Vocabulary represents a now critical skill in the modern world. Not only does it predict academic success, it has also proven inextricably related to intelligence quotient, or IQ. While people can certainly improve their vocabularies as adults, it is much, much easier to strengthen language skills when young.
As a parent, you should be thinking about how you can help your child develop their vocab skills now, no matter their age. Here are six ways to do just that:
1. Read to Them
The most important step you can take to improve your child’s vocabulary is to read to them. The more words they hear, the better off they are. Studies show that children in low-income homes hear up to 30 million fewer words than children in middle- or high-income households. This hinders them when they go to school, and often they are not able to overcome the deficit. Keep your children’s learning and vocabulary strong with a nightly reading habit.
2. Talk to Them Using Your Normal Vocabulary
Whether you’re discussing school with a preteen or explaining a new concept to a toddler, use words you would use with any adult. Kids learn language by figuring it out in context, both when reading and when speaking.
If you would use the words “adequate” or “acceptable” with an adult, don’t simplify to “fine.” For one thing, the definitions really aren’t the same. The former two words are much more nuanced than the latter, and the latter has other definitions that don’t align with the former (e.g. “a fine piece of bone china”).
For another thing, learning in context is an important skill out in the world, so using unfamiliar words is very helpful to vocabulary development and education in general.
3. Ask Them to Read to You
While reading to them is mentally a socially enriching pastime, you should also ask your children to read to you. It’s good practice once they’re literate. When pre-literate, they can use pictures to make up stories, and you can mirror their ideas back to them using more advanced language. They might say, “It’s a soft kitty,” and you might say, “Yes, it’s such a furry, fluffy kitty.” This expands their word bank in an organic, unforced way.
4. Play Word Games
Word games provide excellent structure for learning. Older kids can engage with you in Scrabble, Boggle or Apples to Apples. Younger children may benefit from a Listen & Find Word Search or from a tablet game such as Endless Alphabet, which expands vocabulary through letters, pictures and audio descriptions of each word.
5. Speak Together Often
Just as reading often is important, so is speaking often. Again, the more words your child hears, the better off they will be, so take time to have conversations with them in both structured and unstructured ways.
You might, for instance, make a habit of asking them about their day at the dinner table or playing Twenty Questions in the car. However, you should also make room in your day to speak to your child while prepping food, cleaning, walking or just sitting together and playing calmly.
6. Be Gentle When Correcting Mistakes
A son might tell his mother, “Mommy, I have a question. I love you.” The boy is trying to convey that he has a statement to make, and then he makes that statement. The proper response isn’t, “That’s not a question.” It’s more along the lines of, “I think what you mean is you’d like to make a statement that you love me, and I love you too.”
This works when children are older as well. If your teenager uses a word incorrectly in a sentence, it’s even more important to be gentle. You might say, “Do you mean [insert proper vocabulary word choice]? Okay, that makes sense. What does your word mean?” That way, they can explain what they think the word means, and you can either pretend to be educated by them or actually be educated by them. If they have that definition wrong as well, talk it through … again, gently.
At the end of the day, the most important factor in enriching a child’s vocabulary is to create an environment in which they feel free to explore language and are not afraid of reprimand. If you’d like to create a vocab-rich environment for your child, we would like to help you do so here at Vocabulary Zone.
Written by Greg Ragland, President, CEO of CommEdge LLC producers of Vocabulary Zone and the corresponding Vocabulary Certifications: College Preparedness, Ph.D. Vocabulary and Executive Level Vocabulary