7 Ways to Improve Your Preschooler’s Vocabulary through Conversation
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According to research, adults talk less to children whose oral language skills are under-developed. It’s the sad truth. Children who need language stimulation the most, tend to get it the least.
If I shared a few tips to stimulate your preschooler’s language and it wouldn’t involve paperwork or flashcards, would you try ‘em?
I think you would!
Incorporating vocabulary growth strategies into conversation is significantly promotes language development in preschoolers. Some of these techniques may seem intuitive, so ask yourself two questions:
- Am I really using these techniques?
- If so, can I do it any better?
7 conversational vocabulary growth strategies:
- Stay on the topic longer. Stay on a topic that the child is interested in and really get in to it. Extend and deepen conversations so that the child has more time to talk about a preferred topic or interest.Aim for multiple exchanges between you and the child.
- Link it. Relate or associate new vocabulary words or familiar words. If your child knows big (and overuses it) try using the words enormous or humungous.
- Finish the sentence. Have the child complete the sentence with the new vocabulary. Speech therapists refer to this cloze statements or cloze procedures (Yup, it’s with a z not an s). The adult provides part of a sentence, phrase or utterance and the child completes it with the targeted word. So, if the target word is “sandcastle”, you could say “We’re all finished, we made a ________ and wait expectantly for the child to finish the sentence. This way you’re giving the child some support.
- Risk free zone. Make it okay for the child to take risks with new vocabulary during conversation. If they can’t feel comfortable with you during conversation who will they feel comfortable with? Encourage some work risk taking!
- Expand and extend. I’ve already written a very detailed post on these techniques, check it out for specifics -Expansions and Extensions to Improve Your Child’s Language. Very generally, when you expand you add in words that are missing from the child’s phrases. For instance, if he said “dog run”, you could say, “The dog is running.” When you extend, you’re taking expansions a step further by adding more semantic information to compliment what your child said. So, if he said, “Dog run” you could say, “The dog is running fast”.
- Ask challenging questions. Don’t be afraid to challenge your preschooler – particularly the ones that have a delay or less developed vocabulary. They have already acquired language and are beyond the emerging language stage. Now, it’s a great time to ask them tougher, more challenging questions like the following:
- Predicting – What do you think is going to happen next?
- Analysis – Why do you think X felt that way?
- Summarizing – Can you tell me what happened in the story.
- Responsive turn-taking. Don’t just say “yeah”, “oh, “mmm” to acknowledge what your child has said. These filler phrases add little to the conversation. Add value to your child’s observations or comments by thoughtfully responding and reacting to what he says. If he says, “That’s a big house!” You could say “Yes, it is! It’s humungous! Or, “Yes, it is. Big houses like that are called, mansions.” See how you’re acknowledging your child’s comment and adding value and new information at the same time?
How can you incorporate these techniques into conversations with your child?
Kimberly Scanlon, M.A. CCC-SLP, is a speech language pathologist practicing in Bergen County, NJ. She provides speech therapy through her private practice Scanlon Speech Therapy, LLC located in Ramsey, NJ. To learn more about Kimberly visit www.scanlonspeech.com.
Ruston, H.P., & Schwanenflugel, P.J. (2010). Effects of a Conversation Intervention on the Expressive Vocabulary Development of Prekindergarten Children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, (41), 303-313.
Rosinski-McClendon, M., & Newhoff, M. (1987). Conversational Responsiveness and Assertiveness in Language-Impaired Children. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in School, (18), 53-62.