Beyond Words: Help Your Child Combine Words and Make Sentences

It’s an exciting time when your child first begins to speak. Saying their first words is a major milestone in your child’s development. It paves the way to the development of speech and language and better communication between you and your child.

In order for this communication to develop, your child needs to be able to say individual words to build up their vocabulary. It’s only once children have done this that they can begin to combine words together. This is where the real communication begins!

Is Your Child Ready to Combine Words Together?

Your child should start joining two words together at the age of 18-24 months. But in order for your child to combine words, they first need to understand and recall what certain words mean.

Children need to have a 35-50 word vocabulary that they can use spontaneously before they can begin to combine words. If your child’s vocabulary is not that size, then the first thing you need to do before combining words is to increase their single-word vocabulary. You can do this by using a variety of flash-cards, books, and apps designed for expanding your child’s vocabulary. Speech Blubs includes over 1,500 videos of kids and interactive activities designed just for that.

You might not be sure whether your child’s vocabulary and language development are age-appropriate. Therefore, our free screener is the ideal tool to use for early recognition of language delay. Our report with its actionable steps can guide you on what to do next if you suspect your child has a language delay. If you don’t have the app, you can download the app from the App Store (https://apple.co/2UJcddR) or Google Play (https://bit.ly/2QyYTKX).

Your child’s first word combinations are used to express two ideas using any two words (e.g. “Mommy up” when they want to be held). As your child progresses, their word combinations should start to include verbs, which are very important for their grammar skills to develop.

Additionally, having a vocabulary of words from different grammatical categories is needed for your child to sensibly combine words. Based on this, your child must be able to do the following things in order to successfully combine two words together:

Use a Variety of Words

To combine words and start saying meaningful sentences, your child needs to have a vocabulary that allows them to do so. Children learn nouns first (names of people, places, and things), but in order for them to construct meaningful sentences they need to use:

  • Verbs (go, run, jump)
  • Adjectives (big, fast, pretty)
  • Prepositions (in, on, under) 

As they get older, they should also start using:

  • Social words (hello, bye-bye, hi)
  • Requesting words (please, more, again)
  • Early pronouns (me, mine, you)
  • Negation (no, can’t, don’t)

Express Two Ideas

Before your child can verbally express two ideas, they need to be able to express two ideas by using a word and a “supplementary gesture.” A supplementary gesture adds additional information to the word that they have spoken. A good example is your child getting your attention by saying “Mommy” or “Daddy” and then pointing to a toy that they can’t reach. Your child’s message has two ideas:

  1. To get your attention
  2. To get you to give them their toy

If your child is able to do this, then they are ready to combine two words together verbally.

IMPORTANT! Words like “thank you” and “night night” don’t count as two-word combinations. They are memorized by your child as a single “chunk” of language that they can’t break up to combine with other words.

Here’s How You Can Help

You will be able to help your child combine words together and move up towards saying full sentences by using the following techniques as much as possible:

Expansion

You can expand your child’s language and demonstrate two-word combinations during a play or flash-card activity by taking the single word that they have said (e.g. “cow”) and adding another word to it (e.g. “brown cow”). When you want to start making your way up to sentences, you can continue to add words to what your child has already said (e.g. “big brown cow,” “the big brown cow,” “the big brown cow is eating”).

A great video that demonstrates this process

Gesture

Use gestures while you speak to help your child understand what you are saying and to show them how they can use gestures and words at the same time. This will encourage them to use “supplementary gestures” that assist with understanding (e.g. “more water?” whilst you shape your hand like a cup and mime drinking from it).

Choices

You can say two-word combinations to your child when you are giving them a choice between different things. This aids their understanding, and hearing you use two-word combinations will encourage them to make their own two-word combinations (e.g. “more food?” “no food?”). You can then add words onto these combinations to make longer sentences (e.g. “want more food?” “no more food?”).

The power of choices and gestures as learning tools

Emphasis

Emphasize the most important words in your sentences. The best way to do this is to play with your child and emphasize new words that are based on the current activity and their interests. You can do this by using actions and changing your tone of voice to make these new words stand out. This is a good chance for you to model and for your child to copy you, so make sure you highlight a variety of words. 

As your child gets older and begins to say longer sentences, you can then emphasize word and sentence boundaries to encourage correct sentence formulation and grammar development. 

If you find your child is struggling or is overwhelmed at first, teach them through categorization and daily routines, as this will assist them with understanding what you are talking about (e.g. If your child can’t remember the names of all animals you are playing with, separate the animals into categories of “farm animals” or “wild animals” or even “sea animals” and “land animals). 

Our app is great for the development of categorization skills, which helps children learn from other kids in a fun way that they find rewarding.  If you don’t have the app, you can download the app from the App Store (https://apple.co/2UJcddR) or Google Play (https://bit.ly/2QyYTKX). 

Modeling

Your child’s initial word combinations will lack proper grammar. This is alright, but to help them learn correct grammar to combine more words together, you need to provide your child with models that are grammatically correct. Kids models in Speech Blubs app are a good example.

This will help your child learn how words are used and what they mean (e.g. your child says “Mommy toy” you can say “you want your toy”). You can then add words onto these combinations to make longer sentences (e.g. “you want your fluffy cow toy).

A simple modeling technique

Simple Sentences

Be sure to start off with short, simple sentences when you model for your child. This will ensure that they understand you which makes them more likely to copy you. If your child struggles, you can prompt them as to what to say or even provide a “script” so that you can cue them when to speak. Additionally, adapt your language input to your child’s level of attention and comprehension. Be specific with your labeling, otherwise, your child will become confused.

If you’d like to find out more about how prompting and cueing is used in speech therapy you can read this article. 

Repetition

When it comes to new words and word combinations, your child will need to hear them many times before they will begin to use themselves. Make sure to always respond to your child’s communication attempts and explain why you are correcting what they are saying if they are old enough to understand. Make sure to always provide examples of correct grammar.

Some Fun Activities to Get You Started

You and your child can take turns pretending to be a police officer and tell each other what to do (e.g. “pat head,” “jump up,” “sit down”)

Play a “washing toy” game and encourage your child to choose a toy that they can wash and describe what is being washed while they do it (e.g. “wash face,” “wash legs,” “wash hands”). You can even do this activity with your child during bath time.

Make a “gone box” where you cut a hole in a cardboard box and let your child put objects through it. Your child must name the object as it disappears and say “gone” (e.g. “spoon gone,” “brush gone,” “doll gone”)

Use the words your child already knows and show them how two words can be joined together (e.g. “more” + “food” = “more food,” “pink” + “block” = “pink block,” “Mommy” + “gone” = “Mommy gone”)

Add one word to what your child already said in a spontaneous speech to show them “real-time” two-word combinations which they must then repeat (e.g. Your child says “juice” and you say “want juice” or “you want juice”)

Giving your child two-word combination examples during daily routines is a great way to teach your child how to combine words. Such daily routines include meal times, playing games, getting ready for the day, and bedtime (E.g. “your spoon,” “kick ball,” “brush teeth,” “light off”)

Encourage your child throughout the day, especially during daily routines and playtime. Try and make him use two words instead of one by asking “what are you doing?” and “what is happening?” You can then help them formulate an appropriate response related to these objects and events. This targets their reasoning and storytelling abilities as well 

Ensure that you engage your child in cognitive activities such as building puzzles and reading books. These activities directly correspond to the development of language skills and can help your child progress faster

Remember, our free screener is the ideal tool to use for early recognition of language delay. And our report with its actionable steps can guide you on what to do next if you suspect your child has a language delay. If you don’t have the app, you can download the app from the App Store (https://apple.co/2UJcddR) or Google Play (https://bit.ly/2QyYTKX). For more information about the app visit www.speechblubs.com or write to us. Know that you have an ally in Speech Blubs! And that our biggest success is seeing your child achieve their greatest potential. 

“My two year old had it for less than a week and he’s already saying more”

Mariah C., Mom

DOWNLOAD APP FOR FREE