Increasing a child’s vocabulary

BY: Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe

As children grow, they learn new words. Daily, there are so many strategies that their caregivers and the people they interact with do to help them learn new words, often intuitively.

So how do we help children to learn new words? Here are some tips…

Follow child’s lead

Following your child’s lead helps your child to focus on activities of interest to them, whilst you focus on emphasising words around those activities. That way, the words are likely to stick as they hold interest for the child.

For example, if a child is interested in playing with a ball, you can model words like “throw”, “catch”, or “kick” with a young child or more complicated words like “soccer”, “quarter final”, “header” or “premier league” with a toddler.

You can talk about events such as, “The football match is over”, “The goalkeeper missed the ball” to help the child understand different ways of using the word.

Repeat words

Children need to hear a word several times before they start to use it. Before a child will begin saying a word, they must have heard it many times.

Children understand words before using/saying them. They are therefore likely to understand more words than they say.

By repeating words for children frequently, they get more opportunities to learn new words.

Allow time to respond

Even though repeating words helps children to learn them, they should be allowed opportunities to respond.

Balance the conversation by waiting for them to respond to what you say and avoid bombarding them with so much talking.

Use gestures

Using words with actions, gestures, or facial expressions, helps your child understand the meaning of the words.

For example, if you are modeling the word ‘sleepy’, you can gesture sleeping to help your child understand what you mean. You can also use your voice to help understand emotion words. For example, if you say the ‘happy’ with an exciting voice that sound like you are happy, it will help your child understand what you are saying better.

Explain new words

Whenever you introduce a new word, make sure you explain or define the word in simple language to help the child understand it.

For example, if you are engaged in pretend play (such as playing with a doll and pretending to be mummy) and introduce the word “doctor”, you might say something like “a doctor is someone who treats people when they are unwell” or “a doctor works in a hospital.” Relating new words to your child’s personal experiences also helps him connect with new words. For example, if you are talking about the word “doctor”, you might say something like “remember when you were unwell and daddy took you to the hospital to see the doctor? He looked in your mouth and ears and then gave you medicine.” These help your child to understand the word better.

Language learning walk

This is a walk that you can do with your child anywhere, such as at the beach, shop/supermarket, playground or even your backyard.

While you walk with your child, talk about things you see, smell, touch, hear or even taste. For example, “This is a tree”. “It is tall” or “It is a dog”. “It is barking”. This helps your child to learn new words by associating them with objects they can see in their environment.

Several studies show that vocabulary growth is directly linked to overall school achievement. Children with rich vocabularies have a huge educational advantage.

Increasing children’s vocabulary (in any language) must therefore be a priority if children are to have the foundation needed to succeed at school and in life.

The writer is a Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor, University of Ghana. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.