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Recommended reading Combining words Stages: 19 to 24 months

During this stage a toddler’s language development will make noticeable progress. They are both increasing what they understand (receptive language) and what they can say (expressive language). Their understanding will move from mainly nouns like ‘cat’, ‘ball’ and ‘inu’, to some verbs like ‘jump’, ‘noho’ and ‘oma’, and then some adjectives like ‘nui’, ‘little’ and ‘red’. They will understand many commonly used phrases too, like ‘Homai te kihi’, ‘Sit down’ and ‘That’s hot’.

Before they begin to combine words, children will need an expressive vocabulary of at least 35 to 50 words. These need to be words they use on their own rather than imitating words from the whānau. Here are some examples of combinations they might use: ‘daddy shoe’, ‘dog go’ and ‘potae upoko’.

Plurals or joining words like ‘the’ or ‘is’ will be missing in these 2-word sentences. The initial combinations are likely to be mainly nouns and some verbs (‘cat drink’ and ‘truck go’). These 2-word combinations may also come with gestures — for example, ‘mum come’ with a beckoning hand.

During this stage parents may hear more types of speech. Their toddler’s language shows they understand:

  • social norms, by saying ‘bye bye’ or ‘kia ora’
  • asking words, using questions or requests such as such as ‘please’ and ‘more?’
  • action words like ‘drink’, ‘moe’, ‘jump’ and ‘push’
  • pronouns, that can take the place of a noun, such as ‘you’, ‘ahau’, ‘he’ and ‘mine’ — especially mine!
  • prepositions related to where things are, such as ‘up’, ‘roto’, ‘out’, ‘runga’ and ‘here’
  • negatives like ‘kao’, ‘no’, and then later ‘don’t’ and ‘can’t’
  • adjectives (describing words) like ‘big’, ‘makariri’, ‘little’ and ‘hot’
  • adverbs such as ‘fast’ and ‘slow’.

When parents respond to their toddler’s word combinations like ‘ice bock yum’ by using fuller sentences (‘you like that red ice block don’t you’) they are modelling how words can be combined even more. This is called stretch talk. When children use made up words like ‘Dad goed rugby’, rather than correcting them, whānau can encourage their learning by responding with the right version — ‘yes Dad’s gone to rugby training’.

Here are some other ways parents and whānau can help their toddler’s language development.

  • Watch what they’re interested in and talk about it with them.
  • Respond to their 1-word requests like ‘juice’ with ‘You’d like a drink of juice?’
  • Sing songs and rhymes with them until they can sing them on their own.
  • Give them time to respond and try not to finish their attempts for them.
  • Read to them regularly from the books they want.
  • Teach them the names of their body parts.
  • Play animal sound games with them.
  • Give them choices, such as ‘Blue shoes or red jandals?’
  • Try repeating instructions in a different way to help their understanding.
  • Think about ‘tone of voice’. Is it questioning or affirming?

Further information

  • Communication development: By 2 years

  http://www.kidshealth.org.nz/communication-development-2-years

  • Developing early speech and language skills

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq_ePRpxcys

  • Speech sound development

  http://www.kidshealth.org.nz/speech-sound-development

  • Tips on learning to talk — From 15 to 18 months

  https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/301-tips-on-learning-to-talk#chapter-216

  • Toddler language development — Boys Town Pediatrics

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nD4UZgKp5oc

  • Toddler talking milestones

  http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/reading-language/reading-milestones/toddler-language-development-milestones/toddler-talking/

  • Your toddler’s development

  https://www.plunket.org.nz/your-child/1-2-years/development/

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