How do toddlers develop complex language skills so quickly?

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The language acquisition process in toddlers typically begins at 18 months and, by the third birthday (at different rates), children are almost expected to know at least 2,000 words and utterances approximately.

There are several factors that enable toddlers to acquire language at great speed. 

  • Low Affective Filter- under a safe environment and good parenting, toddlers are naturally stress-free, motivated, and energetic. This motivation is what entices them to interact with everything around them, and to explore and exchange ideas. The more they interact the more connections of sound and meaning they make. 
  • Repetition- social learning theorists such as Albert Bandura affirm that through imitation and repetition the cognitive process inherent to language processing become optimal. Again, the more they interact, the more they repeat and the sound/meaning connections more to their long term memory
  • Brain cells/dendrites- being that they are so young, toddlers have faster neurological impulses going through their dendrites than cognitively-challenged adults. A higher number of brain cells combined with closer synapses (spacing) between stimulating impulses speed up the process of making connections and building schema.
  • Sensory experimentation- toddlers tend to test everything they see. What they see, they want to taste, bite, throw, sometimes even hit themselves with it. This is a basic, raw categorization process that ultimately helps in the imprinting needed to hold new vocabulary. When they compare realia to the real items that toys are supposed to represent, they make even further connections as they engage in higher thinking processes. 

Yet, perhaps it is the fact that toddlers are often tended to with such loving care in functional homes that it is no wonder that they feel hungry for interaction with the loving world around them. This is why you see more issues with language processing and cognition in homes that are chaotic and dysfunctional.