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What Is the Difference between Language and Speech Disorders?

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  • Written By: H. Lo
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2016
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Language and speech disorders are similar in that they both cause communication problems, but there is a distinction between the two conditions. The difference between language and speech disorders is that language deals with meaning and the speech deals with sounds. A person with a language disorder has trouble understanding what others say, or has trouble expressing himself. With a speech disorder, a person has trouble producing or pronouncing sounds in the correct or fluent manner.

There are two types of language disorders: receptive and expressive. A person with a receptive disorder cannot easily process what others are saying. For example, it might be hard for him to follow directions, or he might confuse the meaning of a statement by applying the wrong definition to a word that has multiple meanings. A person with an expressive disorder cannot articulate what he means to say, which causes others to misunderstand him. For example, he might have a smaller vocabulary and speak in short sentences, or he might have trouble putting words together in an intelligible structure.

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Speech disorders revolve around how a person uses his voice. Factors to consider in speech include articulation, fluency and voice problems. Articulation refers to how well a person pronounces his words or sounds. For example, a person with articulation problems might make a “w” sound when he should be making an “r” sound. Fluency refers to how well a person’s speech flows; stuttering is an example of a problem with fluency. Finally, vocal problems refer to the actual sound quality of a person’s voice; a nasal or hoarse voice that makes it hard for others to understand what a person is saying is an example of vocal problems.

Other problems that can be seen as a speech disorder, or at least related to it, are those that involve feeding or swallowing troubles. A feeding disorder occurs when a person cannot retrieve food in preparation for swallowing. For example, he might not be able to pick up his food, or he might not be able to keep the food in his mouth. A swallowing disorder occurs when a person has trouble swallowing food, whether that is chewing the food and moving it to the back of the throat or starting and finishing the actual swallowing process in the throat.

Causes of language and speech disorders vary from medical problems to the unknown. The disorders can be mild to severe, and it is possible for a person to have both conditions. In addition, language and speech disorders affect both children and adults. If a person experiences, or shows signs of, one or both of these disorders, there are treatment options available that might help him achieve better communication with others, such as speech therapy.

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