Word knowledge is critical to language development.  Children who have a better vocabulary are often able to think more deeply, express themselves better, and learn new things more quickly.


They are also very likely to be successful not only learning to read, but also in reading at or above grade level throughout their school years.


Vocabulary develops in two ways:

  1. Quantity or number of words
  2. Quality or depth of words


Both aspects of vocabulary development are critical to the ability to use, act on, and expand children’s language knowledge base.


 Improve your child’s vocabulary in the following ways:


1. Interact with your child in order to expose him to language

The more words a child hears, the more words he will learn and use.

Have conversations with your child about things in his environment. Describe colours and features of things in the supermarket, shopping centres and school. The streets around us in Johannesburg are one big building site and the opportunity to teach new vocabulary such as “cement mixer, cranes, scaffolding, pneumatic drill, bulldozer etc. is waiting to be seized upon.

If you “think aloud” or talk to your child about what you are doing and why, you will be inviting him into some wonderful language-building chats.



2.  Create Opportunities for Repeated exposure to new vocabulary

 Children initially develop a quick, partial understanding of a word’s meaning. For example, children may initially learn the word “doggy” and then refer to all 4 legged animals as “doggy.” This happens because it is initially difficult for the child to understand which specific aspects of “dog” to attend to in order to differentiate it from other four legged animals. Each context that the child encounters the word may offer addition information about the word’s meaning and allow the child to develop full and flexible knowledge about the word.


3.  Read Aloud

Reading books aloud introduces children to new vocabulary in meaningful contexts.

Children’s books tend to contain a high proportion of advanced vocabulary.  Both the illustrations and text provide clues to new word meanings.

Put as much expression as possible into your reading. When you come to a word that is sophisticated, draw it out. Take the word “scrumptious,” for example. Say it slowly as part of the sentence and then add a comment like, “Scrumptious. Hmm, that means really, really yummy. “Look at that cake! It really looks scrumptious.”


Story time


4. Embed new words in familiar contexts

Young children love patterns and routines, which enable them to successfully predict what will happen next and to experiment with variations of what they already know.

Introduce new words within familiar settings such as the bath-time routine or the kitchen. For example you can describe the bath water as being “tepid” or “luke-warm.” You can “whisk” eggs, “dice” onions or “drizzle” chocolate sauce.


5. Expose children to Intriguing Words

Children do not acquire words just because they hear them. Children learn new vocabulary if the words interest them. Young children love the sound of long and seemingly difficult words so don’t shy away from using words you think are over your child’s head; instead, use them as part of your natural conversation and children will gradually pick up on their meanings.


Research shows that children who reach school age with smaller vocabularies, less depth in prior knowledge and background experiences, and fewer experiences with hearing stories and exploring with print are more likely to have significant problems in learning to read. We know now that if we boost children’s language and literacy experiences early in life, later difficulties can be alleviated or even avoided.


The good news is that in the absence of other variables,  vocabulary deficits are fundamentally more receptive to intervention   than most other difficulties.

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