Speech Therapy terminology: What does that mean?

Each profession has their own set of words and acronyms that we all understand, but it easy to forget that not everybody does! As Speech Therapists we talk about diadochokinetic rates, glides and liquids when we talk about a child’s speech as well as all the immensely fun past participles and determiners when we start thinking about grammar and sentence structure – well it’s fun for the grammar nerds among us!

As we approach the end of the academic year, it is often the time when you might receive a report from your speech therapist - maybe through an annual or transitional review or just a summary of the year. So we thought it might be useful to go through some of the funny words you might see in your reports.

The ‘big 3’ I still regularly find myself explaining are understanding of language, expressive language and speech. There is a critical difference between speech and language which is important to understand.

Language – this is split into 2 big areas

Understanding of language: This is sometimes referred to as receptive language or comprehension of language and these words can be used interchangeably but all refer to the same thing – information going into the brain and how the brain processes/deals with it - input. There are many different aspects of understanding language, such as understanding words, having good links between words, processing sentences, understanding the written word, but they all centre on understanding.

Expressive language: This is about how we use language, so it is the words and sentences that a child can say. So where understanding language is about input, expressive language is all about output. Again there are many different aspects; linking words together, forming sentences, word order, tenses and plurals to name a few.

Speech: You will also see this called phonology and it refers to the way a word sounds. Can the child make a good k sound? Are all their words produced with a d?

There is often overlap between these areas. Most children who have a difficulty with understanding language are likely to have expressive language difficulties but not all. Some children with speech difficulties will also have difficulties with expressive language but again not all. It is important to understand the difference as it changes how you support the child.

For example, I work with a delightful young lady who has excellent understanding and use of language, but very disordered speech. As a result of this, she understands everything we say and replies in beautiful long sentences, but because of her speech production issues is very hard to understand. She is due to start school in September and the new school have been excellent and want to support her transition. But before meeting her, they sent out lots of general information about giving her symbols to hand to a teacher if she needs the toilet and putting symbols up in the school. Now, if she had language difficulties this would be a fantastic strategy! However, for this young lady it would be unnecessary. So it is very important to know the difference between your speech and your language!

Some of the other types of terminology you may see and hear:

Articulation: This is the movement of the lips, tongue, jaw and palate to produce speech. You may see it used instead of ‘speech’ or ‘phonology’.

Atypical: Not following the normal development pattern. You may also see the word disordered.

Delay: A delay is where the child is following the usual developmental pathway, just slower than expected. A delay can range from mild, for example 6 months to severe, for example a few years.

Disordered: As with Atypical this means not following the normal developmental pattern. So for example a normal speech error in younger children is producing k as t so cat becomes tat, which is a process called fronting. However if a child is producing a t as a k so table becomes kable, a process called backing, this would be more atypical/ disordered as it is a non-developmental error. Language can also be disordered.

Dyspraxia: A difficulty planning and sequencing movements. This can affect speech, as the child has difficulty sequencing the order of sounds to make words correctly.

Figurative language: Also referred to as non-literal. This is where the meaning of the words can not be literally interpreted. It covers idioms –something we use all the time in English, for example “give me a hand”, or “read between the lines”. Similes, which are a comparison, such as “to fight like a lion” or “be as quiet as a mouse”. Metaphors – “I’ve got a mountain of work to do” or “all the world’s a stage”.

Grammar: These are the rules (except there are often exceptions!) that say how words can be combined to make sentences. This is important because when you change order you can change the meaning. It also includes elements such as plurals (1 cat, 2 cats – 1 mouse, 2 mice) and tenses (we don’t ‘goed’ to the park).

Jargon: We use this to refer to the strings of sounds or babble that children use that have no meaning. It sounds like sentences but doesn’t mean anything.

Non-verbal communication: This means all aspects of communication that isn’t words. So it includes body language, facial expressions, eye contact, how close you stand to someone etc.

Pragmatics: This refers to how we understand communication in a social way to interact with others. So it includes understanding non-verbal communication and reacting to it, understanding that you would speak to a teacher differently than your friend.

Semantics: Understanding the meaning of words and how they link together.

Vocabulary: This is the collection of words that a child has, both the words they can understand and the words they can use.

Word finding difficulties: Difficulty recalling a specific word, despite knowing it. Some people describe this as having the words on the tip of your tongue (more non-literal language!)

So, that was just a whirlwind tour of some of the words we use! Are there any others you have come across?


Elizabeth Gunner SpeechBlogUK

One comment

  1. This is a brilliant post, thank you. Wonder if it’s something all SALTs could be persuaded to give to parents of children with SAL issues? We seem to get general strategies but the actual issues are never explained as well as this.

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