First sentences

You were really excited when your little one said their first word, but now what? When will they start to learn more words and say their first sentence? We take a look at typical first sentences and encouraging language development.
You were really excited when your little one said their first word, but now what?

When will they start to learn more words and say their first sentence?

You might expect that after their first word, their vocabulary will start to increase in leaps and bounds. Yet progress over the next few months can seem surprisingly slow.

If your toddler said their first word when they were one, they will typically only use 30-50 other words 6 months later.

However, by the time they reach 18 months there’s a ‘word explosion’ as they acquire an average of 6 new words a day.

When their vocabulary reaches 100 words, they will start to talk in phases and short sentences.

Typical first sentences

Your toddler’s first sentences are likely to be:
  • Short. They will move from single words to 2 or 3 words. By the age of 2, their sentences will include 4 or 5 words, and by the time they are 2 ½ they will be using around 10 words.
  • Telegraphic. Just as telegrams use only essential words and miss out smaller ones, your toddler will talk in a similar way. They might say, “Me want ball”, instead of, “I want the ball.”
  • Rule-based. You can predict, for example, that they’ll say “Mummy chair” when they mean to say, “That’s Mummy’s chair”, because their sentence structure follows basic rules.

Saying what they are thinking

Between your toddler’s 2nd and 3rd birthdays, what they say in sentences becomes much closer to what they are thinking.

For instance, the might include lots of smaller words such as ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘my’ and ‘am’. They then start to use plurals, past tenses, prepositions and other minor grammatical structures.

Instead of just nouns and verbs, your toddler will begin to speak with a broad range of grammatical structures, making their speech more closely resemble yours.

Your toddler will also start to use inflections, so for example, raising their voice at the end of a phrase to indicate a question.

Making mistakes

Expect your toddler to make plenty of mistakes while they improve their speech and language.

Sometimes, they may mix words up, get confused, mispronounce initial letter sounds, and even make up words that they’ve never heard you use.

Remember not to correct your toddler when they make these sorts of mistakes, or they may become unnecessarily anxious, resulting in a reluctance to speak. If you emphasise minor errors, they may think, “I’ll just keep quiet rather than be told off again.”

A more effective strategy is to say the correct words and phrases yourself, as if you’re agreeing with them rather than pointing out their mistake.

For example if they watch a bird fly away and says, “Birdie flowed way” you could say, “Yes, that’s right. The bird has flown away.”

Encouraging sentences & language development

  • React to your toddler’s sentences - look at your toddler when they talk to you, and try to make an appropriate response. They thrive on your attention.
  • Use a toy telephone - encourage imaginary conversations on a toy telephone, such as ‘phoning’ their grandparents or best friend.
  • Vary your speech - use alternative words for a concept, for instance, ‘large’ instead of ‘big’, ‘tasty’ for ‘nice’. They’ll instinctively start to use these words themself.

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