What is Communication? {It is so Much More than Speech}

What is communication? A while back, I wrote a post about the Difference between Speech & Language. In that post I touched on communication as well, and today I am going to expand on that post because understanding the difference between speech and language and knowing what communication is is part of the foundation one needs know to help their child expand his speech and language skills.

What is Communication

What is Speech?

So a quick recap on speech.  When we speech pathologists refer to the term speech we are referring to three things: articulation/phonological skills, speech fluency and voice.We are looking at a child’s ability to: Physically produce the individual sounds and sound patterns of his/her language (Articulation), produce speech with appropriate rhythm, and free of Stuttering behavior, produce speech with an appropriate vocal quality for his/her age and sex.

What is Language?

 While speech involves the physical motor ability to talk, language is a symbolicrule governed system used to convey a message. In English, the symbols can be words, either spoken or written. You can have language without speech however. For example, American Sign Language is a sign language that requires no speech! You can read more about the difference between speech and language HERE.

What is Communication?

Communication is the process of conveying a message or meaning to establish a shared understanding to others. You don’t need speech or a shared language to communicate. You can communicate, without speech (i.e. non verbally) with a stranger who speaks a totally different language than you, though it may be a little harder to get your message across.

The Importance of Understanding Communication and Your Speech Delayed Child

If you have a child with a speech and language delay, you want so much for your child to TALK. Of course you do! You want your child to talk just like the other children his age and the fact he isn’t makes your heart ache. And you will do anything you can to help him.

But with a child with a speech delay, particularly with toddlers, the first step to getting your child to talk, often times has nothing to do with speech. Rather, we will want to first look at how your child IS communicating with you, and then expand and mold that communication into speech. It is important for YOU, as a parent, to learn to watch your child for those times when he IS communicating to you. Often times we are so busy watching for signs of speech, that we miss the many times our children are communicating to us.

What Does Non-Speech Communication Look Like?

You’ve probably heard it before: “Communication is 93% nonverbal.” Whether this particular statistic is exactly correct is hard to prove, but the fact is that yes, the majority of our communication really is non verbal. This means that your little one IS communicating to you, even if he is not using speech to do so. So what does this look like?

Non Verbal Communication

  • Eye contact or eye gaze. A toddler may gaze at an object of interest out of his reach that he would like to play with.
  • Pointing at things to show interest. A child may use a point to indicate he is interested in something.
  • Facial expressions. We all use facial expressions to communicate our feelings to others. A child that is happy will have a different expression than a child who is angry, sad, scared, etc.
  • Body Language/Movements. These are SO important! Children with speech delays often use body language or movements to try to communicate.
  • Gestures. In addition to pointing, a child may use gestures to try to communicate with you, like gesturing towards the fridge when he is thirsty.
  • Tone of voice, vocal volume, pitch and inflection. Even when a child is using little to no real words, often times we can use their tone, volume, pitch or inflection to help figure out what they are trying to say.
  • Whining, grunting, and other non speech noises. Often times littles ones with speech delays will use a combination of these with other nonverbal communication to try to communicate. The tone of these grunts and noises (as mentioned above) could give us more information on what our child is trying to communicate.

Watch Your Child for his Communication Cues

Now that you have a good understanding on what nonverbal communication is, you need to start watching your child for his communication cues! You need to watch him closely for these little moments that he could be communicating to you, and then respond to those cues. Make sure to check back soon for more posts on how to watch your child for communication cues and how to act on them.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.  
About Katie

Katie is a licensed, credentialed and certified pediatric speech-language pathologist and mom to three (5, 3 and 9 months). Her passion about educating, inspiring and empowering parents of children with all abilities led her to start her blog Playing With Words 365 where she shares information about speech and language development, therapy ideas and tips, intervention strategies and a little about her family life too. Katie has been working in the field of speech pathology for 9 years and is certified in The Hanen Centre’s It Takes Two to Talk ® and Target Word ® programs and holds a certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In addition to blogging and being a mommy, Katie works part time in her small private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Katie, this is excellent! This post along with The Difference Between Speech & Language and What is Language? are just awesome. Thanks for all you do!

  2. ShVaughn says:

    Hello I am the mother of a 3yr old who has about a 30 word vocabulary. He does all the thing noted in this post. I have no idea where to start with speech therapy. He has seen the Speech Therapist at our local free clinic but I was not satisfied with the answer that he will talk once he starts school. I want him to have all necessary testing done so we can address this matter head one. I live in the Metro Detroit Area of Michigan and just need to know who can assist with this matter. I appreciate you website and will continue to follow you.

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