Vocabulary can be simply defined as the words a child knows and/or uses. It can be described in terms of:
Receptive Vocabulary -- the words an individual understands; and
Expressive Vocabulary -- the words an individual uses in language.
However, it is not only an issue of the number of words a child knows, but also his or her word knowledge.
Vocabulary knowledge base gives way to comprehension skills. As children build receptive and expressive vocabulary, they are strengthening their comprehension skills. Listening-comprehension abilities improve when children are read to, asked intriguing questions, given clear explanations, and encouraged to express ideas.
Consider these techniques:
- Personal Relevance: Try to relate new words and concepts to your child's life or interests (e.g., it's like when we saw ___, or like your toy ___).
- Categories: Teach your child to sort objects into meaningful, and flexible categories (e.g., one object might belong to a group because of its color, but also to another because of its size or other characteristic). Label each group (e.g., these are all animals, these are all red things).
- Associations: Talk about what "goes together" and "what doesn't belong", including the why element (e.g., they go together because they are both ___, or this one doesn't belong because it's not ___).
- Same & Different: At first, this is recognizing identical and non-identical items, but can be expanded into how things are the same in one way, but different in another way.
- Synonyms & Opposites: Understanding how concepts may have other descriptions, or be very far apart in meaning helps children to organize ideas.
I like to explain vocabulary knowledge as a kind of "filing" system. Consider what you do when you learn a new word -- you easily sort it into similar ideas, relevant groups, and things that it differs from, so that when you need to recall it, you can call up related ideas. For example, I learned what a Capybara is (largest rodent in the world, living primarily in South America, related to chinchillas, & guinea pigs). That parenthetical information helps me to retrieve the name of this animal, but probably, more importantly, I recall it by thinking of the time I learned about it because I was given a wallet made of its fur, from my best friend, from her travels as a flight attendant, and so on ...). You see how one word has many connections which then attribute to a person's available word knowledge.
Try some word games with your child today!
Dawn Gummersall, M.S., CCC-SLP