25 Speech and Language Terms Every Parent Should Know Before Talking to A Pediatrician

When becoming a parent, the world of child development can be overwhelming, especially when considering speech, language and communication. It’s often a world we haven’t even considered until now.

Whether we are speaking to teachers, health visitors or speech therapists, there is a lot of new information for any parent to digest and understand. Therefore we thought it would be useful to break down some of the frequently used terms in the area of Speech and Language to give you a better understanding of what it all means! 

Main terms to better understand your SLP or pediatrician:

Speech 

When professionals talk about “speech” they are talking about the sounds that we make when we say words.

For example: the word “cat” is made up of three sounds. The “c” the “a” and the “t”, two consonants and one vowel sound.

Some children find it hard to hear, learn and make these sounds when they speak, often leaving their speech unclear. A child making a speech error might say “tat” instead of “cat”, or “fis” instead of “fish”.

All children make speech errors at some stage in their develop as learning speech sounds is a gradual process, normally starting at around 6 months when they babble, up until about 6 years.

Many of the errors we hear can be “typical” or normal for the childs’ age.

For example: It would be normal for a 1 year old child to struggle with the word “telly”, for a 2 year old to struggle with the word “red” or a 4 year old to struggle with the word “treasure”.

Some children require more time and help to develop their speech sounds and may need some extra support. You can start off by taking the Speech Blubs assessment as it will give you an indicator of your child’s sound development so far and will let you know if it might be helpful to contact your local speech and language therapy team. There are also great activities on the app for learning and practicing the early sounds in a fun and interactive way. 

Language

Language refers to the words that we hear and say. This includes all of our vocabulary, including things like nouns, verbs and adjectives.

Language is split up into two parts, our understanding of language (receptive language) and our use of language (expressive language).

The age children develop their receptive and  expressive language differs from child to child and there is a wide variation of “normal”. Children can have difficulties with either or both of these areas, however if you are concerned you can take the Speech Blubs assessment and contact your local health visitor or speech and language therapist.

The Speech Blub App is full of language resources you can check out and use to support your child’s development in this area. 

Understanding of Language 

Our children need to not only hear the words we say, but also make sense of them, understanding the vocabulary, how the words go together and what the speaker is trying to communicate.

By the time a child is approaching their first birthday we would expect them to follow a simple one word command, by 2 years a two part command and by 3 years a 3 step command. By 4 years we would expect then to understand stories and more complex language such as adjectives and concepts.

A child struggling with understanding language may find it difficult to follow instructions, may seem like they are not listening and make errors when you request things from them.

Using Language 

Once a child can understand a word, they then learn to use it for themselves, speaking to request things, reject things and to comment on things.

At 1 years they are likely to have a handful of words, at 2 years around 50 words and by  years they will often be starting to put little sentences together. By 4 years we would expect sentences to be used most of the time and for strangers to understand what they are saying.

A child struggling with expressive language may find it hard to find the words they want to use, may have a limited vocabulary for their age or say words in the wrong order.

Social skills 

Social skills are more than just saying “hello”, “goodbye” and “thank you”. Turn taking, naming and reading emotions, literal vs. non literal language, social language, negotiation, volume, speed and reading face and body expressions are just some of the many elements that make up social skills.

Children develop these skills over time, often from their experiences. These skills come more naturally to some than others. A baby often develops use of eye contact, smiling, responds to name and learns to recognise those familiar to them within the first 12 months. Up to the age of 2 years they start exploring their own emotions and learn they are their own independent person. Once they turn 3 they start to develop an awareness of other people’s emotions and are able to take turns.  By 4 years they start to develop awareness, understanding and some control over their own emotions.

Social skills are a complex area of child development and children greatly vary (much like adults) in their emotional and social needs and preferences. Many children struggle with social skills such as controlling emotions, turn taking and sharing however its worth keeping an eye out and chat to a health visitor or speech and language therapist if you are concerned. 

Other Commonly Used Terms

Modelling – means using language so your child can listen and eventually copy. 

Dysphagia – a term that describes difficulties with eating or drinking

Generalisation- when a skill they have learnt in a therapeutic activity is carried over to day to day life. E.g. they may learn “cat” in the Speech Blubs app. Generalisation would be the child then naming a cat when they see one in real life.

Intonation – the rise and fall in the pitch of speech (speaking higher or lower)

Semantics – the meaning of language

Auditory memory – this is the brain’s ability to remember what it has heard. This can include words, sounds, numbers etc.

Phonemic awareness– the ability to listen to, think about and breakdown the sounds within a spoken word e.g. breaking down “telephone” into t-e-l-ee-f-o-n

Articulation – the movement of facial features to create the speech sounds – the lips, tongue, jaw, palate

Palate- the soft and hard palate forms the roof of your mouth

Grammar – the rules of language on how words can be put together to make sentences.

Dysfluency – when smooth and flowing speech is interrupted with repetition or lengthening of sounds, words or pauses (blocks) – aka stammering / stuttering 

Glue ear – a hearing loss caused by build up of fluid behind the ear drum.

Makaton – a sign and symbol system based on natural gestures and British Sign Language 

Verbal reasoning – solving problems using language 

Voice – in Speech and Language Therapy refers to the quality, pitch, breathiness and volume of a person’s voice

Direct therapy – Where the Speech and Language Therapist works with the child doing specific therapy activities to target a chosen area. The child is aware therapy is taking place.

Indirect therapy – Where a significant adult (parent, teacher, TA, etc) works with the child often during relaxed and spontaneous games, play and conversation, targeting a general area of communication development where the child is less aware that therapy is taking place.

Formal Assessment–  formalised assessments allows a Speech and Language Therapist to do a controlled test which they can then compare the (often numerical) results to a control group of children the same age.

Informal Assessment – informal assessments may be done by a Speech and Language Therapist, teacher, parent or therapy assistant to observe, comment on and test skills using activities, play or tests that are not standardised. 

Vocabulary – the words/ language known by a person

“My two year old had it for less than a week and he’s already saying more”

Mariah C., Mom

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