God created children’s brains with a huge capacity for understanding language. The challenge for them is that their exposure to different words is much more limited than that of an adult. Before children begin formal education in school, they know only what they have learned at home and from the surrounding community.
So, how can you communicate effectively with a young child? And how can you help her to understand complex concepts even though her language is limited? Let’s look at some helpful options:
Use basic vocabulary:
When you speak, use simple words that young children are likely to know. In English, verbs such as “talk” and “teach” are much simpler than “converse” and “instruct.”
If you want the children to focus on the concept being taught without losing them in difficult words, it is best to use basic vocabulary. If you want to teach new vocabulary words, it is also important to use more basic words to explain the new words. By doing this, you can help children to better understand new words.
Expand vocabulary with word parts:
Children may understand a root word, such as “read,” without understanding words that are created from this root word. For example, you can add a prefix to a word, such as “re” in “reread.” Or you can add a suffix, such as “er” in “reader.” Prefixes and suffixes change the meaning of the root word and can be confusing to young children. When a young child understands a root word, he may still struggle to understand its morphology when word parts are added to it. Because of this, it is best to teach children new root words first. Once they understand a root word, you can add a prefix or suffix and teach them the meaning of the new word that is created.
Do something active with new vocabulary:
If you teach children a new word that introduces an active concept, you can use actions to help the children understand and remember the meaning of the word. For example, if you wanted to teach children what it means to adapt, you might have them choose the correct clothing to wear for different types of weather. They could pretend to use an umbrella for the rain and a hat and gloves for snow. As you go through each situation, make sure to use the word “adapt” so the children remember it. Children must hear a word many timesover many daysin order to be able to truly understand it and use it correctly.
Teach how to infer meaning from context:
This can be done with words a child does not know at all. However, it is easier for children to infer meaning from context when they are given a context they can relate to. For example, knowing that children like to play outside, you could easily teach them the word “explore” by giving them context within a story like this one:
Mary went outside to explore. She had never been to the forest outside her town. So, she decided to explorethe forest. Mary went in every cave she found and looked around every hill. She walked as far into the forest as she could so that she could explore as much of it as possible. As the sun began to sink in the sky, she decided to explorethe best way to get out of the forest.
Using the context of this story, we can infer the meaning of the word “explore.” From our story, we know that Mary wanted to lookat everything in the forest. She did this by lookingin caves and hills. Using the story context, we know that to explore something involves looking at things. Mary did not just look at everything in the forest. She also paid attention to details. She looked inside caves and around hills. That means that to explore must mean to look at things carefully and search for details to learn more about something. When children can infer the meaning of a new word from the context it is used in, they can expand their vocabulary by listening to the adults around them.
Regardless of how you choose to teach children new vocabulary, it is most important that you teach them words they will use in ways that help them learn. Communicating with young children is made easier when you teach them new words. And those new words will help them understand new concepts.