Telegraphic Speech Examples and Activities

Published December 9, 2019
Little boy with "Be Wild" text

Normal toddler speech development includes a type of speech called telegraphic speech. Through examples and activities using telegraphic speech, you can better understand and encourage infant language development with your child.

What Is Telegraphic Speech?

Anything telegraphic is by definition either brief or related to a message sent by telegraph. Telegraphic speech is talking or writing in a brief way similar to original telegraph messages, or telegrams, where your sentences only include the most important elements. Typically, these sentences contain only two words that are either a noun and verb or adjective and noun.

What Age Is the Telegraphic Stage?

Baby development from 12 to 24 months and toddler development from 2 to 3 years can vary widely from child to child. Some kids between 16 and 18 months of age will start using telegraphic speech, but it's most common of children between 18 and 24 months. From age 24 months to 30 months, you'll start to see kids move from two-word telegraphic speech to three-word telegraphic speech. This telegraphic stage of language development doesn't last long and serves as the bridge between understanding individual words and stringing more words together to form traditional sentences.

Features of Telegraphic Speech

  • Only includes the most important content words
  • Omits function words including determiners, conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, auxiliary verbs, modals, qualifiers, and question words
  • Doesn't include plural words like those ending in -ing or -s
  • Words are typically in the proper order

Examples of Telegraphic Speech and Sentences

A telegraphic phrase, or telegraphic sentence, typically includes two to four words that are only nouns and verbs. If you've ever heard toddlers talk, you've heard some of these examples before:

  • Daddy go
  • Me do
  • Shoe on
  • I hungry
  • My blankie
  • Brother off
  • Where doggie
  • More snack
  • TV on
  • Look, bird
  • Grandma house now
  • No lay down
  • I put on
  • Mommy go bye bye

Telegraphic Activities for Toddlers

Using tips for toddler language development, you can participate in a variety of activities and games with your toddler that will engage them in telegraphic speech and help them move beyond this stage. While it's okay for kids to speak this way as they learn to put two or more words together, adults should use proper grammar when engaging in telegraphic speech activities.

Coloring Conversations

Grab a coloring book or download a printable coloring page to use. Look for an image that includes separate elements such as an outer space coloring page featuring an alien, a spaceship, and stars. As your child colors, ask a question like "What color will that star be?" If your child answers with a telegraphic phrase, offer praise. If they only answer with one word such as "Blue," you can say something like "That star is blue." in response.

Telegraphic Story Questions

As you're reading a picture book with your child, take time to stop and ask questions. This helps engage them in the story and learn more about language. Use telegraphic questions to encourage your toddler to provide telegraphic answers. For example, after reading a page about a boy who runs you might ask "Who runs?" If your child answers "boy runs" or even "I run," you can offer praise. If they don't answer with a telegraphic phrase, you can share an answer like "The boy runs." As you read, they'll get the hang of the activity.

Mother Reading to Her Son

Whose What? Game

Play a fun family matching game at home to help your child learn to speak in telegraphic sentences.

  1. Gather a bunch of photos of individual family members or pets living in your house and put them in a pile.
  2. Fill a bin or box with items that belong to each of these individuals and place the box next to the photos.
  3. Pull one item out of the box and ask "Whose (insert item name)?" For example, if you pulled out a toothbrush you'd say "Whose toothbrush?"
  4. Prompt your child to select the photograph of the person the toothbrush belongs to and respond to the question by saying "Mommy's toothbrush."

Follow the Leader Copycat

Get active with an easy follow the leader game where the followers have to copy the leader in actions and speech.

  1. As you walk, point or touch something and describe it using a telegraphic phrase. For example, touch a photo of your child and say "My baby."
  2. On your child's turn, he gets to be the leader and you have to copy what he says and does.
  3. On each of your successive turns, add a few more words to your sentences to help your child see how their speech should grow.

Understanding Telegraphic Speech

While you may not have heard the term "telegraphic speech" before, you've probably heard a little kid talking in this way. Putting two words together in the proper order to make an understandable demand or request is one step in learning to talk, read, and write. When you understand this type of speech, you can help your little one use it as a tool for communication.

Telegraphic Speech Examples and Activities