Victory over Vocabulary
07 May 2020

Victory over Vocabulary

As parents, we want our children to succeed in school. We’d like them to be able to read, comprehend, and compose text with great fluency. All three of the above have one common denominator - words.

Words are important because they allow you to convert thoughts with precision and as well as using them efficiently and effectively to convey an idea to others.

The power of words has been expressed as seeming quite innocent and harmless in a dictionary but can quickly become whatever you want them to be if you know how to use them - be that for good or evil.

Words are the means by which we as human beings verbally communicate; they help us explain things that are not experienced via the physical senses. All of this, when done in a way that others understand, is crucial to our understanding.

The difference between using the right word and a word that is nearly right could cost you the whole essence of the conversation, or write-up as this could change the whole meaning and give rise to misunderstanding.

You might see great speakers and writers and feel they were born with a dictionary in their hand, then begin to think that is something your child would struggle to achieve. But that is hardly the case, as contrary to such beliefs, there are things that can be done to develop and nurture such skills not just in your child, but in all of us.

That said, how do we begin to instill this skill in our child. We have listed a few practices below for you to begin to implement with your child:

 Have regular talks with your child

Studies have shown that parents who have regular talks with their child in the first three years, can help increase their IQ by one-and-a-half times more than those who don’t. Now if that’s not incentive enough to get started with practice, I’m not sure I know what else is! Now you might be thinking, “Where on earth am I going to find the time to hold such ‘intellectual’ conversations with my child on such a regular basis?”

Well, the answer is, all the time, and this does not have to be a formal ‘sit-down’ with your child. This can be done any and everywhere and at any time.

Remember, the focus is to introduce new words into your child’s vocabulary. The more words your child knows, the more fluent your child will become. You could be doing the chores and you point out an object to your child - “Could you please pass me the duster, pull back the rug, sift the flour, etc.

If it is a baby, whenever you touch something, say the word to your baby. Skip the baby language and go for the real words from the get-go. As your child grows, involve him/ her in light conversation around the dinner table and anywhere else that it might take place. The words could be anything as long as it is a new word that is appropriate. It could also be a phrase. Your next step would be to discuss the word through with your child as it pertains to the concept in which it was used.

 Limit the number of words learned each time

In as much as you would like to pump enough words into your child to produce that great orator or writer in record time, these things take time. What you do not want to do is make the exercise into a chore for your child or make your child begin to think they feel a class session coming on each time you bring up a new word. You do need to pick your moments and make this an as casual affair as you can. Set a limit to the number of words or phrases you would like your child to learn each day/week. You might even decide to have a ‘word of the day’.

Incorporate the learned word into daily conversations

Just as it is in school when your child is given a list of spelling words to learn. Once they have learned (or crammed) them and regurgitated them back to the teacher during the test, they make no more reference to them. This can quite easily become the case at home if the words are not frequently used. On average, your child would need to engage with that new word between 4-10 times before he/she begins to use it. This means the word would have to be used in conversations at home where necessary. Children learn passively at times and will not always begin to use the word immediately, even when they understand it’s meaning. This does not however mean that the word hasn’t registered with them and it also does not mean you should discontinue using the word on them because they haven’t started using it back to you.

 Enhance the learning experience

If you are able to, it is always a great idea to not just verbally explain a word, but use other means possible e.g. images, gestures, situations, experiences, etc. This will help make the process more effective and speed up your child’s understanding of the word.

Also, encourage your child to say the word and possibly write it down as well, for spelling purposes. The more your child engages with the word, the more the word is likely to register with your child and the more confident your child will feel when using the word.

Read books with your child

As you read, discuss the different aspects and situations in the story, discuss words you feel your child might not know. Take your time when explaining and look for as many examples as possible to illustrate the meaning so your child fully understands the word. Such exercises should not be about the number of pages you get through as that is not the aim. You could also tie words in with other related words e.g. if you are discussing the word ‘polite’ you could talk about the other words that mean the same as well as the opposite. Stories could be themed so your child learns words around the theme in question. It goes without saying that reading should be a daily activity as this is one way to nurture not just the love of reading in your child but also his / her vocabulary skills.

 Don’t depend on the dictionary

The dictionary is the book with all the definitions in it, but this can very easily become quite confusing for your child if he/she has to continually grasp for the dictionary when they come across a word they would so much like to get to know better.

In the first instance, explain the word to your child in the simplest of terms, so he/she can understand it enough to be able to incorporate it into their daily conversations. The dictionary often has different variations and meanings of the same word, which is more helpful as your child gets older and begins to understand how to navigate that book. It is also important to teach your child how to understand the meaning of words as they are used within the text (or conversation); to understand the situation in order to have an idea of what the word might mean. This can then be noted, to be checked out in detail much later. This is so it doesn’t interfere with the reading/conversation flow.


Remember, new words are everywhere, so never pass up an opportunity to introduce a new word into your child’s vocabulary. This could be on the way to school, at the park, shopping, at the zoo, on holiday - the opportunities are endless.

A large vocabulary will help your child have a richer, more varied, and fulfilling life. This is something we all want for our children, so applying these suggested tips will certainly set your child on that path to a vocabulary-rich life.


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