Differentiating “Articulation,” “Oral Motor,” and “Phonology”

By Pam Marshalla

Q: I still cannot seem to explain to colleagues the difference between articulation, oral motor, and phonology. Can you help me one more time?

This is the line of thinking I use. It may help you explain these ideas to others––

  • Movements are used to make phonemes.
  • Phonemes are used to make syllables.
  • Syllables are used to make words.
  • Words are used to make phrases.
  • Phrases are used to make sentences.
  • Sentences are used to make paragraphs.
  • Words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs are used to express the language.
  • The language is used to communicate with others.

Our clients can have trouble in any one or more of these areas––

  • The client may have difficulty moving the speech mechanisms (oral-motor).
  • The client may have trouble producing individual phonemes (articulation).
  • The client may have problems sequencing phonemes into syllables (phonology).
  • The client may not be able to put syllables into words (phonology/morphology).
  • The client may not be able to organize words into phrases (syntax).
  • The client may have difficulty putting phrases into sentences (syntax).
  • The client may have trouble arranging sentences into paragraphs (syntax).
  • The client may be unable to use words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs to express ideas (language in general).
  • The client may not be able to use the language to communicate with others (functional communication/pragmatic language skills).

When viewed simply — as in this list — the differences and cross-overs between the three become plain.

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