Expansions and Recasts

Expansions and Recasts

If you are the parent of a toddler, you probably are hearing a lot of what is referred to as “telegraphic speech.”  Those are two or three word phrases that leave out all the little unimportant words.  For instance, a two-year-old is likely to walk into the room and ask, “What doing?” instead of asking, “What are you doing?”

And if you are the parent of a preschooler, you probably are hearing a lot of what is referred to as “over-regularization.”  That is where the rules of grammar are applied to everything without regard for irregularities and exceptions.  For instance, a four-year-old is likely to say things like “My foots are cold” or “I rided my bike.”

Telegraphic speech and over-regularization are normal phases in language development.  However, mothers and fathers can assist their child to move past these phases more quickly and easily in very casual and informal fashion by using what are called “expansions” and “recasts.”

An expansion is where the parent takes the toddler’s two or three word phrase and expands it into a full sentence by filling in the missing pieces.  So if the toddler asks, “What doing?” the parent says, “What am I doing?”  A recast is where the parent repeats the preschooler’s improper statement but in grammatically correct form.  So if the preschooler says, “My foots are cold” the parent says, “Your feet are cold.”

It is important to remember that a child using telegraphic speech or engaging in over-regularization is actually demonstrating progress if not yet perfection in language development.  Consequently, casual and informal expansions and recasts rather than harsh criticism allow mothers and fathers to effectively enhance the process without running the risk of frustrating or demoralizing their child.


Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He may be contacted via e-mail at drmike@romproll.com.

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