About communication

About communication

Ways we communicate

For many people, speaking is their preferred way of communicating. It might be fast or easy for them to use and understand. 

When speaking seems easy, we might not realise how complex it is!

Speaking starts with breathing out to make sound with our voice. Then we make speech sounds with our mouth. We combine all these speech sounds to say words and sentences. We speak words in a fluent rhythm that helps with meaning. Importantly, speaking also involves using social skills like knowing when to speak, when to be quiet, how to interrupt, and so much more. Listening and understanding are just as complex! 

Meet some people who communicate by speaking, but have experienced changes in one of these areas.

Communication is more than speaking

But speaking is not everyone’s preferred way to communicate. Many people use some speaking combined with another way to communicate, like a symbol book. Others use something instead of speaking, like a speech-generating device.

Communication is always more than words and more than speaking. There are many ways to communicate that don’t involve speaking at all!

It doesn’t really matter which way we communicate. What matters is exchanging meaning with each other, so the message gets through.

All ways of communicating are valid.

Communicating without speaking

Everyday, we all use images, symbols, objects and pictures to communicate without speaking. For some people, images, symbols, objects or pictures are their main way to communicate. They may use them with speaking or instead of speaking.


 Some people ‘speak’ with their hands! Sign language is often used by people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

In Australia, the sign language of the Deaf community is called Auslan. Another form of sign communication used in Australia is Key Word Sign. This involves speaking and using an Auslan hand sign for the key meaningful words.

Writing is another way to communicate without speaking. For some people, written words are easier to use and understand than spoken words.

Another way to communicate without speaking is body language: gestures, facial expressions, touch, body posture, behaviours, eye gaze, or how physically close to a person we are.

For people with limited speech, body language can be even more important.



Meet some people who communicate with an aid or support instead of speaking or with speaking.

Combining different ways - multi-modal communication

We often combine different ways of communicating at the same time. This is sometimes called multi-modal communication. (Mode is another word for way.)

We are all ‘multi-modal’ communicators!

Multi-modal communication can look like:

  • using gestures and facial expressions when we are speaking
  • adding emojis 😊 GIFS or symbols into our written messages
  • pointing to objects, photos or images of things we want while speaking
  • smiling and nodding and making eye contact when we are listening
  • making sounds that are not words, e.g. hmm or eek
  • pointing to things around us in the context to make the meaning clearer
  • doing specific actions (behaviour) known to others, e.g. holding up a credit card to show you want to buy food
  • speaking into a text output device on a phone which then sends a written message
  • typing into a speech generating device to create a spoken message for others.

For some people, multi-modal communication is essential. If speaking is not a person's preferred way to communicate, they can use additional ways to communicate.


Mother of Kate, teenager and AAC user

‘Being non-verbal doesn’t stop her communicating with people. Kate will always be multimodal – she’ll always be signing, using words, and using different sorts of devices. That will give her her own voice and she can essentially then be in control of that, so that will give her more independence.’

Learn more

Communication is not just speech Published by NSW Multicultural Health Communication service in Arabic, Chinese (traditional), Bengali, English, Filipino, Hindi, Indonesian, Tongan and Vietnamese.