What Is Telegraphic Speech for Children?

By Gaby Hernz
Child speaking with mother on grass field
Child speaking with mother on grass field

Telegraphic speech obtains its name from its concise and laconic nature. Much like a telegram, telegraphic speech mostly is limited to a noun and a verb and usually contains little to no grammar. It is characterized by using only the most essential words to get the point across, such as “dog running” instead of “the dog is running.”

The Telegraphic Speech Stage

Telegraphic speech is a common stage for children in the process of acquiring language. Approximately between the ages of 18 to 24 months, the average child will start speaking in two- to three-word sentences, which can be recognized as telegraphic speech. Most children will stop using telegraphic speech by age 3.

Parents' Use of Telegraphic Speech

Some parents use telegraphic speech when communicating with their children in the belief that speaking this way will help a child learn to speak faster because only the key words are used. Experts disagree, however. Telegraphic speech may hinder the child from learning proper grammar and word meaning, according to Marc Fey, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center. For example, when parents use grammatically correct sentences, a child can learn that words ending in "-ing" are usually verbs, which gives him the ability to make clear distinctions between verbs and nouns.

Leaving the Telegraphic Speech Stage

To encourage a child to leave the telegraphic speech stage, parents may want to repeat what their child says in a complete, grammatically correct sentence. The sentence does not need to be long and complicated. A short, simple phrase can help the child learn proper grammar. The Hanen Centre recommends this rule of thumb: Use only the sentences with your child that you would use with an adult.

After the Telegraphic Speech Stage

A child’s vocabulary dramatically increases after the telegraphic stage. On average, after 24 months, children begin using grammatical constructions of various kinds, such as adding "-ing" to verbs and using defined articles such as "the." Although it may seem that a child’s vocabulary is regressing after she leaves this stage, it is actually the contrary. Children begin learning new rules for grammar, which they tend to overgeneralize, thus leading them to make linguistic mistakes, such as the use of “-ed” for the past tense of verbs, even those that are irregular, and adding "s" to every plural. However, parents do not need to worry about these mistakes, as the children are going through a stage that generally passes after they learn and become more familiar with grammar rules. Repeating your child's sentence with a grammatically correct one will improve her linguistic abilities faster than if you do not correct her sentence.

About the Author

Gaby Hernandez has been writing biblical discourses and essays on religious topics since 1998. In 2008, she began writing articles on early human development and the difficulties of adolescence that were published on an online outlet. Hernandez holds a Bachelor of Arts in child and adolescent development from California State University, Northridge.