Your Child's Brain in Week 104
Of all the skills your child has acquired in the incredible last year, none may have been as astounding as his or her language development. Being able to communicate verbally with your toddler is one of your greatest parent triumphs yet—and there are exciting changes abound, even right now.
As your toddler approaches her second birthday, you're likely witnessing a language phenomenon: Say a word once in front of her—even something obscure or funny-sounding—and she's got it. She can instantaneously make connections between it and the other words she knows. In fact, this ability to learn and retain a new word after only minimal exposure is what researchers refer to as "fast mapping." It's a skill similar to being able to locate places on a map: At first, the task is difficult. But with practice, you're able to locate more and more places, ever quicker.
Fast-mapping lets toddlers create word and concept networks. When a child first hears a new word, his understanding of it may be incomplete. But even just one exposure is enough that he will recognize it the next time he hears it. Each subsequent time your child hears the word used, he acquires a better understanding of it as he hones in on its definition. In fact, the more he hears a word, the more likely he is to use it, himself. It's a pretty powerful skill, huh?
What the Research Shows
Researchers in one study showed toddlers an oddly-shaped white plastic ring and called it a "koob." Then they showed each child a pen and fork and asked the child to hide them. The researcher then asked the child to hide the koob, which most did successfully.
Next the researcher introduced two more unnamed, oddly-shaped plastic rings, one blue and one black, to the group of items, and asked for the koob. Most of the children—some just two years old—handed the researcher the white, oddly-shaped plastic ring. With just a single exposure to it, the majority of the children had picked up the word's meaning even though the only difference among the oddly shaped rings was their color.