How do kids learn new vocabulary? What is the best way to nurture vocabulary development? I’ve always had a strong interest in building vocabulary and the role it plays in becoming a proficient reader and writer. Over the years, I have researched vocabulary development in-depth. I’m a big fan of the work of Isabel Beck, the author of Bringing Words to Life, in which she writes about vocabulary development and instruction.
My son would be considered a later talker by some. He didn’t say more than five words until he was 26 months old. Then, we were reading Cars, Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry one day and my son said, “flat tire” on the page where all the cars and trucks run over nails. I was a bit stunned and quite amused. From that day on he spoke in two-word phrases quickly progressing to short sentences.
I’d say from the beginning that about 90% of what he said to me was clear from the start. So, what exactly has my 2 year-old taught me?
1. Vocabulary acquisition starts long before we can articulate it through reading, speech or writing. It starts with listening. We read all of the time in our house. Each time we read to kids we are planting the seeds of new vocabulary. Little ones love to have a book read over and over again. This works out great for vocabulary development because we need to hear new words over and over again until they become our own.
2. Once we acquire a new word we have to practice it. My son loves the word “silly” right now. He likes to look for situations where he can associate the word with an event that is happening, a picture or something he hears. He is constantly look for opportunities to name the word in multiple contexts.
3. To help define the word, it helps to say what it is not. For example, my little one might say, “That’s not hard. That pillow isn’t hard. That’s silly (remember this is his fun word right now!).” Learning examples and non-examples helps to clarify the vocabulary word.
4. Conversations are one of the strongest ways to build vocabulary. I’m fortunate that I get to stay home with my boys and talk with them all day. Yes, it can be tiring. However, I love to hear about what they are thinking. Talking with kids is a super powerful way to increase vocabulary naturally.
Why is vocabulary so important?
Having a strong vocabulary aids in comprehension and word recognition. Watching a toddler acquire new vocabulary teaches us how any person can/should acquire new words.
So, please don’t have kids copy definitions of words or memorize definitions. Instead, help kids to connect new word/concepts with prior knowledge. Let them come up with definitions in their “own words”.
And most important- read, read, read!
For more information on vocabulary and some of my favorite vocabulary games see my post, Vivacious Vocabulary. You might also enjoy, Books to Get Kids Excited About Vocabulary. What fun activities do you do to help promote vocabulary?