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Humans interact in many different ways, none more important than speech and language. When there is an interruption or inability for humans to communicate, everyone suffers. In my specialty of ears, nose and throat, I frequently see delays in speech and language development that is related to hearing loss, particularly in children who have middle ear fluid. Let’s take a moment to define speech and language.
Speech is a way to convey language. Writing, gesturing and signing are other ways of conveying a language. Language itself is a system of symbols and words to convey understanding and meaning, as well as to express ideas and feelings. The vocal sounds that create speech and language originate from a complex interaction of nerves and muscles and tendons throughout the body and this includes the respiratory tract and muscles in the chest. Therefore, there is a direct connection between physical fitness and good vocal quality. An example of this connection is apparent when someone is very ill; their voice also reflects the severity of illness and can be weak, whispery and even difficult to understand.
For us to have normal speech and language development, we must first comprehend language before we can use it and imitation occurs. An example of this is when you sit in front of an infant and repeat words, eventually the cooing sounds and the babbling of the baby will turn into an actual word. This typically occurs between 9 and 15 months of age.
Speech and language constantly develops, but typically at about 18 months a human being will have about 20 words in his or her vocabulary and when a child is about 2 years of age, he starts saying two word sentences and short commands can be followed. Between the ages of 3 and 4, a child will speak clearer and more intelligible and the average adult will understand a 3- or 4-year-old child about 80 percent of the time. Their sentences are very simple and you start to see the use of pronouns and adverbs. When a child reaches about 5 years of age, except for the limitations of his or her vocabulary, the child should be able to understand most adult communications and conversations.
Things that can derail speech and language development include a child’s physiologic status. This includes hearing loss as I mentioned earlier, as well as physical deformities of the oral cavity and problems with the brain and its ability to process speech and language. The child’s environment also is very important. There are cultural factors, impoverished situations, severely dysfunctional family settings and also you have the child’s ability or willingness to interact with the environment. Behavioral disturbances including Autism are common in these types of situations.
Other conditions that can affect speech and language development include cleft palate, which causes a nasal sound to one’s speech, stuttering, cerebral palsy which distorts the voice quality because of its effect on the neuromuscular system. Other factors that are not as serious that can affect speech and language development skills include socioeconomic and cultural differences. Just think about the accents that we have here in the United States, the difference between a northeasterner versus midwesterner versus someone from the south. Also, there can be a difference in speech due to dialects that inhibits communication between people from various regions.
Speech and language skills are so important to communicate with one another to get positive things done. There are a number of estimates that range between 5,000 and 10,000 languages that are spoken in the world. There is actually an official list called the “Ethnologeu” from 1996 that officially lists 6,500 living languages. Whatever the case may be, speech is an important aspect of human interaction which undoubtedly has catapulted world development over the centuries.
Denis Grillo, D.O., FOCOO, is an ear, nose and throat specialist in Crystal River. Call him at 352-795-0011 or visit CrystalCommunityENT.com.