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How to help your child build a robust vocabulary

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How to help your child build a robust vocabulary

Vocabulary development is an important part of speech. It helps children communicate effectively with others and express themselves appropriately.
Children begin building the foundation for speech as infants. They hear their parents’ voices and the voices of others, which helps them with language development as they try to imitate what they hear.
Parents play a major role in helping children build a robust vocabulary, says Luann Mezzatesta, a senior speech language pathologist at Tidelands Health Center for Pediatric Development at Georgetown. It is important to keep in mind the child’s age and expected abilities, Mezzatesta said.

The beginning

A child between the ages of 1 and 2 should be able to point to a few body parts when asked, follow simple commands, understand simple questions, listen to simple stories, songs and rhymes and point to pictures in a book when named.

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As far as talking, toddlers should be using one- or two-word questions such as “What’s that?” or “Where’s kitty?” A 1- or 2-year-old should also be able to put two words together such as “more cookie” and “no juice.” A child should also use many different consonant sounds at the beginning of words, Mezzatesta explains.

The goal

By age 5, your child’s vocabulary should include around 2,000 words, especially in an environment where parents are actively involved in the process. To reach that goal, Mezzatesta recommends parents:

  • Talk, sing and read to their children starting at birth.
  • Engage children in new experiences, such as grocery shopping, which presents opportunities to examine foods and talk about their appearance and tastes.
  • Encourage their children by asking questions that stimulate thought and language.
  • Provide children with objects that stimulate the five senses. Encourage them to describe the object and name the sounds it makes.
  • Have a child imitate new words until he or she can recite them easily.
  • Create a scrapbook of pictures and label them.
  • Teach opposites like “push” and “pull” or “throw” and “catch.”
  • Read to your child and point to the photo or word so they make associations.

If your child isn’t meeting milestones in speech or vocabulary development, make an appointment with your health care provider, who can evaluate the child and determine the best course of action.
Some children may be referred to a speech therapist to help identify the cause for the delay and help “catch them up,” Mezzatesta says..
“To give your child the best chance, early identification and early treatment of any concerns is best,” she added. “Many children can catch up with limited therapy; however, some may need more help.
“Either way, the earlier delays are identified, the earlier we can get to work addressing them.”

Meet the Expert

Luann Mezzatesta

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