Language is the ability to understand and use a structured system of sounds and words for communication. It is a component of the whole process of learning and is essential for accessing every aspect of the school curriculum. If a child has a language difficulty, it is likely to impact on everything that they do, in every facet of their lives. Difficulties are not always easy to identify and, if the disorder is not accompanied by unclear speech, the child may be labelled as inattentive, slow to learn or just lazy. Speech and language therapists use the term ‘language’ in a slightly different way to teachers. To a teacher, language development is the overall term for developing reading, spelling and language concepts. To a therapist, language development is the fundamental interrelationship between linguistic skills, enabling a child to communicate beyond the stage of labelling objects. All aspects of the speech and language ‘chain’ of development are closely
related so that difficulties with the production of speech sounds can influence the development of linguistic concepts. Early language development is linked with the development of cognitive,
social and communication skills. Central to the development of language are the child’s ability to focus attention, to learn through play and to form social interactions. Language difficulties in children need to be considered in various ways:
Language delay – the child’s language development may be immature but following a normal pattern. Language disorder – development is atypical or sufficiently delayed to suggest that there may be an underlying pathological or neurological cause (see Chapter 8).