Close navigation

Speech and language difficulties

1 in 5 people we spoke to experienced communication difficulties caused by a brain tumour diagnosis.

It's important to remember that not everybody who is affected by a brain tumour will experience communication difficulties.

For those that do, the symptoms and severity can differ from person to person, so you may not have the same problems as someone with a similar diagnosis and treatment plan.

What speech and language difficulties could someone with a brain tumour diagnosis experience?

It’s important to remember that no mater what speech and language difficulties somebody is experiencing, they're:

  • still an intelligent person
  • still aware of what they want to say
  • still capable of making all their own decisions.

Speech difficulties and slurred speech

Speech is the physical ability to produce sounds and words using our tongue, lips, jaw muscles and vocal tract. So speech difficulties are the impairment of the physical ability to speak.

The nature of the speech difficulty will depend upon the type, size and location of the tumour. 

Dysarthria

Dysarthria is a speech difficulty caused by weakness in the muscles needed for speaking and/or difficulty in controlling these muscles. Acquired dysarthria can result from a range of neurological disorders, including brain tumours. This is due to the muscles needed for speech being controlled by the brain and nervous system.

Common symptoms include:

  • hesitant or slow sounding speech
  • slurred speech
  • an increase or decrease in speech volume
  • strained voice
  • poor intonation, e.g. a monotone quality
  • nasal-sounding speech.

Apraxia of speech

When we speak, the brain sends signals to our mouth to tell the muscles how and when to move. A brain tumour can prevent these signals from being sent properly. This means that the particular motor movements needed for us to be able to speak don’t always happen as intended.

Common symptoms include:

  • slow sounding speech
  • effortful attempts in trying to move the lips, tongue or a jaw (sometimes called groping)
  • unable to pronounce the same word correctly each time
  • difficulty with longer words
  • difficulty saying individual sounds. This could include adding new sounds, omitting sounds or pronouncing the sounds incorrectly.

Frustrated by difficulties when talking to people?

Use BRIAN’s quality-of-life tracker to record when and how severely you have problems with comminication. Then share this with your healthcare team to get the support you need.

Frustrated by difficulties when talking to people?

BRIAN is our trusted online app where you can track your experience, compare it with others who’ve been there and get the knowledge you need to make informed decisions.

Find out more

Language difficulties and aphasia

Language means the words we use and how we put them together to communicate meaning. It's involved when you're trying to speak, listen, read or write.

Aphasia (sometimes called dysphasia) is the most common communication difficulty experienced by people with brain tumours. Aphasia is an impairment of language, which affects the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write, due to damage to the brain.

It’s important to note that aphasia doesn’t affect intellect and there are various types of aphasia.

Broca's aphasia

Broca’s aphasia can occur when you have damage to an area of the frontal lobe responsible for language production (Broca’s area).

You may find you have difficulty speaking and you may only be able to produce a small number of words in halting sentences, for example “want … tea … sugar”.

It’s usually possible for others to understand your speech, but it may take time to say what you want to.

People with Broca’s aphasia may:

  • not be able to speak at all
  • have difficulties speaking or writing in full sentences and may only use one or two words.
  • speak with pauses or not be able to say the word they would like to say.
  • get words muddled up, for example saying “mum” instead of “daughter” or confuse “yes” and “no”
  • be able to describe an object, but not name it
  • only be able to say a few words, which may be linked to emotions and could be swear words.

If you have Broca’s aphasia, you may not be aware your speech isn’t as you intend, but you'll be aware you have a speech problem.

Wenicke's aphasia

Wernicke’s aphasia can occur when there is damage to the part of the temporal lobe responsible for understanding language (Wernicke’s area).

This type of ‘receptive aphasia’ affects language comprehension and the ability to produce meaningful language. You may have speech that sounds fluent and has a normal rhythm, but consists of ‘made-up’ words.

As a result, other people won’t be able to understand what you’re trying to say. You may also be unable to understand what others are saying.

A person with Wernicke’s aphasia may also:

  • not understand long sentences and forget the beginning of what has been said
  • have difficulty understanding if there’s background noise or several people speaking at once
  • be able to read headlines, but not the main body of the text
  • be able to write, but not read back what they have written.

In general, someone with Wernicke’s aphasia won’t be aware they have a problem with speech and language.

I didn’t want to stop talking and engaging with people, so I pushed myself to keep speaking to people, and, if I got something wrong, I’d ask for help

Oliver Highway

Read Oliver's story

Oliver Highway, diagnosed with a glioblastoma in 2012

"After surgery to debulk my brain tumour, I was told I had dysphasia (partial loss of my ability to speak and write), caused by the tumour and the surgery. I couldn’t remember words and often wrote gibberish. I had speech therapy and did improve, but it’s an ongoing effort to keep it at a good level.

"When your communication is affected, it can cause awkwardness and misunderstandings. I’ve learnt it helps to support the people you’re talking to. I pushed myself to keep speaking to people, and, if I got something wrong, I’d ask for help.

"I didn’t feel embarrassed because I started with friends first. This gave me confidence to speak to people when I went into town. And now I’ve also done speeches. If I forget a word, I ask the group to help and make it into a fun game.

"The most important thing I’ve learnt is to keep looking forward. Things might not go back to how they were, but the one thing you can do is crack on and be positive."

Join one of our Online Support Communities for more stories and tips about coping with a brain tumour diagnosis from people who know what you're going through.

What causes speech and language difficulties?

Location of tumour

Whether and how a brain tumour affects you will depend on where it is in the brain. Each section or lobe of the brain is responsible for different functions, some of which are involved in communication.

For example, the frontal lobe is involved in language production (how you express yourself) and the temporal lobe in understanding what others are saying to you and how your thought processes work. As a result, pressure from a tumour in one of these areas of the brain can affect your ability to speak and understand what others are saying.

Areas of the brain controlling language are generally found in the left hemisphere, so if this is where your tumour is, you're more likely to experience language and speech difficulties. However, in some cases they’re found in the right, for instance, with left-handed people. 

Because our brains are responsible for controlling the muscles needed to produce speech, a brain tumour can also cause difficulties with speaking by interrupting some signals being sent to the mouth.

Treatment

Neurosurgery can also affect speech and language if the area operated on is involved in communication. These changes may be temporary and reduce as you recover, but for some they can be permanent.

Back to the top

Coping with speech and language difficulties

When somebody experiences speech and language difficulties, it can have a significant emotional effect on them. It can be an extremely frustrating, embarrassing and isolating time, but there is support available.

One of the main resources available to you are speech & language therapists (SLTs). SLTs will work with you to identify the specific difficulties you're experiencing and develop strategies to help you cope better with them.

There are also lots of self-help techniques you can use to help you better manage your speech and language difficulties. These can also be used by friends and family members to make communication easier for everyone.

Find out more

Relationship support

Speech and language difficulties can place a huge amount of stress on even the healthiest relationship. In our Losing Myself report, 2 in 3 people said a brain tumour diagnosis had a negative impact on their relationship with their partner. 

By launching our free counselling service in partnership with Relate, we hope to support couples as they manage the extra strain on a relationship that can be caused by a brain tumour diagnosis.

Find out more

Back to the top

Join one of our our Online Support Communities for more tips about coping with a brain tumour diagnosis, from people who truly understand what you're going through.

Find out more

Get support

If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:

Support and Information Services

0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)

support@thebraintumourcharity.org

Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00

You can also join our active online community - Join our online support groups.