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Math Trek

Calculating the Word Spurt

A simple mathematical argument explains why children suddenly learn lots of new words

By
3:21pm, August 14, 2007

When children first begin to talk, they learn perhaps a word or two a week. Then suddenly, at around 14 to 18 months, they seem to soak up new words like a sponge, learning as many as ten a day.

Child psychologists have long been puzzled by this dramatic acceleration, and they have developed a variety of theories to explain it. Some researchers have argued that as the brain develops, it reorganizes to become much more efficient at storing new words. Others have argued that babies are able to use their knowledge of a few words to deduce the meanings of other words.

Bob McMurray, a chil

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