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The Impact of Speech and Language on Cognitive Development

Speech and language is the use of sounds, grammar and vocabulary used to communicate knowledge and information. Speech and language acquisition is closely intertwined with cognitive development, the process by which we come to acquire, understand, organize, and learn to use information in various ways. Cognitive development also includes thinking processes and language concepts such as reasoning, remembering, categorizing, decision-making and problem-solving.


Building vocabulary increases cognition and promotes knowledge of the world. It allows children to form and share new ideas, make requests, and use language socially. When you talk to and play with your child, they are learning how to communicate through new words, sounds, and interactions.


Talk Time Speech and Language Therapy | Color picture of four children playing Jenga and tower falling over | Blog post on the impact of speech and language on cognitive development

The Stages of Cognitive Development & Its Relation to Speech and Language Skills


Psychologist, Jean Piaget, is famous for his theory on cognitive development. His theory looks at how children develop intellectually throughout the course of childhood and it is still accepted and used today. Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development suggests that children progress through four distinct stages, each representing varying cognitive abilities and world comprehension: the sensorimotor stage (birth to 2 years), the preoperational stage (2 to 7 years), the concrete operational stage (7 to 11 years), and the formal operational stage (11 years and beyond). These stages describe the mental structures or “schemas” of children as they develop from infants to adults. Just like with language development, every child goes through the stages in the same order, but not all at the same rate.


During the sensorimotor stage of cognitive development, young children acquire knowledge through sensory experiences and manipulating objects. Children in this stage are learning the foundation of language, where a child starts babbling, cooing, and engaging in early interactions. Research has consistently shown that exposure to language-rich environments during this period is critical for cognitive development (memory, attention, and problem solving).


During the preoperational stage children learn symbolic representation. This means that an object or word can stand for something else. For example, a child might play "house" with a cardboard box. These activities allow children to learn and engage through different types of play while developing mental schemas to help them adapt to a variety of situations. In this stage, the child’s language expands, which allows them to venture beyond the immediate present and to talk about such things as the past, the future, events, feelings, and people.


The concrete operational stage is when a child develops the ability to think logically and problem-solve, but they can only apply these skills to concrete objects, or objects they can directly see. In this stage, the child’s social language skills, such as their ability to think about how other people may view a situation, improves and is directly related to the child’s cognitive ability. As children improve their ability to identify and understand viewpoints, they are more likely to have positive social interactions with others. These social cognitive skills lay the groundwork for successful relationships and emotional intelligence. In addition, children who engage more frequently in verbal communication, such as storytelling during social interactions, often exhibit enhanced memory and attention capacities.


The final stage of cognitive development is the formal operational stage. This stage involves an increase in the ability to use deductive reasoning, logic and an understanding of abstract ideas. At this point, children are able to identify that there is more than one possible solution to a problem and think more scientifically about the world around them and engage in abstract thinking. Children continuously develop impulse control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility over time. These skills are crucial for successful decision-making, and as children acquire language, they learn to regulate their behavior and ability to execute complex tasks.


Conversely, speech and language disorders can pose challenges to cognitive development. Speech and language disorders can impact academic performance, social interactions, and overall cognitive functioning.


From the early stages of infancy, the acquisition of language contributes to a child’s cognitive development, such as their memory, attention, executive functioning, and social cognition. Fostering a language-rich environment can help nurture the child’s cognitive skills and help them become better equipped for future cognitive challenges. Do you have concerns about your child’s speech and language or cognitive abilities? We’re here to help! Contact Talk Time speech and Language Therapy for more information.


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