So in my last post, you read all about your child’s vocabulary and why it’s important. (If you haven’t read it yet, you can read it right here.) It’s not just the number of words that your child knows that’s important. Knowing lots of different types of words like nouns (bottle, dog), verbs (splashing, walking, eating), adjectives (hot, cold, red), prepositions (in, on, under), and adverbs (quickly, slowly) is important too. So how can you help make their vocabulary bigger and wider then? Here are 8 things you can do that are free, easy, and natural. Consistency is key so you’ll need to do these things regularly. These tips assume that your child is already using some single words and is beofre or around 24 months old. These tips apply no matter how many languages your child is learning. Don’t try to do these all at once! Pick one strategy and one situation where you’ll try it out. Once you have the hang of that, then you can try another one.
#1 Use a wide range of words yourself when talking with your child
Diverse types of words are important so that your child has words to combine into sentences. So when you’re talking about what they’re doing, use nouns and verbs, possession words like mine, and yours, prepositions like in and on. Words for feelings like tired, sad, happy, annoyed. And use specific words too. So want and do are called general all-purpose verbs because they’re quite vague and can be used to mean a wide range of things. That’s fine to start out with, but it’s better to have a wider range of more specific verbs in your vocabulary so that you can communicate more precisely. Also remember to keep your own sentences grammatical too. They don’t have to be very long when your child is at the one word or two word stage. Let’s swing is short but grammatical and children learn language from your intonation too. Statements tend to have a downward intonation at the end. But questions have an upward intonation. So the intonation is a clue for your child to learn grammar and the intention behind your words. Are you looking for information or making a comment?
#2 Use everyday opportunities to build vocabulary
This links in with # 1. Vocabulary building opportunities are everywhere once you know how to spot them. Routines are a great place to start. Think about the opportunities available at bath time:
Nouns: bath, water, fun, arm, leg, ankle, knee, thigh, bellybutton and all the bath toys!
Verbs: fill, empty, pour, splash, drink, swim, float, sink, sit, stand, lie, sing, blow, laugh, cry
Adjectives: hot, cold, wet, dry, soapy, bubbly, empty, full
Prepositions: up, down, in, out, high, low, under, on
Feelings: happy, funny, sad, annoyed, tired
Pronouns: my, mine, you, yours, his, hers
Then remember to incorporate a diverse range of word types into these routines.
#3 Talk about what they’re interested in
This is the most effective way to build your child’s vocabulary. It means being face to face with your child, tuning in to what they’re looking at and playing with. And then adding the language in with your comments. You don’t try to direct their attention to something else. Being face to face may mean you have to lie on the ground while they’re sitting so that you are at eye level.
# 4 Wait for them to take a turn
Building vocabulary is not just about you filling them up with words. It needs to be interactive. So if you make a comment, be sure to wait for them to take a turn. You can look at them expectantly to communicate that you’re waiting for their turn. If you feel the urge to jump in, count to five (or maybe ten!) and hold on! Their turn doesn’t always have to be a word. It depends on what you’ve said and their stage of development. It might be they wriggle around a bit to show they want more tickles or it could be that they point or nod their head or it could be a word or two words together.
#5 Use comments not questions
I wrote another post about this tip and you can read it here. Questions tend to kill conversation and aren’t communicative when you know the answer. So keep your focus on describing what’s happening.
#6 Repeat the words on different occasions and in different situtations
Word learning is complex and takes time. Your child needs to hear the same word many times so that they can store it in their mental dictionary. Once it’s stored, they can begin to use it. As adults we tend to seek out variety and novelty. Children seek out structure and repetition in order to learn. It may drive you mad at times but it’s what they need for language learning.
#7 Use gestures with your words
Gestures are a kind of forgotten aspect of communicating with infants and toddlers. They’re really powerful though for word learning. You’re most likely using them already in actions like waving hello and goodbye, pointing, doing the action for sleepy or rubbing your tummy to signal hunger. Facial expressions are good too for adding an extra sense of the word’s meaning and for engaging your child’s interest. So be animated but natural!
#8 Explain what words mean
When your child is age 2 onwards you can do this (or maybe before depending on your child- you’ll know best). So let’s say there’s a pedestrian crossing on your walk to your local park and you always cross the road there. You can tell your child: This is a pedestrian crossing. We’re pedestrians because we’re walking. Pedestrians walk. We can cross here. And so on. You can connect new words to their own experiences for example by saying something like: Remember we crossed at the traffic lights at the shop yesterday? There’s no pedestrian crossing there.
So there you have it. 8 natural and simple ways to build your toddler’s vocabulary. If you like this post, please pass it on to your friends. If you haven’t already, please be sure to sign up to get the posts delivered directly to your in-box.
Let’s get talking!