Developing Your Child's Vocabulary

Why is my child having trouble with how many words they know and use?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of a speech pathologist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as what words they know and use (developing their vocabulary).

Developing your child’s vocabulary is actually really complicated and is one part of language that continues to develop all though life. It is often related to the topic or task at hand and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Developing an understanding of what others are saying
  • Developing good listening skills
  • Communicating with gestures, movements and sounds
  • Identifying then labelling common objects
  • Identifying then labelling common verbs

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

Incorporating naming into everyday activities – You can support your child’s vocabulary development by naming common objects around the home. Encourage any attempts by your child to copy the word. Encourage them to watch your face as you name the object. Hide them under a tea towel, in a pillow case or behind your back and “find” them. Choose pictures in categories that are relevant to the child’s experience. Resources to support your child’ vocabulary development can be found here https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/vocabulary/.

Referencing – Referencing involves using specific vocabulary so that it is clear to the listener what is being talked about. Children with limited vocabulary often have difficulty with referencing. This means that they use “vague” words such as “it, he/she, thing, stuff” that makes it hard to follow who or what they are talking about. When reading your child stories, emphasise the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ of stories (“Who was under the bed?”). Ask them questions about the story once you have finished. Model the answer if they are having difficulty. Another activity idea is to describe your day. When your child talks about things they have seen, done or made encourage them to describe “What did it look like?” “How big was it?” or “What colour was it?” Further information and resources to support your child’s vocabulary development can be found here https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/early-language/.

Word finding - Ask your child to list as many items as they can think of within a certain category. Encourage them to cue themself rather than rely on adult help, although initial cuing may be necessary. To help with cueing try ask questions such as “What do you do with it?” or “What does it look like?” or giving clues such as first sound “It’s a p…” or a sentences to finish “You write with a …” Play games such as “I went to the shop and I bought…” Each person must repeat what has previously been bought before adding their own to the list.

How can a speech pathologist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as how many words they know and use. Speech pathologists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as developing your child’s vocabulary. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards developing the number of words your child understands and uses may include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying if any of the above skills are lacking through the assessment process
  • Developing skills through fun and creative play-based activities
  • Supporting parents to develop their child’s skills at home

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