Vocabulary in literacy

When your child’s teacher or speech pathologist is talking about ‘vocabulary’ they are simply referring to the words that your child knows or uses. It is interesting to know that vocabulary growth is closely linked to a child’s overall school achievement. The size of your child’s vocabulary in kindergarten is a strong predictor of their ability to learn to read. As your child learns to read, they learn to ‘decode’ or sound out words, but they also must understand what these words mean to make sense of what they have just read.  It is important to encourage your child’s vocabulary development so that they develop the language and literacy skills necessary to succeed in school. Young children are brilliant word learners. In fact, between 12 to 18 months of age children learn on average 10 new words a day if they are exposed to a large number of words in their homes.

You are probably wondering…how do THEY do this? Current literature suggests that young children between the ages of 12-24 months benefit from exposure to lots of words (i.e. quantity of words), whereas children between the ages of 24-36 months benefit from hearing a spread of more sophisticated words (i.e. quality of words). A child’s vocabulary growth does not stop once they learn to talk. Vocabulary continues to develop throughout schooling and your child’s entire life through reading.

Now you are probably wondering….how do WE do this? The adults in a child’s life play a significant role in helping a child learn new words. Children predominantly learn new vocabulary by hearing adults use them, through play, interactions, conversations and stories read aloud to them. Parents and caregiver’s use unfamiliar words and talk about what the words mean, which helps expand a child’s vocabulary.

Here are some tips and strategies to support your child’s vocabulary development:

  • Read story books aloud often and explain the meaning of new words as they arise. It may be helpful to first ask your child if they have heard the word before and if they know what it means. Add more information to the definition that they provide you with.
  • Build word knowledge around themes. For example, clothing, food, transport etc.
  • Walk around the house and find things that ‘go together’. For example, knife and fork, shoes and socks etc.

It is important to remember that it’s not just how much you say, but also what you say and how you say it that makes a difference for your child’s vocabulary growth. Keeping one step ahead of your child will promote his vocabulary skills, and set him on the path for a successful schooling experience.

Written by Jenna Mottin, Senior SLP and Co-owner of TalkHQ

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