It’s an incredibly exciting milestone when your baby starts putting two words together, like “kitty tired.” But, there’s also a lot going on in that busy brain that’s more than just short phrases and cute baby talk. He’s starting to develop crucial language skills that will help him express his feelings and understanding of the world around him.
Enter telegraphic speech, which toddlers start to develop between 18 and 24 months. Here’s what you need to know about telegraphic speech and its role in speech and language development.
What is Telegraphic Speech?
Telegraphic speech is a fancy name for two-word sentences. You can think of it like a telegram, which uses simple phrases to get a message across quickly. When your toddler uses telegraphic speech, he’s using only the most necessary words to tell you what he needs, sees, or is thinking, like “I hungry.” His sentences will usually contain a noun (“I”) and a verb (“hungry”), or an adjective and a noun, like “more play.” Although the phrases are short, there’s a lot of meaning packed into them.
Before he started using telegraphic speech, your baby was likely making repetitive noises, like “ma ma ma,” and then began forming words, like “mommy.” Telegraphic speech is the phase when your toddler starts to understand that he can say more when he uses more words. In most cases, you’ll begin to see this type of speech disappear around age three when he will start to add more words to make short, grammatically correct, sentences, like “I am hungry.”
Why is Telegraphic Speech Important for Development?
Telegraphic speech is a significant step in the evolution of your toddler’s speech and communication skills. Here’s why it’s so important:
He’s learning to communicate his thoughts and feelings.
Imagine not being able to tell others how you feel or what you need. It can be frustrating for little ones who don’t quite have the language skills required to explain what they see or want to do. As soon as your toddler can start forming telegraphic phrases, he can communicate more effectively than he can with one-word expressions. That’s huge for developing brains!
He’s learning how to form a sentence.
Listen to your toddler’s two-word sentences. Something as simple as “bug fly” says a lot. You know what he means because he puts the words in the right spots and uses a subject and a verb. In other words, he already understands how to construct a sentence. All he needs now is to figure out what other words can fill in the blanks to make a full sentence, which will come in time with your support.
It’s a stepping stone for more advanced grammar.
When your toddler starts forming two-word sentences, he’s gearing himself up for the next step in language development. Within the next year or so, you should begin to notice him adding more words to his sentences to make them clearer. They may not be grammatically correct just yet but rest assured that he’s trying!
Supporting Your Toddler’s Next Steps in Language Development
Between 24 and 36 months, your toddler should start transitioning to using more words in his sentences. You can help him further his language skills by:
- Adding onto what he says rather than correcting his grammar. For example, he might say, “I drive truck,” and you can respond, “Oh, I see! You’re driving the truck!” He’ll start to catch on to using more words and correct endings for clarity.
- Using correct grammar with your toddler. Although he’s speaking telegraphically, you’ll want to respond using full sentences. His receptive language will pick up on everything you’re saying, even if he’s not able to mimic it yet.
- Reading age-appropriate books with your toddler (our BabySparks program has lots of tips for reading with your little one!). Look for ones with eye-catching pictures and a full sentence or two on each page. Talk with him about what he sees on the pages and what’s happening in the story.
With your support, your toddler should move on to bigger and better things in speech development as he gets closer to preschool age. Keep the conversations flowing during play, mealtimes, shopping trips, and any other opportunities throughout the day.