Language therapy

Language refers to the content, structure, and organization of both written and oral communication. Language disorders can manifest as difficulty with finding the right words to say, confusing or disorganized message structure, using vague or unclear descriptions, or difficulty with grammar and sentence structure. The goal of language therapy is to help you process words effectively and speak in concise, organized, easy-to-understand manner.

What is a language disorder?

Language disorders can have many causes and take many shapes and forms. Broadly speaking, there are two main categories of language disorders:

Receptive language disorders make it difficult to understand what other people are saying. It may be difficult to follow complex directions or catch all the details of a story or conversation. You may feel like you are often missing what others are saying, or have a hard time keeping up with verbally-presented information.

Expressive language disorders make it difficult to put your thoughts into words. You may struggle to find the right words (word retrieval), or your messages may often be disorganized or confusing to listeners. Organizing a thought into a cohesive, concise statement can be extremely challenging.

Often, language disorders are mixed, meaning there is difficulty with both the receptive and expressive aspects. Language disorders can impact reading and writing as well as listening and speaking.

What causes a language disorder?

Language disorders can be developmental (present from childhood) or acquired (resulting due to an injury or health event). Aphasia refers to "loss of language" that may occur after a stroke or brain injury. Whether developmental or acquired, language disorders can range in severity. They may manifest as mild word-finding problems, or severe difficulty forming grammatical sentences and understanding directions.

What happens in language therapy?

Language therapy varies widely depending on the nature of the impairment (receptive, expressive, mixed) and its severity. Therapy may be highly structured with drill-based exercises, focusing on word-finding and processing speed; or it may appear informal, practicing high-level narrative organization skills in conversation. The initial evaluation is a critical component of effective language therapy, in which your clinician will identify exactly which areas require work and what tasks are best suited to address those needs. Language therapy may evolve significantly over the course of treatment, as you work on different goal areas and expand into complex communication situations.

Language therapy is not limited to the spoken word. Language disorders often impact reading and writing skills, and these can be important areas for therapy. In some cases, written language may be more impaired than spoken language, in which case the bulk of therapy can be spent in this area. You and your therapist can determine how much focus is appropriate across listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

How long does language therapy last?

Because language is so complex, language therapy often lasts longer than some other types of speech therapy (typically at least a few months). Ultimately, there is no such thing as "perfect" language (even the President of the United States has communication advisors!). As you work together, you and your therapist can assess your progress in light of your communication goals and speaking demands, and determine when you are satisfied with your skills and progress.

Additional information about language disorders