Becoming A Speech-Language Pathologist: Education, Duties, Salary

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what it takes to become a speech language pathologist and the career opportunities you can pursue in this rewarding profession.

[Featured image] A speech language pathologist works with a patient in a clinic.

Becoming a speech-language pathologist typically requires a master’s degree in speech-language pathology and a passing score on a licensure exam. Some provinces require registration with a regulatory body and membership in the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.

As a speech-language pathologist, you’ll work with individuals who struggle with communication, speaking, listening, or hearing. You may also work with people who have swallowing disorders. A speech-language pathologist diagnoses and treats patients. Your salary will vary by where you work, your location, your years of experience, and any certifications you earn. 

What exactly is speech-language pathology?

Speech-language pathology is the study of disorders in human communication as well as all of the various ways that humans communicate. Researchers in the field aim to discover effective treatment methods for communication and oral motor disorders involving the mouth and throat. These disorders can affect a person's ability to pronounce words correctly, share ideas, follow generally accepted conversation rules, organize thoughts, and more. Some people are born with a speech-language disorder, while others may result from an external trigger like a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or autism spectrum disorder. 

What does a speech-language pathologist do day-to-day?

Speech-language pathologists diagnose, assess, develop, and execute individualized treatment plans for people experiencing communication problems involving speech and language or swallowing disorders that affect the ability to eat and drink properly. 

These health care professionals work with individuals who suffer from language or speech problems and swallowing disorders. A speech-language pathologist may work with various age groups, from newborns to the elderly. They may also work with a wide range of speech, language, and swallowing/feeding disorders that may result from developmental delay, physical deformation, cognitive disorders, injury, illness, aging, or mental/emotional disorders. 

Identify speech, language, or swallowing difficulties.

A large part of what a speech-language pathologist does is identifying and diagnosing speech, language, and swallowing difficulties. A speech-language pathologist may use informal methods like observation, interviewing, or completing analog tasks to identify speech and language disorders and problems. Sometimes, they use formal tools and techniques that may involve standardized assessments, such as the Cognitive Linguistic Quick Test or the Monroe-Sherman test.

The speech pathologist will choose their method based on a person’s age, cultural background and values, and the severity of the concerns in question. Most speech-language pathologists begin with an initial assessment that involves a blend of testing and evaluation of voice quality and a physical examination of the mouth. 

Swallowing disorders may be caused by neurological disorders, stroke, and even dental problems. Speech-language pathologists can help identify and treat swallowing difficulties by physically examining the muscles used for swallowing. This examination usually involves the patient performing specific movements and swallowing substances to assess their swallowing ability. 

Provide treatment options

After identifying the problem and offering a diagnosis, a speech-language pathologist puts together a treatment plan. But how does a speech-language pathologist know what will work for treating the condition and the individual? A speech-language pathologist works with people regularly, often working through difficult situations where a person may become frustrated. You must know your clients and understand the best methods and approaches to help them. 

Evidence-based practice (EBP) is the act of making informed and evidence-based decisions using your knowledge as a trained professional and the best practices found in published studies and research. You also may consider individual observations you’ve conducted and the cultural values and expectations of your client and their families or caregivers. When a speech-language pathologist develops a treatment plan, it’s best to use EBP to create a program that is mindful of the patient's needs and all the options to help that patient reach their goal. 

Help individuals cope with speech disorders.

Speech disorders can be a frustrating experience. People who suffer from communication disorders may experience social anxiety, loneliness, problems at work, embarrassment, and even depression. This means that those with language and speech disorders may need additional support beyond a plan of treatment to deal with the frustration and setbacks they may experience.

Speech-language pathologists may act as counselors when working with patients who become overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, or angry. Their work can include helping patients with the communication disorder's thoughts, behaviors, and reactions. Some ways a speech-language pathologist can help individuals cope with speech disorders include: 

  • Help your patient find a counselor or therapist with experience helping people with speech disorders.

  • Create a relaxed environment when working with the patient.

  • Inform the family and caregivers on helpful ways to communicate with your patient (i.e., don’t interrupt, reduce background noise, and ask them what would be helpful).

  • When a patient becomes frustrated, use restating and reflection. Repeat what the patient says back to you and try to clarify with the patient what they mean and how you can help.

  • Try to identify negative thoughts when working with your patient and tease them out to discuss their validity.

  • Refer your patient to peer groups or support groups in your area.

  • Teach self-advocacy skills so patients can better communicate their needs and feel more confident.

Teach people how to build and maintain fluency. 

People who struggle with stuttering or similar problems have trouble speaking smoothly at a normal rate of speed, also known as fluency. Sometimes, patients who have suffered a stroke or have some other neurological condition may also have trouble with fluency. 

Speech-language pathologists may use breathing exercises, syllable stretching, and strategies like speaking in shorter sentences to help their patients speak confidently and avoid hesitations and filler words in conversation. 

Essential skills of a speech-language pathologist (SLP)

Speech-language pathologists must possess several critical skills, including active listening and compassion. These health care professionals work with people from different backgrounds, ages, and differing needs or disorders. Some essential speech-language pathologist qualifications include:

  • Enthusiasm

  • Compassion

  • Active listening

  • Critical thinking

  • Decision-making

  • Adaptability

  • Leadership

  • Creativity

  • Verbal and written communication

  • Time management

  • Dependability

  • Teaching

Education and licensing requirements

To become a speech-language pathologist, you must have a master’s degree in speech pathology. Licensing varies depending on the province where you choose to work. 

Bachelor's degree in a related field

Your first step to becoming a speech-language pathologist is to earn your bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Many universities also require the completion of four to six prerequisites in child development, linguistics, phonetics, human physiology, life science, social science, statistics/research design, and psychology.

Master's in speech-language pathology

As part of your master’s program, you can expect to learn evidence-based treatments and methodology for communication disorders and swallowing disorders, cognitive aspects of communication, speech sound production, and the ability to detect abnormal human development. Not all master’s degree programs in speech-language pathology are accredited, so check with the Council for Accreditation of Canadian University Programs in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology for the schools you’re interested in attending.

Passing examinations in speech-language pathology

You may need to pass the Praxis exam in speech-language pathology to gain licensure and earn any certifications post-graduate school. This exam is crucial as it allows you to demonstrate proficiency in critical technical skills needed to be an effective speech pathologist. 

To be eligible to take the exam, you must have graduated from a master’s program in speech pathology.  Score requirements may vary by province.

The Canadian Entry-to-Practice (CETP) Examinations for audiology and speech-language pathology may also be required. Speech-language & Audiology Canada (SAC) administers the exam, and exam eligibility is determined by province.

Professional licensing 

A license is required to practice as a speech-language pathologist in Canada in the provinces of New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Some provinces require membership in the national association, the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists, as a condition of licensure.

Getting started with your career

When you’re ready to start your career as a speech-language pathologist, find a mentor in a work environment where you see yourself working. If you need help deciding where you’d like to work as a speech-language pathologist, who you’d like to work with, or what disorders you want to focus on, consider networking with people in the field and researching your options. Building relationships early in your career has many benefits. 

Get clinical experience

Clinical experience can be an invaluable tool for helping you aim your career trajectory as a speech-language pathologist. This experience acts as a bridge from student to professional. Take full advantage of this experience. Choose a mentor in a similar area you want to work as a speech pathologist. If you plan to work with children, look for school clinical experiences. If you're going to work with neurological disorders or people recovering from a stroke, look for opportunities in hospitals or nursing homes.   

Network with people in the field

Networking with people in speech pathology can be an effective way to find employment, learn more about the field, and create relationships with like-minded professionals who may help you get your career started. You can network through social media or LinkedIn, attend networking events and conferences, or reach out via email or other means of communication. Professional speech-language pathology groups also offer meet-ups either online or in person. 

How much does a speech-language pathologist earn?

As of May 2024, a speech-language pathologist working in Canada earns a median hourly salary of $43.59 [1]. Factors like certifications, location, work schedule, and the employer will affect a speech-language pathologist’s salary.

Average wages by location

What you can expect to earn varies from province to province. In some areas, you may earn more than the national average. The following are the median wages per hour in various locations [1]:

  • Alberta: $52.58

  • Saskatchewan: $50.00

  • Ontario: $43.59

  • Newfoundland and Labrador: $45.00

  • British Columbia: $43.50

  • New Brunswick: $44.63

  • Quebec: $44.00

Job outlook

According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, the job outlook for speech-language pathologists over the next three years is good. Employment growth and retirement will contribute to the need for more speech-language pathologists [2].

Next steps to becoming a speech-language pathologist

Take the next steps to become a speech-language pathologist by researching the profession and finding out what you’d like to do within the field. Do you want to work with children? Senior citizens? Stroke survivors? As you earn your formal education as a prospective speech pathologist, consider enrolling in courses that may help you learn more about the field and your options. 

On Coursera, you’ll find courses specifically designed for future and current professionals in language and audiology, like Voice Disorders: What Patients and Professionals Need to Know or Introduction to Hearing Loss. Be proactive and learn as much as you can, whether in the middle of your journey to becoming a speech-language pathologist or just getting started. 

Article sources


Government of Canada Job Bank. “Speech Therapist in Canada,” Accessed May 21, 2024.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.