Language development in the third year

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

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 she knows all of the words you’re using. She still might have some trouble with directions when they use vocabulary she doesn’t know, or are asking her to do something she hasn’t done before, but she is learning more about the world every day. Soon, it’ll be a lot harder to stump her 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 she may have figured out the trick of combining those words into two-word phrases, by the end of the coming year, she 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 she still will, but she 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 she might start to gain more of an understanding of pronouns (like, “I,” “my,” “you,” “he,” or “she,”).

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

But what does it mean?

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

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