What is language?

Language is different to speech. These terms are often used interchangeably and are often confused. It’s important to understand the difference between the two.

Speech is all to do with sounds, how you pronounce them using your lips, tongue and voice.

Language is so much more!

Language is understanding what others have to say.

Language is the words we use and how we use them to share ideas and get what we want.

Language is expressing yourself using a diverse vocabulary and grammatically correct sentences.

Language is knowing what words to say in certain social situations.

It’s not just spoken language, it’s written language too.

If a child has trouble understanding others, then they might have receptive language difficulties.

If a child has trouble expressing themselves to share ideas, feelings and thoughts they might have expressive language difficulties.

If a child struggles to connect with others and be social, then they might have pragmatic language difficulties.

Many children with language difficulties can also go onto experience learning disabilities in reading, spelling and written expression.

Could my child have a language problem?

In Understanding (Receptive Language)

Your child might need to see a speech pathologist if they have receptive language difficulties in:

  • understanding words and pointing to pictures that match
  • understanding actions (e.g. sit down, come here or get the.. )
  • following directions
  • understanding questions (e.g. what, where, who and why)
  • understanding concepts (e.g. up/down, big/little, fast/slow, first/last)
  • understanding colours, number and letter concepts
  • understanding others in conversation
  • listening to stories and comprehending what happens, making inferences, associations and predictions
  • understanding language requiring reasoning (e.g. what would happen if? why did it happen?)
  • understanding the different meaning of words in jokes, humour, sarcasm and idioms
  • understanding what they read

In Expression (Expressive Language)

Your child might need to see a speech pathologist if they have expressive language difficulties in:

  • learning to talk with their first words
  • talking in early word combinations and sentences
  • putting words together in the right order with the right small words and word endings in sentences
  • saying longer and more complex sentences with joining words such as ‘and’, ‘then’, ‘but’ ‘because’ and ‘so’
  • saying a large vocabulary of words
  • quickly, accurately and fluently finding the words to express themself
  • talking about what words mean, giving definitions
  • asking questions
  • telling logical, detailed stories with all the important elements
  • writing stories, essays and descriptions

In Social Communication (Pragmatics)

Your child might need to see a speech pathologist if they have pragmatic difficulties in:

  • using words for a social purpose like greeting, farewelling, requesting, commenting, protesting and answering
  • being social, sharing, playing and conversing with peers
  • difficulties share communication moments with others to build relationships
  • following the rules of conversation (e.g. how to take turns, how to interrupt and how to join conversations)
  • interpreting and using appropriate eye contact, tone of voice, body language and facial expressions
  • understanding that other people have different perspectives
  • making and keeping friends
  • using their behaviour rather than words to solve problems
  • seeing other’s perspectives and negotiating compromises

How do speech pathologists help?


Language development follows an expected sequence of milestones. Each building upon the other, from understanding first words, to saying first words, to talking in sentence and stories onto sophisticated expression and complicated comprehension. Many oral language skills lay the foundations for later academic and social learning at school. A speech pathologist needs to determine whether the language skills a child has are appropriate for their age.

There are many different patterns of language difficulties which require thorough assessment by a speech pathologist. These patterns exist as children may only have one area of language affected, a number of areas or a unique pattern of language strengths and weaknesses. Some language difficulties present first as a late talking toddler. Older children may go onto have language difficulties with no known cause such as a Developmental Language Disorder and other children may have language disorders associated with another disability. It is very important to understand the unique nature of each child’s language disorder in order to provide the most appropriate intervention.

Whatever the difficulties, speech pathologist always recommend seeking help as early as possible. The most supportive intervention for any child with a language difficulty is to be actively involved in reading with their parents, playing, conversing and connecting with them. Know where the child is at and support them with the next step in their language journey.

What if my child is bilingual?


It is important for children to learn the language of their family and culture. Children should always use their home language as it supports close family relationships, connection to culture and child wellbeing. Parents should never be asked to stop using one language in preference for another.

Bilingualism does not cause language delays. Children develop at very different rates, the more so the younger they are. Children may not yet have had enough exposure to English to be at the level expected for their age. Learning a new language takes time and with support, children will learn English if there are no other underlying problems.

Some bilingual children, however can have an additional speech and language disorder, this means they may have difficulties learning their first home language and English. This is where speech pathologists can help. We like to learn as much as we can about your home language and how it is used in your family. Our speech pathologists will work with you to find ways to strengthen your child’s skills in both languages so that they can better communicate.