Language development in the third year

Your toddler is like the brooding hero of an action movie – they hear and understands more than they say – yes, even if they are a little chatterbox already. Any good story has character development, though, and Baby’s character is developing more and more every day. As their third year of learning their first language goes on, they are going to keep understanding more and more, but more than that, they are going to get a lot more serious about responding to the things they hear.

Receptive language

By the second year, toddlers generally understand most of what their parents say to them, and that understanding is only increasing every day. At this point, your toddler probably is able to understand and follow simple, one- and two-step sets of directions, as long as they know all of the words you’re using. They still might have some trouble with directions when they use vocabulary they doesn’t know, or are asking them to do something they hasn’t done before, but they are learning more about the world every day. Soon, it’ll be a lot harder to stump them with your vocabulary, so if you want to still be able to, you’d better get that thesaurus ready.

Active language

Get ready for a great leap forward – Baby’s vocabulary, which may be hovering around 50 words right now, will probably double over the course of the next year. And while they may have figured out the trick of combining those words into two-word phrases, by the end of the coming year, they may be using three- or more-word sentences. It’s not just the sentences that are going to grow, though, it’s also the types of words that are in them.

Your toddler’s vocabulary, has probably been a lot of nouns up until now (like “car,” “dog,” “spoon,” or “milk,”), and they still will, but they will also start to branch out into some verbs (like “go,” “talk,” “play,” or “run,”), and even some adjective (like “big,” “hot,” or even “scary.”) It’s also around this time that they might start to gain more of an understanding of pronouns (like, “I,” “my,” “you,” “he,” or “she,”).

They might start to be able to use words to locate things, too, whether that means locating dinner as “after” naptime, or their favorite toy dog as “under” the table. They also might start to have a better understanding of concepts of amount, which you might see most of when they decide they want “more.” 

But what does it mean?

Aside from the fact that they can understand the world better, and make themself understood to you better, your toddler’s growing language skills show a lot about the way their mind is developing as they grow. For example, their ability to use pronouns, even early on, when they might not be too good at it, says that they are strong in their understanding of themself as a person who is separate from their parents. More than that, using pronouns like “he” and “she” means that they have noticed that the people in their world are divided up into the categories of male and female, and that they are starting to understand what the rules of those divisions are – even if they doesn’t always get it right yet. 

When they talk about people or objects that aren’t with them right now, it’s a sign of their growing memory and their ability to make connections between the present and the past. You might also start to notice that, when they talk, they sound a little like your partner, or like you! They may pick up your inflections, the way you talk, and even your attitudes about things. Their fast-growing language skills are just one way to keep an eye on all the things they are learning from you. 

  • Raising Children Network. “Language development: 2-3 years.” Raising Children. Raising Children Network, February 1 2016. Retrieved June 15 2017.
  • “Important Milestones: Your Child By Two Years.” CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 16 2016. Retrieved June 15 2017.
  • “Language Development: 2 Year Olds.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved June 15 2017. 

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