The Comprehension Boost in Early Word Learning: Older Infants Are Better Learners
© 2020 Society for Research in Child Development Recent research has revealed that infants begin understanding words at around 6 months. After that, infants’ comprehension vocabulary increases gradually in a linear way over 8–18 months, according to data from parental checklists. In contrast, infants’ word comprehension improves robustly, qualitatively, and in a nonlinear way just after their first birthday, according to data from studies on spoken word comprehension. In this review, I integrate observational and experimental data to explain these divergent results. I argue that infants’ comprehension boost is not well-explained by changes in their language input for common words, but rather by proposing that they learn to take better advantage of relatively stable input data. Next, I propose potentially complementary theoretical accounts of what makes older infants better learners. Finally, I suggest how the research community can expand our empirical base in this understudied area, and why doing so will inform our knowledge about child development.
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