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Inference, rather than instruction, can help toddlers learn new words

Having a toddler learning to speak is one of the most exciting parts of having kids, but new research suggests that children may benefit more if their parents take a hands off approach. Scientists from Penn State Brandywine found that toddlers may learn words more quickly when they figure them out for themselves rather than being instructed by their mother or father. 

The study, which was published recently in the journal Applied Developmental Science, looked at 48 children between 3 and 3 1/2 years old who learned new, made-up words for unfamiliar objects they were shown on the screen. In one period, they were told what the unknown object was called. Then, they were presented with two objects - one known and one unknown - and told to point to the previously unknown object. Interestingly, researchers found the children who relied on inference rather that direct instruction retained more of the new vocabulary. 

"When children are learning words and categories, it's important not only to learn what something is, but what it is not," developmental psychologist Jessica Horst told LiveScience.com.

While the study doesn't suggest that inference is the only way for children to learn new words, researchers say that the technique may be viewed as more of a game by young children. 

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