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Why Vocabulary is Important and How to Build It

Why is lexicon important? Research has indicated that children with larger vocabularies have higher school achievement in general (Smith, 1941, cited in Beck, McKeown, and Kucan, 2002) and higher reading achievement in particular (Anderson and Freebody,1981; Graves, 1986; Stahl, 1998). Additionally, people with larger vocabularies have been shown to have higher IQs (Bell, Lassiter, Matthews, and Hutchinson, 2001; Hodapp, and Gerken, 1999)! The amount of different words a child uses is important because it determines how, and how effectively, a child communicates. If your child only uses a few true words, then they are likely using gestures (pointing or reaching) to chiefly communicate. In regards to an older child, they may become frustrated if they are not able to communicate a message in the way that they prefer. By increasing a child’s vernacular, you are enabling them to communicate more effectively.

Did you notice how many different words you can use to talk about vocabulary? The same is true for just about anything you can dream up to yak, converse, or chat about!

Read below for tips on how to build and broaden your child’s vocabulary:

For younger children

  • Label: When playing or interacting with objects during the day, provide a label for your child. If they reach forhow to build your child's vocabulary an object, give them a word for it! “Milk. Oh, you want milk?!”
  • Vary the input: Rather than saying “ball” every time, add in an adjective with it. Say “my ball”, “blue ball”, or “Daddy’s ball” to encourage a growth of vocabulary.
  • Puzzles and books: Puzzles and books are great tools for learning new words, especially for vocabulary that your child does not come in contact with every day. Do you remember how you learned about exotic animals? Unless you grew up outside of the US, I’ll bet it was through pictures and books!

For older children

  • Describe: Practice learning words by describing items. How does it feel? What does it look like? What does it do? By answering these questions, your child will learn new words and new ways to talk about things.
  • Label: Provide the word for new and unfamiliar objects. Discuss what it’s used for, where you might find it, and who might use it. Tell your child a sentence that uses the word appropriately and/or gives your child more information about it. Then see if they can expand it, and make a sentence of their own.
  • Encourage reading: Nothing builds a child’s vocabulary like increased exposure! Being exposed to words during reading not only introduces new words but also gives contexts and clues for the child to decipher the word meaning on their own.

Have a little one? Here are 5 ways to build your baby’s language throughout the day.


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References: Duke, Nell K., & Moses, Annie M. (Date of publication). 10 Research-tested ways to build children’s vocabulary. Retreived from http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/readingline/pdfs/ProfessionalPaper.pdf