Understanding the Language of Speech Therapy

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Have you ever been handed a report from a Speech Pathologist and found it almost impossible to understand with all of the Speech Pathology terms and ‘lingo’?

 As much as we try to make things easy to understand, there’s always a little bit of “jargon” (or, technical language) that creeps in to our reports or conversations with parents.

Here’s our quick Speech Pathology Glossary of Terms to help you get started on your Speech Therapy journey.

Within Normal Limits

We often use the terms ‘within normal limits’ and ‘delayed’, but what do these mean?

As Speech Pathologists we rely on ‘norms’, or, averages. Using assessments and observations, we can determine where your child’s skills fit with other children their age. If their skills are about the same as most children their age, we say their skills are “age appropriate”, or, “within normal limits”. If their skills are below most children their age, we say their skills are “delayed” and we would recommend therapy to build up your child’s skills in these difficult areas.


Language is the broad term we use to describe the way we put words together to communicate and the way we understand language used by others. Language can be broken down in to a number of different areas, including receptive, expressive and pragmatic.

Understanding the Language of Speech Therapy » understanding speech therapy report

Receptive Language is our understanding of language and our ability to understand others.

Receptive language delays might look like:

  • Difficulty following directions (e.g. before, after, first, next)
  • Difficulty understanding basic concepts (e.g. big, small, short, tall, hot, cold)
  • Difficulty understanding location concepts (e.g. on, under, in front, behind, next to)
  • Difficulty identifying categories (e.g. animals, food, things that are hot, things that are green)

 Expressive Language is our ability to use language to share our ideas and express ourselves completely to others.

Expressive language delays might look like:

  • Difficulty using different types of words (e.g. nouns (words for people, places and things), verbs (doing words), adjectives (describing words))
  • Difficulty using different combinations of these words (e.g. ‘Daddy work’, ‘Mummy go car’)
  • Difficulty with grammar (e.g. plurals (cars, mice), verb tense (cooked, cooking, will cook), pronouns (he, his, him, himself)

For more information on language development click here.

Pragmatic Language is our ability to use language in social situations. It includes what we say, how we say it, what our bodies look and feel like, and whether what we say is appropriate for a given situation.

Pragmatic language delays might look like:

  • Difficulty starting, keeping and ending conversations
  • Difficulty understanding body language and identifying feelings
  • Difficulty understanding and using different tones of voice (e.g. angry vs sad)
  • Difficulty understanding figurative language (e.g. idioms, metaphors and similes)

For more information on pragmatic language click here.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness (PA) is our ability to manipulate sounds in words, and are important pre-literacy skills.

Understanding the Language of Speech Therapy » understanding speech therapy report

Phonological awareness delays might look like:

  • Difficulty identifying and making rhyme
  • Difficulty identifying the first, last or middle sound in a word
  • Difficulty breaking words up in to their sounds
  • Difficulty identifying syllables in words
  • Difficulty changing sounds in words


Speech is the way we put sounds together to make words.

Understanding the Language of Speech Therapy » understanding speech therapy report

Articulation is our ability to coordinate movements of our mouth, tongue and lips to make sounds. These are difficulties making sounds in isolation.

Articulation delays might look like:

  • Difficulties making sounds in isolation (e.g. when trying to make the ‘k’ sound your child might use the sound ‘g’, ‘t’ or ‘d’, or, when trying to make the ‘th’ sound, your child might say ‘d’, ‘f’ or ‘v’)
  • A lateral lisp (e.g. when saying ‘s’ the sound is ‘slushy’ or sounds a bit like a ‘sh’ sound)
  • An interdental lisp (e.g. when saying ‘s’ the tongue comes out between the teeth and sounds more like a ‘th’ sound)

For more information on when children should be using different sounds click here.

Phonology is how sounds are used in words and the patterns that these sounds follow. These are difficulties using sounds in words, but able to make the sound on its own.

Phonological delays might look like:

  • Fronting – making a sound that is usually produced at the back of the mouth at the front of the mouth (e.g. able to say the ‘k’ sound, but saying ‘tat’ for ‘cat’).
  • Cluster reduction – saying only part of a consonant cluster, that is, two or more consonants together, such as, ‘st-‘, ‘str-’, ‘bl-‘(e.g. saying ‘dop’ or ‘top’ for ‘stop’)

For more information on the different phonological processes click here and for information about when these processes should be eliminated click here.

Other Useful Resources

For more information on what your child’s speech and language skills should look like between 1 and 5, have a look at our milestones handouts here.

Speech Pathology Australia have also developed some fabulous (and thorough) fact sheets for any questions you might have about Speech Pathology.

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