Learning Vocabulary

Why is learning vocabulary so important and what does it take? Well....it takes quite a bit. 

Vocabulary is incredibly important for all areas of development. It affects our reading, writing, speaking, and listening abilities.

However, just knowing a simple word definition doesn't truly represent complete knowledge of a vocabulary word. Let's find out what it takes!

Review The Basics of Learn Vocabulary

A fancy schmancy term for all the words we know is lexicon. Thus, a person's lexicon is all the words he or she knows and can say.

So, if a child knows a word and uses it and is part of his/her lexicon, then we can add it to his/her "vocabulary count?" Nope! 

For example, let’s take the word “brilliant”. A child may hear it once in a sentence, "the man is brilliant." The child remembers the word "brilliant." Now, it appears that he/she “knows” it. The next time he sees a man he may say “that man is brilliant.” However, he said this sentence just because he saw a man, not necessarily because the man was smart.  The child has the word in his vocabulary or lexicon but he is missing the complete definition.

The child seems like he knows the word "brilliant" but he doesn't have complete word knowledge.

Children with language disorders tend to have incomplete word knowledge.

Word Knowledge...what's THAT all about?!

Semantics or word knowledge is the ability to take a word from our lexicon and be able to relate it to other concepts (compare/contrast), categorize, etc...

When considering learning vocabulary or teaching vocabulary to your child, this is where you should focus your energy. Simply knowing a word doesn't do a child much good if their semantic knowledge is incomplete. 

Learning vocabulary is more than just knowing the definition of a word!

I know what you are thinking....what does my child need to know?

It's more than a simple definition

Below is a visual that illustrates 4 key areas of a vocabulary word a child you aim to understand if the child is 5 years old or younger. 

Let's do an example together: Zebra

  1. Category - What group does it belong to? It is an animal. It is a zoo animal.
  2. Function - What does it do? It runs, walks, eats, drinks.
  3. Association - What goes with it? Grass, zoo, other zoo animal.
  4. Description - What does it look like? It is black and white. It has stripes.

Below is a visual that illustrates 5 key areas of a vocabulary word PLUS 4 areas of how words relate to other words, Yikes! This is appropriate for children 5 years or older. 

For children older than 5 years old, it is important to know the 4 key areas described plus location above AND how the word relates to other words.

Let’s define "happy" as an example:

  1. Category:  Happy is a feeling or an emotion
  2. Function: It expresses how we feel when we feel good
  3. Association: Smiles, laughing
  4. Description: Happy looks like smiles, playing at the park, seeing mom and dad, opening presents, going for a walk
  5. Location: You can be happy anywhere!

AND how does it relate to other words?

  1. Antonyms - What means the opposite?: Sad
  2. Synonyms - What means the same thing?: Glad
  3. Similarities - How are happy and sad the same?: They both describe how we feel. 
  4. Difference - How are they different?: Happy is when you feel good. Sad is when you feel bad. 

Okay, NOW you are ready to learn vocabulary

Explore the games below

Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech-language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference. Follow Bridget at Facebook and Pinterest for more fun!

Author of  child language development eBook series

› Learning vocabulary