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MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Child and adolescent development 0-19


Speech, language and communication development


Language differences versus language disorder

Language differences occur because of:

  • different environments
  • having English or Welsh as an additional language
  • cultural differences.

Language differences come about because of the particular social environment that the child has experienced as they acquire language. This can be due to the child speaking a different regional variation due to the family relocating when they were young, or could indicate that they speak a different language at home. A child brought up in a home where books are common and parents/carers frequently read to them is likely to have a more extended vocabulary than a child not exposed to literary language. But these differences will diminish as the child is given the opportunity to develop their language skills.


The following clips discuss learning a second language for a child with additional learning needs:

Can Special Needs Kids be Bilingual?

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Phonological Treatment with Bilingual Individuals

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Reflect on learners in your school who:

  • are speaking different languages at home and at school
  • are bilingual
  • are trying to learn a modern foreign language and have learning difficulties
  • have receptive language difficulties.

Consider how learners present in the classroom when they don’t understand the instructions being given. How would you modify your teaching for these learners to be able to access the curriculum?

Language or speech disorders can occur in different aspects of verbal communication. They may exist on their own or in conjunction with other developmental disorders.

When a child has trouble understanding others, ‘decoding’ what they are saying and interpreting it (receptive language), or sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings completely (expressive language), then they may be considered as having a language disorder.

When a child is unable to produce speech sounds correctly or fluently in a way that is expected for their age to the extent that this interferes with their communication, then they may be considered as having a speech disorder. This can be a phonological disorder where they are able to make a sound in some circumstances but not others, or an articulation disorder where they are unable to produce the sound at all or only with difficulty. In other cases, the child may have a voice disorder which relates to deviations in pitch, quality or intensity of speech production.

At times the difficulty may be delay rather than a disorder. The child may be developing speech in the typical sequence given above, but be slower achieving the milestones. Such children, given encouragement and opportunity to develop their language, may catch up to their peers. Children with a disorder are more likely to need professional assistance.

Examples of language/speech disorders

  • Verbal dyspraxia
    ‘Children with developmental verbal dyspraxia have difficulty in making and co-ordinating the precise movements required for the production of clear speech, and yet there is no evidence of damage to nerves or muscles. They have difficulty in producing individual speech sounds and in sequencing sounds together in words. As a result their speech is often unintelligible even to family members.’


The quote above is taken from Pam Williams' paper on Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia:

  • what are the key features of verbal dyspraxia?
  • from the suggested activities to help a child with verbal dyspraxia, are there any that would be useful to use in your classroom to improve children's articulation?
  • articulatory difficulties, e.g. stammer
    It is normal for children to go through a period where they hesitate over sounds or words, or repeat sounds several times. But if this persists and the child appears to be ‘stuck’ at this stage it may become a stammer. Most children that have a difficulty with stammering started the behaviour between two and five years of age.

Visit the Action for Stammering Children website for more information

It is vital that anyone working with a child who appears to have difficulties with their language can determine whether it is due to language difference or a language/speech disorder in order to take the appropriate steps to best help the child.

Recognising typical language development and what is expected of the child at a certain age, as described above, allows you to recognise what is ‘atypical’, and not expected.

Learning pack contents

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