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Getting feedback or results from a speech therapy assessment is often confusing for parents, simply because there are a lot of technical terms that speech therapists use to describe certain aspects of language and their associated disorders.

One of these words is “semantics,” which is merely technical jargon for “vocabulary.” But what exactly is vocabulary? 

Vocabulary refers to the set of words found in the language that your child knows. Vocabulary can be split into two types:

  • Receptive Vocabulary: Consists of the words your child understands when they hear or read them
  • Expressive Vocabulary: Consists of the words your child uses when they speak or write them

Vocabulary develops as your child grows, and serves as both a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge. 

Why is Vocabulary Important?

Simply put, vocabulary is the basis for learning a language. In fact, research has shown that a child’s vocabulary in the early grades is related to reading comprehension in the upper grades:

  • Preschool – Children’s vocabulary correlated with reading comprehension in upper elementary school (Tabors, 2001). 
  • Kindergarten – Vocabulary size was an effective predictor of reading comprehension in middle elementary years (Scarborough, 1998). 
  • First Grade – Orally tested vocabulary was a proficient predictor of reading comprehension ten years later (Cunnningham and Stanovich, 1997). 
  • Third Grade – Children with restricted vocabulary have declining comprehension scores in later elementary years (Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990).

As they develop, children typically understand or recognize more words than they use when speaking. 

Vocabulary Developmental Milestones

Vocabulary Developmental Milestones

0 – 6 Months Old Baby

  • Cries for assistance
  • Makes more guttural or “throaty” sounds
  • Coos single syllables and predominantly vowel sounds
  • Responds vocally to the speech of others
  • Babbles strings of consonants
  • Varies pitch, volume, and rate
  • Imitates and experiments with tones and sounds
  • Vocalizes and squeals in response to toys, pleasure, and displeasure

7 – 12 Months Old Baby

  • Plays vocally
  • Produces several sounds in one breath
  • Repeats emphasized syllables
  • Produces distinct intonational patterns
  • Imitates nonspeech sounds
  • Uses jargon
  • Imitates adult speech if sounds are in their repertoire
  • Imitates tonal quality, inflections, and rhythms of adult speech
  • Understand new words every month
  • Speaks one or more words
  • Understands approximately 50 words
  • Mixes words and jargon

13 – 18 Months Old Toddler

  • Uses jargon and words in conversation
  • Begins to use two-word utterances
  • Has an approximately twenty-word vocabulary
  • Identifies some body parts
  • Refers to self by name
  • Sings” and hums
  • Plays question-answer with adults
  • Repeats words heard in conversation
  • More words are understood than are spoken
  • New words are being understood at a faster rate
  • Has a 4 – 6-word expressive vocabulary at the beginning of this stage and moves towards a 70-word expressive vocabulary at the end of this stage
  • Has a 150 – 350-word receptive vocabulary

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19 – 24 Months Old Toddler

  • Likes rhyming games
  • Tries to “tell” experiences
  • Uses “I” and “mine”
  • Begin to combine words to uses short, incomplete sentences
  • Has a 600 – 700-word receptive vocabulary
  • Are adding approximately 70 new word meanings to their vocabulary every month
  • Has a 200 – 300-word expressive vocabulary

3 Year Old Toddler  

  • Creates three- to four-word sentences
  • Plays with words and sounds
  • Talks about the present
  • Has 900 – 1,000-word expressive vocabulary
  • Will continue to add approximately 70 new word meanings to their vocabulary every month

4 Year Old Toddler

  • Asks many, many questions
  • Recounts stories and the recent past
  • Has 1,500-word expressive vocabulary
  • Will continue to add approximately 70 new word meanings to their vocabulary every month

5 Year Old Child

  • Discusses feelings
  • Has 90% grammar acquisition
  • Has 2,100- to 2,200-word expressive vocabulary
  • Will continue to add approximately 70 new word meanings to their vocabulary every month

6 Year Old Child

  • Has a 2,600-word expressive vocabulary
  • Has a 20,000- to 24,000-word receptive vocabulary

How to Encourage Vocabulary Development

Encourage Vocabulary Development with reading

Learning new words can be tricky, as there are lots of things that children have to be able to do to understand and say a new word and get it right. In fact, your child needs to:

  1. Remember the sounds they hear
  2. Remember the order of these sounds
  3. Put these sounds together to make a word
  4. Understand what the word means
  5. Work out where in a sentence the word goes to understand its full meaning

Luckily, there are many things you can do with your child to help them build and develop their vocabulary.

The United States Reading Panel has the following suggestions when targeting your child’s vocabulary:

  • Vocabulary should be taught both directly and indirectly 
  • Repetition and multiple exposures to vocabulary items are important 
  • Learning in rich contexts is valuable for vocabulary learning 
  • Vocabulary learning should entail active engagement in learning tasks
  • Dependency on a single vocabulary instructional method will not result in optimal learning

Bearing this in mind, here are some activities that you can do with your child to encourage their vocabulary development:

Give choices to create opportunities for using language.
  • Talk to your child about the environment around you and make sure that you use different settings to expose them to as much vocabulary as possible
  • Encourage your child to tell you about their day. Ask them open-ended questions and prompt them if you can see that they are struggling
  • Watch what your child is doing and say the name of the object or action. You can even encourage your child to perform a particular activity to target vocabulary that you know they are experiencing difficulty with
  • Repetition is crucial, so make sure you say new vocabulary words a few times to help your child remember them
  • Play developmental games that are centered around building childhood vocabulary
  • Talk about how words are linked together and how they link to words they already know. For example:
    • The words could be similar in meaning (tall, high, long)
    • The words could be in the same category (cat, dog, hamster)
  • There are different types of words and children need to learn them all, so you need to make sure that the vocabulary they are learning includes:
    • Doing words/verbs (walking, swimming, jumping)
    • Describing words/adjectives (big, heavy, red)
    • Naming words/nouns (dinosaur, chair, juice)

That’s It!Just about any activity can be used for speech therapy, and in combination with the Speech Blubs App, you and your child will be able to have fun while doing so.

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