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Joining words together

BY: Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe

There are many milestones that bring joy to parents once their child reaches them. These milestones include neck control, sitting, crawling, walking and saying their first words.

It is such a joy when a child begins to speak-one of the major milestones in a child’s development. Children begin understanding language before using it.

These first words are often made up of names of people such as ‘mama’, ‘dada’, ‘Kofi’ or that of their favourite toys or fruit such as car, ball, apple and banana.

A child needs to build their vocabulary before beginning to combine or join them into phrases and sentences.

Children usually begin to put words together when they have approximately 35-50 words. A helpful thing to do if your child’s vocabulary is not up to this number is to try and focus on increasing their vocabulary first rather than on joining words.

Children also need to know words from different categories to be able to combine words and these will include nouns (names of people, animals, items/objects – Mama, Dada, ball, dog, cat), verbs (action words – kick, run, jump) and adjectives (describing words – tall, short, green).

Although the exact communication milestones for Ghanaian children are quite unclear, it is estimated that the number of vocabulary per age may not be hugely different from that of other children in other parts of the world though the vocabulary will vary.

Once they are able to combine words together, they are able to use their language to express themselves in different ways.

Ways to help

• Expansion – expand your child’s language by adding to what they say. For example, if your child says ‘water’ to request for water, you can expand it by saying “Want water”.

If a child says “ball”, you can expand it by saying “Kicking ball” or “Big ball”. If they should say “Big ball”, you can expand it and say “Big green ball". You can keep adding to what your child says.

• Offering choices – Children learn language through choice-making. Modelling language when offering children choices provide them the opportunity to hear and understand language. Model two-word combinations for your child when offering them two choices; for example, green bowl or red bowl?

• Gestures – Gestures can also be used to help children combine words. Using gestures with words help children to understand language. For example, shape your hand like a cup and gesture drinking from it whilst saying “drink water”.

• Modelling – Initially when children begin to combine words, they may not follow the structure of the language. For example, your child may say “Mama, water”. You can model the word combinations correctly for your child by saying “Mama, I want water”. This way your child will learn what the correct form is with time through modelling.

• Repetitions – Children learn a lot through repetitions. They need to hear the word combinations several times before beginning to use them. Make it a habit to expand, offer choices, use gestures or repeat what the correct model is whenever there is the opportunity to do so. The more these strategies are used, the more the child learns how to combine words and begin making more meaningful expressions verbally.

If you are concerned with your child’s difficulty combining words, it might be helpful seeing a speech and language therapist who is trained to help children with such difficulties; the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome.

The writer is Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor,
University of Ghana.
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