Language is how a mother tells her baby "I love you" with a sing-song voice. It's how a 3-year-old tells a knock-knock joke while trying to hold back their laughter. It's how a teacher explains the rules of long division to her fidgety students. Language connects us, and language helps us learn.
At the most basic level, language is a set of symbols that a community has agreed upon to stand for objects and ideas. You use these symbols to talk listen, read, and write. In the case of American Sign Language, you use language to produce signs and interpret signs. Having effective language skills means that you can express your ideas and can understand when others express their ideas. Language is uniquely human, and babies begin to build the foundation for language even before they are born!
It can be helpful to think about the difference between language and speech. When your child says "I wuv my wed twuck," (I love my red truck), it doesn't sound right - that's the speech part - but she is sharing her thoughts on something she really likes - that's the language part.
Language includes which words you know and which words you chose to use. It is how you put those words together, the tone of voice that you use, and whether the person across from you understands what you mean. You use language to solve story problems in math class and write an essay in English class. Language skills are what allow you to build relationships with your family and friends.
Not having access to language is frustrating. Imagine being dropped in the middle of a foreign country with a pounding headache. You need to find a drug store, but how would you communicate what you need? How would you understand directions if someone did figure out what you were trying to say? You're in pain, you're confused, and you can't get your problem solved.
Now think of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy who doesn't yet say any words. His head is full of wants and needs, but he has no clear way of letting others know what they are. He also has trouble understanding what his parents want him to do when they give him simple directions. He often throws things when he can't be understood or doesn't understand what his parents want him to do. All of this is because he has difficulty with speaking and listening, that is, with language.
Language underpins everything we do, and having difficulty with language skills at any age means you can't fully participate in everyday life. Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center has a team of licensed speech-language pathologists (SLPs) with expertise in building language skills.
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