Children pick up and begin to understand new language long before they can say words themselves.

Of course, it is important to respond to the baby’s early vocalisations in whatever way engages the baby, because that encourages the child to continue to find ways of communicating with you.

But the more a growing child hears meaningful language right from the start, the more likely it is that she or he will absorb new language.

The first words a young child says are words she or he has heard other people speaking.

The more ‘grown-up’ and ‘real’ that your talk is, the more likely it is that the child will quickly learn a wide range of new words.

The sooner and more often adults speak to their children in normal everyday language, the faster the children’s language will develop. It is the talking that is directly to/with the child; the back-and-forth/serve-and-return human interactions, that make the difference.  Learning from person to person cannot be replicated or replaced by television, devices, or interactional or educational games, apps, or software.

Research shows clearly that children who grow up surrounded by, and engaged by, frequent and meaningful conversation:

  • learn new words at a faster rate;
  • learn to read sooner and better;
  • are able to engage in learning activities more easily;
  • can use their language skills to make and keep friends; and
  • are able to use learning skills like collaborating, negotiating, discussing, asking questions, challenging ideas, understanding what is required for a task or situation, understanding different viewpoints or perspectives.

To help build your child’s vocabulary, talk about the new words the crop up in conversation or activities.

  • talk about what the word means
  • talk about other things that are associated with the word
  • tell them about other words that have similar meanings and also opposite meanings, for example:  Fascinating means very interesting. Other words that mean similar things are thrilling and captivating. Can you think of any other words that mean similar things? The opposite would be boring or dull.”

Don’t be afraid to talk to your child about the things you are interested in or doing.  Use the same ‘grown-up’ words you would use talking to another adult.  By the time your child is speaking she or he may ask you what some words mean — that is a wonderful opportunity to help build their vocabulary.

Try to use new words again in different contexts across the same day and week to help the child to remember them. You can ask older children to recall the word by asking “Do you remember the new word we learned that meant ___?”

Remember that reading with your child exposes them to words that they may otherwise not or rarely hear. Use the opportunity of coming across a new or unfamiliar word to talk about its meaning with your child.

Real talk works best