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Developing Your Child’s Vocabulary

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Most parents start worrying about their child’s vocabulary when they start nearing Primary 6 and PSLE. They will notice that English exams start focusing more on questioning vocabulary. Then there’s panic, because how can you learn vocabulary quickly? How do you know what vocabulary is going to be asked in an exam? You can’t just learn the dictionary and reams of vocabulary!  There is no quick solution to learning vocabulary. But, vocabulary can be learned at any age.

Ideally, the younger you start learning vocabulary the better. It sets the foundation and will help your child academically. Children who have an extensive vocabulary find it easier to read. Vocabulary improves decoding skills when reading, which improves reading fluency and your child’s overall reading level. The more words you know the better your reading comprehension will be. Obviously, the more you understand what you are reading, the more you will enjoy reading. This will also more likely improve your writing skills. With stronger reading and writing skills, students are more likely to achieve better grades. There is no doubt, that a strong foundation in vocabulary is essential for academic achievement. Children learn vocabulary through all of their senses, but specifically by listening and seeing and through lots of practice and repetition.

From a young age, speak to your child. Surround them by words. Baby talk is fine, but balance it with real talk. Your child learns from what you model. If you use certain words to express yourself, your child will learn your words and expression. Engage your child in conversation, ask questions and encourage them to answer.  I always smile in the grocery stores when I see mothers questioning their children, pointing out vegetables, fruit, meat and fish and asking what they are called. Brilliant! Children love naming things, so encourage them to do it. It bothers me when I hear parents repeating the same things over and over, “Don’t do that”, “Put that down”, “Shh”. By limiting their conversation with their child, they are limiting their child’s ability to learn.

Read aloud to your child as much as you can. Hearing those words will help your child with pronunciation. Stories explain the word, put it in a context and repeat it so that it becomes ingrained in memory. But, make sure that you ask questions to check for comprehension, to share ideas and hear what your child thinks.

Use CDs, story or song CDs repeat words in a fun and light way and are perfect for language learning. Children love singing, and they learn lyrics far faster than adults do. When you hear them singing a word that you’re sure they don’t know the meaning of, explain the meaning. They will remember the word and its meaning because of the fun context that they learned it.

As adults we tend to use the same vocabulary, and your child will learn the same vocabulary that you know. But, if you expose your child to different stimuli, they will pick up words from other people’s vocabulary. They learn from TV programmes, school, teachers and peers. Expose your child to a variety of different stimuli.

Read, read and read! Encourage reading as much as you can. From an early age create a love of reading through storytelling. Encourage a variety of books, most children get attached to a certain character and that’s fine. But keep exposing your child to a variety of books in addition to the books that they just keep on wanting to read.

The more we read and the better we read, the more natural it is to ignore words we don’t understand, we glance over the word, because it doesn’t seem important to the understanding of the story. But, by doing that we lose the possibility of learning a new word. A word which actually could change the meaning of an entire sentence or even a story. Teach your child the skills to use a dictionary and thesaurus. So that when they are reading and they don’t recognize or understand a word, then it becomes second nature to pick up the dictionary and use it. It’s not easy, but work on getting your child into the habit of keeping their own word book, when they learn a new word they write it down with a brief definition.

Help your child to understand prefixes, roots and suffixes. Once you know some of these, then you can decode more words, every time you see ‘sub’ you know it means under.

Children learn through repetition. Repetition visually, orally and aurally.  But, you can do this through loads of fun and games. Play games like Pictionary, scrabble, boggle, crosswords, word jumbles and anagrams. In the beginning they may seem a little difficult, but play these games according to your child’s age and level, and let them win a bit, just to encourage them to keep on playing. Children love suduko, and before sudoko there were crosswords. But find crosswords that are level-appropriate.

Work on your child’s vocabulary before they reach Primary 6. Vocabulary learning should be a healthy habit that we should all be doing. I don’t think language learning ever stops, there are so many words, so many beautiful words that we can learn to enhance the way we speak and the way we write. An extensive vocabulary will help your child to communicate and to achieve.

Jeanette Buckley
Former Principal



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