The ability to communicate clearly is one of the most important skills a human can learn. Have you ever judged a person based solely on the way they talk or the words they use? It’s unfair and inaccurate, and yet we subconsciously do it all the time. The way we speak reveals nothing about our intelligence, kindness, ethics, virtue, or says anything about the skills we may possess; and yet, if one is being interviewed for a job, an interviewer may choose one candidate over another based upon the way the applicants speak and the words they use.
Language—both spoken and written—is important, not only because it’s one of the indicators others use to form an opinion of us, but also because the ability to clearly and concisely communicate is crucial in everyday life. Byrdseed asks the meaning of the following sentence: He fed her cat food. Does it mean that a man fed a woman’s cat some food, or does it mean that a man fed a woman some food that was intended for cats?
One thing that increases clarity is a good vocabulary. The more words one has at their disposal, the more clearly and accurately one can speak or write. Often, knowing the right word means eliminating the confusion of many words. A sentence in the previous paragraph said, “…the ability to clearly and concisely communicate is crucial…”. But there’s one word that can replace seven of those nine words. The new sentence would say, “…perspicuity is crucial…”. One word replacing seven is a pretty good trade, although it’s not effective communication if no one knows what an obscure word like “perspicuity” means.
A good vocabulary has two purposes: It allows a speaker or writer to communicate with more precision, and it gives a listener or reader the ability to know more precisely what’s being communicated. To that end, parents can help children expand their vocabularies in ways kids will find fun.
Methods for teaching new words to your child differ according to age. Verywell Family has tips for building a pre-reader’s vocabulary, while methods for building the vocabulary of elementary school students would be completely different. Find the right vocabulary-building games, apps and techniques for your child’s age.
Here are five painless tips for parents of children in the earlier grades to build their child’s vocabulary:
- Talk to your children often and like they’re adults – Use words you’d use when talking to another adult, and stress to children that they should stop and ask questions whenever you use a word of which they don’t know the meaning. Try to interject no more than five new words per week, and then use those words in a variety of contexts. A child needs to hear a new word between 4 and 12 times before it becomes a permanent part of their vocabulary.
- Read aloud – Find books meant for your child’s age to read aloud, engaging in discussion often. Not only do books probably contain words your child doesn’t know, but when you stop and discuss, you can define unknown words and you can use them in a different context. Plus, you can add even more challenging vocabulary words while discussing the book being read.
- Let your child tell a story – Create a setting for your child’s story or let them do it all themselves. As your child speaks, introduce new words. For example, if they’re telling a story about pirates stranded on an island, and they say the island was really hot, ask if it was a tropical island, explaining what “tropical” means. If they say the pirate ship was big, tell them that it sounds enormous, again providing an opportunity to use and explain the meaning of the word “enormous.”
- Play word games – Learning disguised as game-playing always works with kids and, besides Scrabble, there are some great games to enhance your child’s vocabulary, including an interactive spelling pinball game that will keep kids mesmerized for hours.
- Be patient – Remember we said it takes 4-12 times for a word to become permanently embedded in a child’s brain, so there will be times they forget the word or its meaning. Impatience will give kids a negative association with learning new words, which could last a lifetime. Children all learn at their own pace, so give them time to absorb the new information they’re receiving.
The importance of a good vocabulary was revealed in the “Thirty Million Words” campaign which found that children born into poverty will hear 30 million fewer words by age three than their more affluent counterparts. The lag in learning, however, starts far earlier than the age of three; 18-month-olds living in poverty process language several months behind more advantaged kids. This deficiency can last a lifetime and may determine whether a child will get into college or what type of career they’ll have.
The words we use are the currency of the various social groups we encounter. Just as those in certain areas of expertise—doctors, lawyers, electricians, plumbers, accountants—all have their own jargon which they use to communicate, levels of society have the same method of communicating. The class system in America is based on how one speaks and writes. While this is unfair and is not a reflection of intelligence, it’s nonetheless the currency used in most job interviews; if you want to look smart, you have to sound smart.
To ensure your child has the best opportunities for success throughout their life, taking the time to instill a good vocabulary in a child is perhaps the best way to put your child on the path to a bright, satisfying, and successful future.