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Cognitive Development: Language Development Continued

Angela Oswalt, MSW

As toddlers enter their second year, their ability to use language becomes more obvious. They continue to acquire words and to increase the number of words they understand. They learn words that are significant or important to them, such as the names of favorite toys and people. At this point, toddlers use holophrastic speech, which is when they use a single word with an emotional emphasis to express a complete thought, question, or request. For example, "Bubba!" could mean, "Can you hand me my stuffed dog, Bubba?" or "I'm glad I have my stuffed dog Bubba with me for my nap," or "I'm so upset because it's time for bedtime and I don't have Bubba." Toddlers also overextend words. They may use one word to identify many different objects, even though the toddlers understand the difference between the objects. For example, they may call all furry creatures "cat," even though they can point out different animals in a picture when asked. The word "cat" may be the only word they can verbalize for a furry animal.

During the last half of the second year, toddlers' ability to use language becomes even more sophisticated. Between ages 18 to 24 months, toddlers begin putting 2 to 3 words together to form simple phrases, called telegraphic speech. Most often, they use nouns, verbs, and some adjectives, omitting more sophisticated parts of speech such as articles, pronouns, helping verbs, and prepositions. Their sentences are extremely simple and basic. Along with this, toddlers begin naming their body parts and talking about them and other internal feelings. For example, they will say "Tummy hurts," or "Me sad." This example shows how toddlers begin labeling themselves and their possessions "me" and "mine," and may be able to call themselves by their own name by age 2 years. Toddlers' vocabularies continue to grow gradually. Toddlers may know somewhere around 50 words by 20 months and over a hundred words by 24 months. However, they may not be able to pronounce all their words perfectly, as they are still developing and perfecting their ability to form certain sounds. During this stage, toddlers may be difficult to understand, especially for non-caretakers.

Young childhood is a sensitive time for language acquisition. Research has shown that young children are better able to learn multiple languages or languages other than their family's primary language. Their growing brains enable them to learn a wide variety of meanings, words, and language structures. This ability diminishes as children get older; it is often very difficult for an adult to become fluent in another language. It is important that young children get plenty of exposure to language, such as hearing people speak around them and to them, since that is what models these early communication skills. Babies who are deprived of verbal communication during this period may have extreme difficulties catching up in later years, although it's not impossible. It's important for parents' to have their children's hearing checked at birth and throughout young childhood, to ensure they are able to collect the auditory communications around them or begin learning alternate communication techniques if necessary.

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