically have been acquired. They may use a pattern of sound errors (phonolocial processes) past the age at which this may be typical. A child may be unable to coordinate the sounds needed to make up words, or have a structural or neurological reason that they cannot produce all of the sounds we use when we are talking.

A child may also have difficulty processing certain sounds; this will inevitably lead to difficulty producing that sound. This could have different causes e.g. glue ear, or an Auditory Processing Disorder. 

A Speech and Language Therapist will assess your child’s ability to process and produce a full range of speech sounds to identify how to best target any difficulties in therapy. They may use a formal assessment such as the Diagnostic Evaluation of Articulation and Phonology (DEAP) (Dodd et. al., 2002). For further information on the DEAP, see here: LINK.

Language refers to the meaning of the words we use. When we talk, we string words together into sentences to convey meaning. We also listen to other people’s sentences to understand what they are telling us. Children move through language development milestones, however there will of course be some variation between them. Norms for language development can be found here: LINK

Children may have a language delay if they do not achieve language norms within the expected time-frame. Children may also be diagnosed with ‘Specific Language Impairment’; this is where language is below the expected level in relation to a child’s academic abilities in the absence of general learning difficulty, hearing impairment, autism spectrum condition or anything else that could explain their language difficulty.

A Speech and Language Therapist will assess your child for language impairment. They may use a formal assessment such as the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF) (Semel et. al., 2006), along with speaking to the child’s parents and teachers. They may also observe the child in different settings. They will use the information gained in assessment to inform their therapy plan.

If you are concerned about your child’s speech or language development, please email for free advice:

Alternatively, please see our fixed fee assessment which may meet your needs.


  • Bowen, C. (1998). Ages and Stages Summary: Language Development 0-5 years. Retrieved from on[insert the date that you retrieved the file here].
  • CELF
  • Kilminster, M.G.E., & Laird, E.M. (1978) Articulation development in children aged three to nine years. Australian Journal of Human Communication Disorders, 6, 1, 23-30.
  • Bowen, C. (2011). Table 2: Phonological Processess. Retrieved from on [insert the date that you retrieved the file here].
  • Bowen, C. (2011). Table 3: Elimination of Phonological Processes. Retrieved from on [insert the date that you retrieved the file here].
  • DEAP