A strong vocabulary is important for many reasons. For one, it could set the stage for a lasting love and talent for learning new things in theory. A solid knowledge of words also helps foster communication, understanding and the ability to read and enjoy. The power to understand a wide array of words covering different topics helps a child relate to and easily adapt to the word around them, which is a bonus. Also, a good stock of words help you succeed in academics and beyond. As children learn a lot from the adults in their lives, there are many ways in which you can help your child, nephew or niece learn new words.
Here are some tips to help your little one expand their vocabulary toolkit:
- Engage in Regular Conversation
Simply talk more with them and take the initiative to begin conversations frequently. Children tend to absorb everything they hear. For younger children like babies and toddlers, consider telling them your daily activities. These could be “Now, I’m going to do the laundry” or “I’m getting ready to go on an errand.” As they grow older, give them the chance to babble as much as they can and practice their newly learnt words on you.
2. Ensure Multiple Exposure
A child generally needs to hear a word 4 to 12 times before it is registered in their vocabulary. So, when you introduce your little one to a new word, keep a note of it and focus on using it again in your conversations. While you want to use the word in a variety of contexts, make sure it is applicable and not brought forth simply for the sake of it. Also, use words that you had focused on earlier as well since repeated exposure is an excellent way to master new words.
3. Link Words to Vivid Concepts
When you’re teaching new words, it is essential to help visualize them for better memory retention in your child. For example, show your child the object or a picture of it when introducing nouns. If it is an adjective, find things you can describe by using that word. With verbs, you could try acting out the word. That way, words become more than just letter of the alphabet. They are vivid or concrete concepts that they can associate with and remember more easily.
4. Practise Seeing, Saying and Writing
For your child to actually incorporate a new word in his vocabulary, they need to be able to read it properly, pronounce it and write it as well. If there is a new word they stumble upon while reading, encourage them to repeat the word after you say it. Similarly, if your child hears a new word during a conversation which is unfamiliar, spell it out and have them jot it down on a piece of paper so that they can see the word. You can keep aside a notepad for this purpose.
5. Read Everyday
Regular reading is one of the best ways to expose children to a richer vocabulary. Consider reading stories and other age-appropriate interesting information with your dear one. When you encounter a word unfamiliar to them, give them a quick, easy explanation and continue reading. Don’t make a big deal of the fact that it’s a new word but rather, take it in your stride. When you complete reading, go back to the word and ask them to recall the pronunciation and meaning. However, make sure you do it in a fun way so that it appears to be more of a game than actual learning.
6. Expose Them to New Words Everywhere
Enable your child to build their vocabulary by taking them to new places and giving exposure to new ideas. Take your child along to the grocery store, post office or bank and observe what new words they discover. A visit to the museum, zoo or neighbourhood park can also be great if you ask your child to name the various exhibits and animals they see. Taking them out to watch movies which are ideal for their age can also help in grasping and internalizing new words.
7. Allow Them to Tell a Story
It could be that you read every night to your child or engage in buddy reading (reading turn by turn). This is undoubtedly a fantastic way to develop reading and vocabulary skills. However, once in a while feel free to set aside the book or e-reader and request your child to create a story for you. You could provide the setting (for example, a forest) and a problem the characters face (for example, a hungry lion). If this appears to be too much of a struggle for them, ask them to narrate a well-known story or fairy tale. Compelling them to articulate their ideas will have them search for and use relevant words. And of course, you can help them with suggestions.
8. Handle Mistakes with Care
It is natural for kids to misuse new words or mispronounce them. However, do not reprimand them when they make such errors. Rather, appreciate your child’s effort, point out the part they got right and then show them the proper way to use or say the word. The more positive the experience, the more interested your child will be in casting their vocabulary net wider.
9. Play Word Games
What better way to learn new words and use existing vocabulary than in a word game? Make it a habit to play Scrabble or Bananagrams during the evenings after homework is done or in the weekends. It will not only make language-leaning fun and interactive but also allow you to spend quality time together. You could also download apps like Little Words, Word Stack and What’s the Word. This can make a few minutes of waiting in queue or riding in the car into an entertaining and educational event.
10. Loosen Your Bone
Many individuals view learning new vocabulary as a black and white experience – you either know a word or don’t. However, the truth is that expanding one’s vocabulary occurs on a sliding scale and not a beam balance. There are words which you comprehend when other people use them but never use yourself in everyday life. Then there are terms and words you use in everyday conversation. Again, there are words you have heard earlier but of which you don’t know the actual meaning. Kids go through a similarly grey experience when learning new words. So, avoid limiting yourself to using words that only your child knows and don’t fret if they do not use the same word as you do to refer to an item or object. Give them the time to figure out the meaning of and subtle differences between words without worrying about it too much.
If you want your child’s language skills to improve, take a proactive role yet lean to be patient. If your friend’s child has a much larger vocabulary than yours does, don’t stress over it. Remember that each one has their own learning pace it is not a contest. The most important thing is to value and balance your child’s needs so that learning does not appear to be a struggle. After all, you do not want them to get ahead at the cost of developing negative associations in the process. So, do your bit consistently and watch their vocabulary grow day by day.