Child Development: When Should My Child Combine Words?
Milestones 5 min read

Child Development: When Should My Child Combine Words?

This blog will go over when typical children combine words and some activities you can do at home to assist your child with this goal.

Every parent wants to know when their child will be able to communicate effectively. It’s so much easier when they can tell you what they want, need or if anything is wrong. Please remember, child development happens at different rates.

If there is a syndrome, disorder or cognitive impairment, it will affect your child’s ability to learn and utilize language. 

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Language Development Process

Telegraphic speech refers to the two-word stage of language development. For example, your baby will say “Mommy See!” or “Baby Read!”

Telegraphic speech

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child should say his first word by 15 months of age. Another milestone that gets less attention, but is also important, is when children start to string word combinations together. 

When a child first starts to attempt this milestone, their combinations will be nouns and actions, such as “mommy go,” or “daddy up.” As their language skills develop and improve, they will start to include things like verbs (actions).

An example of this would be, “car go.” These combinations that include verbs are important as they set the stage for the child’s grammar skills to develop.  Children should be combining two words together by 24 months of age (Bright futures: Guidelines for health supervision of infants, children, and adolescents (3rd ed.). 

A recent study looked at children’s first words and first word combinations, and whether delays in either of these milestones predicted later language problems. Interestingly, children who were late to combine words were more at risk for future problems with language than children who were late with their first words (Journal of Early Intervention, 38 (1) 41 –58). This means that if your child is delayed in speaking, it’s not as important as when your child starts combining words. 

As a speech pathologist, I get a lot of questions from parents as their child develops through these stages and enters toddlerhood. Here are some frequently asked questions answered about child development!

Are “thank-you” and “night night” examples of word combinations?

Many children use these words early on and parents think that they are using two word combinations. However, these phrases are “chunked” and are memorized. This is different than learning two different words and combining them together. If your child is saying, “thank-you mom,” then that’s an example of combining two different words. 

My child uses a ton of single words. Is he ready to combine them?

Before a child can combine two words together, he must be able to:

1. Use a variety of words

In order to combine words, children need more than just nouns (names of people, places, things) in their vocabulary. Once children can use some early verbs (action words like “go”, “pour”, “give”), adjectives (words that describe like “hot”, “big”, “fast”) and/or prepositions (location words like “on”, “in”, “off”), they have the building blocks needed to combine words together. These words are typically developed between 18 months of age

2. Express two ideas

Before children express two ideas with two-word combinations, they can usually express two ideas by using a word and a “supplementary” gesture. Supplementary gestures add additional information to the word that is spoken. For example, when a child points to the cookie jar and says “Mommy”, his message has two ideas: he wants Mommy to give him a cookie.

Or when a child does an action for “big” with his arms while pointing to a large teddy bear, his message has two ideas: the bear is big. This shouldn’t be confused with the child’s use of gestures that match the meaning of his word (e.g. pointing to a cookie and saying “cookie”), as this only expresses one idea.

When a parent tells me that their child is using words more than just nouns, then that means their child is more than likely, ready to start combining words into phrases. 

My child isn’t combining words, should I be concerned?

If your child is 24 months or older and  not combining words, it’s important to talk to your pediatrician and get a referral for a speech-language pathologist. They will assess your child’s skills and development to determine if speech therapy is warranted. 

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5 Ways to Help Your Child Combine Words Together

1. Follow your child’s lead

Children need practice and repetition when it comes to sending and receiving verbal messages. In order to encourage voluntary communication, you need to follow your child’s lead and see what he/she is doing.

Wait for him/her to send you a message and give them a chance to respond before jumping right in. Make sure you get down on his/her level and comment on everything he/she is doing. 

2. Emphasize a variety of words

When you play and interact with your child, emphasize new words that are based on his interests at that moment. Use actions and your voice to make these new words stand out.

Think about highlighting words other than just nouns, such as simple verbs (e.g. “stop”, “push”, “wash”), adjectives (e.g. “small”, “soft”, “cold”), and prepositions (e.g. “in”, “on”, “down”, “up”). Verbs are especially important for building early sentences and for the development of children’s grammar skills. Play with a teddy bear to model the words!

3. Model short, grammatical sentences

Even though children’s first word combinations lack proper grammar (e.g. “go car”, “want juice”, “me up”), it’s important that you provide your child with models that are grammatically correct. This means you shouldn’t imitate his poor grammar and vocabulary.

Make sure you are talking to them in short, simple phrases, but using correct grammar. This helps your child understand how words are used together and what the words mean. For example, if your child says “go car” when he is getting in the car, you can say “You are going in the car”. Or if your child says “want juice”, you could say “You want some juice”.

4. Expand your child’s words

You can expand your child’s language by using his single word in a short sentence. If your child says “fast” while pushing a car, you can turn that into a little sentence like “The car is fast!”. Or if he smiles while eating a cookie and says “cookie”, you can say “It’s a yummy cookie”.

5. Add gestures to your words

When you use gestures while you speak, it shows your child how to use gestures and words at the same time. This will prepare your child for using supplementary gestures.

Send Questions to Speech Blubs

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The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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