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How to enrich your child's vocabulary

In normal development children learn language in a process known as “casual learning” meaning - there is no need for direct intervention in order to teach the meaning behind the words. The child is spontaneously aware of others speaking and therefore learns the meaning behind the sounds heard. For example: “Look Roy - there is a bird”. The child then looks in the direction the parent is pointing and understands that what he is looking at is in fact a “bird”.

Some children have suffer from a delay in the development of language and speech.

Such a delay can have many reasons:

  1. Bilingual parents

  2. Autism

  3. Developmental delay

  4. Specific language delay

  5. Difficulty analysing auditory information

  6. Difficulty planning speech (Dyspraxia)

  7. And more….

Whether you are dealing a global developmental delay or a specific difficulty with language what is clear is that some children have a difficult time with “casual learning” and are in need of a more direct intervention in order to broaden their understanding of language, make connections between the sound a word and the meaning behind it, and make this connection in a variety of ways.

How is the connection made between the sound and meaning?

We can do this using the following intervention strategy:

  • Choosing 2-3 “goal words” to learn

  • Emphasizing the “goal words” - by saying the words slower than other words and in a higher pitched voice ( don’t yell, just speak louder).

  • Pronounce the words clearly

  • Repeat the “goal words” in different contexts

In the same way you can expand the understanding and use of language for children in different language groups:

  • Expand understanding and pronunciation of nouns

  • Expand understanding and pronunciation of verbs

  • Expand understanding and pronunciation of concepts

You can practice in a built in context - using a book or game , and also in natural contexts in order to strengthen the meaning and encourage using the words in daily scenarios.

Children with a less developed vocabulary or who haven’t yet started speaking - we’ll start by expanding daily used nouns that are important for them and then add relevant verbs for the nouns.

An example of built in context - Look at a book and describe in short combinations what you see on the page : Here is a cup. Here is a child. The child is drinking.

You can use a doll and keep practicing - the teddy bear is drinking. Mommy is drinking. Would you like to drink? Here - Roy is drinking from the cup. I would also to drink. May I drink? Mommy is drinking.

An example of natural context - During a meal or when the child asks to drink, we will emphasise in this natural environment - Here is a cup. Would you like to drink? Roy is drinking. Yes, you are drinking from a cup.

Another example - playing with a ball : goal words - nouns (1) ball . Verb (2) Roll/throw/kick /catch

Sit across from each other: You start with the ball and call the child by their name “Roy look - a ball”. Here - catch! The ball is coming your way - roll … kick it to me… roll it to Roy… throw it to Mommy…”

Add voices to attract the child’s attention, encourage them to make eye contact and make the whole activity more enjoyable.

Try to make eye contact, point at an object from up close and emphasise the “goal words”.

Later on you can add adjectives - small/big, a lot/a little, wet/ dry - we will choose them based on the activity and context.

For example:

Physio ball - Wow here is a bug ball ( You can sit on the ball, bounce, roll it - choose one or two activities that your child enjoys).

It’s important to name everything - Name the activity you’re doing clearly, including using the verb.

Inflating a balloon - Here is a balloon. The balloon is small. Should we inflate it? Still small. Shall we inflate it some more? (Wait for the child to respond , see if they are engaged, if they are making eye contact, if there is social interest and enjoyment - inflate the balloon). Wow it’s even bigger! Should we keep inflating? Wow the balloon is very big. Shall we keep inflating? Wow the balloon is huge.

Playing in a tub- Let’s fill up the tub with water. We filled it a little. Should we add more water? Still only a small amount. Shall we add more? What should we add - hot or cold water? - If the child can answer - we’ll ask a question , if the child can’t answer yet we will say it ourselves - now I’m adding cold water. Now I’m adding some cold water. Let the child gently feel the difference between hot and cold in order to illustrate the meaning.

Wow now there’s a lot of water.

Roy is getting in the water.

Roy is playing in the water.

Roy is wet.

Wow Roy is sitting in the water. A lot of water….

Good luck,

Vered Mizrahi

Speech therapist

License number - 13-120161

The Institute for Child Development of the Ministry of Health, Beer Sheva

In collaboration with the National Center for Autism, Soroka

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