When should my child use phrases?

Exploring the process of language development in young children​

What is a speech delay?

Children across all cultures follow a very similar developmental process. Sometimes this process gets disrupted and intervention is needed; we call this a “speech delay.”

How old are children when the they start using phrases?

Most children begin imitating two and three-word phrases between the ages of 18 and 21 months of age and then begin to use phrases on their own shortly after.

“My child mostly uses only one word to communicate. He can repeat back two-word phrases that I say to him but he won’t use it on his own. Why is this?”

Children usually go through a precise process of having to imitate words and phrases first, and then use them in memorizing patterns. Only after those steps can they start creating new phrases using a variety of words on their own. Ensure that you are encouraging your child in that process and not panicking when they are only using memorized phrases and imitating your phrases but not yet creating new phrases. They need to master that imitation, and then their brains are ready to start the latest step.

Expanding a child’s vocabulary is critical. I believe that it is even more important than the phrase level. So you might be hearing your child say things like “thank you,” “all done,” and “snack time” but find they aren’t using the individual words like “snack” and “time” independently. This is because they’ve memorized the phrase “snack time,” so, for them, the phrase is one unit in their mind rather than two individual words that have been combined. This is normal and a significant step because it means your child can produce those sound combinations in succession. Even though they’ve simply memorized the phrase together and can’t separate the words yet, that’s okay. Eventually, they should learn those individual words and their meaning.

I want to encourage you not to panic. Allow your child to go through memorizing phrases, imitating, and then creating new phrases. Don’t push them too much. Start teaching them two-word phrases, let them master that, and then move to three-word phrases. Praise them as they are doing their best. They’re going to make mistakes and will pronounce things wrong, but that’s to be expected. Be sure to praise and reward them as things happen. They will typically create independent, new phrases at some point, and this will occur as your child is ready.

Disclaimer: This information is meant for general education and not to diagnose. 

How old are children when the they start using phrases?

Check out Jeff and Heather’s story. Their parents of a 17-month-old and found help through my online course.

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