Vocabulary – Early Years
Vocabulary refers to the words a child is able to understand (receptive vocabulary) or express (expressive vocabulary). Development of a good vocabulary is important. If a child has a limited vocabulary they may have difficulties in understanding what is being said to them or difficulties in expressing themselves.
Young children will learn vocabulary directly relevant to their life experience and environment. To begin this will be social greetings e.g. ‘bye-bye’ and mostly nouns i.e. labels for items or significant people in their life. Gradually they will learn labels for actions [verbs] or events and begin to understand and use describing words [adjectives] linked to the way they are feeling e.g ‘tired’ ‘hungry’ ‘thirsty’. In addition young children will learn vocabulary has a grammatical role to play in a sentence i.e. how to use prepositions or pronouns.
- Follow the child’s lead and tell them the words for objects or experiences they are interested in.
- Allow the child to experience new words – e.g. if you’re learning the names of different fruit, give opportunities to look at it, feel it, taste it! If you’re learning action words, act out those actions in a game
- When learning new words, describe them whilst you look at/experience them. Talk about what you do with the object, as well as what it looks like (shape, colour, size, etc.), feels like, smells like, etc.
- When the child is learning a new word, give the child plenty of opportunities to hear it (and see what it refers to) in a range of different situations, before you assume they have fully understood the word
- Giving a sound cue (‘d’) or a meaning cue (it’s an animal, it barks, and wags its tail) may help a child with word-finding difficulties to recall the word
Children of this age communicate needs and feelings by crying, babbling, gurgling, and squealing. By practicing and developing speech sounds through babbling (e.g., baba,mama) babies go on to understand and say their first words at about 1 year.
Children of this age continue to enjoy babbling and are developing their vocabulary. By 2 years of age children generally have a spoken vocabulary of more than 50 words. Most of these words will be nouns with a small vocabulary of verbs e.g. sleeping, walking. The pronunciation of these words may not yet be clear. Children of this age will be able to understand a wider range of nouns and verbs than they can say. Children will also be starting to use personal pronouns e.g. I, my and mine.
Between 2-3 years, a child’s spoken vocabulary grows considerably and can be up to 1000 words.
Children will understand and use more verbs, and will start understanding prepositions, e.g., in/on and pronouns, e.g., he/she, you/your and we.
Children of this age start using joining words such as ‘and’ and ‘because’. Children will also be asking lots of questions e.g. Why? What? Where? They will start to use adjectives of colour and size, further prepositions e.g. ‘under’ and ‘next to’ and more pronouns e.g., his/hers, they/theirs, him/her, ours.
Children of this age are able to use a range of vocabulary including adjectives and adverbs.