When babies learn to talk, they usually say their first individual words around 12 months of age on average. It generally takes another six months before the baby can say two or three words together. When young babies learn the written language, a similar pattern should be expected. It is likely that babies will take many months after reading their first words before they are reading most two- or three-word phrases.

Even when toddlers can recognize many individual words, they are often overwhelmed if there are many words in a sentence – especially if the words are close together. It is helpful to provide a transition from reading individual words to reading long sentences and eventually books by having interim steps along the way, such as reading two- and three-word phrases. Initially, it is easier when you combine words with which the child is familiar for these phrases.

In the Your Baby Can Learn videos we have two-word couplets included in Volume 1 so that your child will be introduced to two-word couplets and looking at words from left to right. We include “arms up” and “arms down” as well as the word “arm.” We also include “look up” and “look down” to increase the likelihood of generalizing any learning.

Activities for this Milestone

You can show your child the word Write down some two- and three-word phrases as you are playing with your child. Many babies and toddlers enjoy playing matching games with words and objects. For instance, if you have cups that are red, blue, and yellow, you could write down: “red,” “blue,” “yellow,” and “cup,” so you can form the words “red cup,” “blue cup,” and “yellow cup.” First, review the individual words a few times by saying the words as you point to them. For the color words, have many objects that are those colors to show the individual meanings of those words. For example, to show what “red” means, you could have the red cup, a red apple, a piece of red construction paper, and a red sock. Say “red” as you point under the word from left to right, then quickly point out and talk about the red objects. Do the same for blue and yellow. Next, play matching games where you ask your child to place the words “red cup,” “blue cup,” and “yellow cup” by the respective cups. Do this with many different words and the corresponding objects.

Write out numerous short phrases that are related to your child’s interests. If your child is playing with toy keys, then write out “toy keys.” If your child is looking at a hot air balloon, then write out those words. Point just below the words from left to right as you say them. If your child is not familiar with the individual words, then you may want to write out the words individually as well and demonstrate and/or describe the meaning of each word.

Young children who watch our videos will see the words “wave” and “hand,” making “wave your hand” a good choice for a three-word phrase. You could also use “clap your hands,” “kick your feet,” “touch your nose,” “tap one foot,” “touch one arm,” “wave two hands,” and other combinations of mostly familiar words. Have fun and act out each phrase. Encourage your baby to do the same.

The Infant Learning Company has many products that have two-word couplets or three- or four-word phrases including some of the Milestone Cards and on some of our new Lift-the-Flap Language Cards. In addition, Volumes 3-5 of the videos include more phrases. We also include many phrases in our Teaching Cards and our new Shape Bias Language Cards.

Additional Tips

When you are reading books that have many words on the same page, please realize that this is likely too many words for new readers. With these books, read the books for the love or joy of reading instead of using the books to help teach reading. If you want to use books to help your child learn to read phrases, then find books that have only two or three words per page for children who can read some words. It should be even easier for the child to learn the first words when they are isolated.

Initially, point just below each individual word as you are reading them more slowly than usual. Once your child can read at least 50 words, slide your finger under the words as you say them more naturally. Next, teach your child to point to the words while you are reading the books. You can also take turns reading the words with your child to help the transition from reading individual words to short phrases.

Learning one area of language often helps the learning of other areas of language. Preschoolers will not likely take as long between reading their first words to reading short phrases because they can already talk. In the preschoolers’ cases, knowing how to talk in phrases and sentences should help the child put words together more easily when reading. On the other hand, extremely young children who are able to read two- or three-word phrases may be able to say the words together earlier than if they did not have the written words to assist them.


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