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How to Teach Your Child Vocabulary and How to Use It

Updated on April 11, 2018
Ericdierker profile image

Eric started working with children when he was still one himself. He taught first aid through Scouting. All the way to preaching to youth.

What Daddy?

Let's start early.
Let's start early. | Source

Why?

Quite often I am asked just how bright my children are. The reason is not that they are extremely bright necessarily. The reason is clear. People judge you by the words you use and how articulate you are. The logic of language is fascinating. There is no better way to have a conversation with your child than to work together on a word’s meaning and use.

Let us look at about 6 ways to foster and teach and mentor a young one in the art of language and how to use it. I think you are going to be pleasantly surprised at how much you learn when you do it constructively. We will just address mechanics here. But as we will see those mechanics seep into thinking more clearly.

Do you talk to yourself in your mind without opening your mouth to speak? If you answered no you should be a millionaire in teaching meditation where clearing the mind of self-talk is one of the goals. All with a working mind talk to themselves. We cannot change that so we should take advantage of that process. So if your vocabulary is advanced your self-talk will be advanced.

Start thinking about it with this example. Child hears another at school use a double negative through ignorance. “I ain’t got no….” The child will actually consciously or subconsciously repeat that sentence in his mind. We just do that. Even when we write or read we repeat the sentence in our brain. A child with language skills will think “I ain’t got no….” and his brain will reject it as wrong. Vocabulary controls what we say to ourselves to a large degree. The child without language skills adopts it. And worse a child repeats it to be socially acceptable. And then as the parent passes it down to their child. I call it language abuse addiction that can nearly be genetic.

Don’t even let your mind go to the place of deciding that your child will not hang out with children who speak so abhorrently. That is what creates snobbery. And if our elevated language skills distance us from others we have missed the boat completely. Language is really only perfect in our mind, which can be lonely or it is to communicate. Unless you are a recluse like me you miss out on the good stuff if you do not express yourself to others. Being clear and concise is such a gift to others. It is right up there with “I mean what I say and I do what I mean”. It is the basis of healthy trust. Ambiguity unless in a clear teaching or preaching setting is the language of the slippery.

Cool Song Of Words

Writing of the Piute

Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs | Source

Reasons

How about emphasis? Using the right words for emphasis most be engrained early and often. Have you ever noticed that people who cuss a lot and use foul language have a limited vocabulary? They emphasize with base words. And then it just becomes a habit. “What do you mean by that” rather than “what the F are you talking about”? And this same notion applies to using one word over and over again. Sure “wow” is good. But we should mix that up with “that is incredible!”. Wow really is ambiguous. But normally we know what it means. Note the different way of saying “is really ambiguous”. For instance I may say “a course of obstacles” and you may say it as a bit ambiguous “an obstacle course”. The second normal way really sounds more like a course is an obstacle. The point is that you cannot see those differences without having a very good (maybe not great) vocabulary. To be able to thoroughly analyze and investigate your understanding through concise words is a necessity.

I hope those notions help to lay the ground work for understanding why you should even care about vocabulary. After all we would not want our children to speak better than we do and folks with fancy pantsy vocabularies are snobs. If you buy into those notions read no further. But if you choose to go forward and your vocabulary is a case of arrested development fear not. “Together” learning together will be a self-help, self-improvement for you and you are worth it. And another thing, with a basically good vocabulary it becomes easier to speak in love. And it makes us think twice before speaking. In other words our self-talk has us going through our own glossary of terms prior to verbalization and like in anger management a few moments of thought create an environment of reflection rather than reaction.

Hey, all and all we see that it is important to exercise daily for our health and to eat a healthy diverse diet. Well to me at least a “work out” regimen for the mind is also required. Sure we put our children in soccer but seldom in an afternoon reading and writing program. And they are not mutually exclusive.

(we just had a conversation about osmosis and permeable and the reaction was “cool”.) Let us stop lollygagging and get to work.

How Do I Say....?

Why Do We Talk The Way We Talk?

Accents are fun!
Accents are fun! | Source

Use Your Words

Get into it! Make a habit of looking up a new word per day and sharing it. A phrase is also a good way to go. Social diversification anyone? Do we really know what that means? Look it up then share it.

A great game to play is the pick a word, suffix and prefix game. It goes like the “smart” – smarty, smarting, smarted, smarts, smarter, outsmart, streetsmarts. (being smart about the street is often limited to two words) That stuff is fun and perfect for dinner table, car travel and walks and waiting.

Read words that are totally insane and really hard to pronounce. My son’s favorite is out of the book package called The Box of Stars. One section in it reads “Both Sirius and Canis Major and Procyon in Canis Minor lie in the West of the Zenith overhead…. Spica in Virgo to the west of it Sagittarus and Capricornus, Corvusa, Crater and Hydra…. What craziness is that? You shout. Just try it with something like science and bugs. Let them sound out the names. Some kind of deal where they are teaching themselves and end up knowing more than you.

Here is the best advice of all; Talk to them like an adult. You cannot raise someone up if you communicate at their level. Be careful here not to use words you are not sure of because you will get busted, or better yet admit it and enjoy the teaching moment when you can get to a dictionary. Of course that brings us to the dictionary. Make it a game if need be. Get them used to it. Online is just fine. This of course leads us to Read, Read and Read!

Get involved with their words. I found out just tonight that beyond a BFF there is a BFL. Best friend for life. “Do you mean, like infinity?” “I still like to say ‘beyond infinity’”.

Verbally autocorrect without interrupting the flow. In other words you would say, “I get what you are saying but gooder is really not a word”.

“That thing over there”. Yikes! Take the time to break it down. Start with shape, size and color, then a better description of where. Then, “it looks like a….”. Now I just say “use your words”. And the litany begins.

If you are a Christian or other type of spiritual being do not get children’s editions of your texts. Just do not do it. Why would you? They do not help the child learn, in fact they retard the child’s growth.

Now some of this sounds harsh and like too much work. But fear not. All you have to do is add love to the protocol and it will work out fine.

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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 2 days ago from UK

      My degree was English Literature, but I enjoyed a module focussing on the English language.

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 2 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      You are so right Liz. I just love it.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 2 days ago from UK

      The many varied uses of the English language is a fascinating subject.

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 2 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you Liz. That double one is interesting as it is clearly cultural. Our inner city folks use it as a badge of honor. They use it in a job interview and wonder or blame something because they do not get hired.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 2 days ago from UK

      That's interesting, as I'm told double negatives are a sure sign of my childhood in north west England.

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 3 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent advice Manatita. Keep it fresh is important. So funny about mom interrupting. So true in these regards. And I must not interrupt during her teaching which is more wrote.

      Right now we are in a "Dad, did you know that...." and off we go. Math is giving us room to venture into philosophy.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 3 days ago from london

      Poor Kid, indeed. That was a humongous word! Lol.

      My Book: Maxims For Our Children, is a bit like your conversations. Did I read that you were asking for ideas? The father sometimes asks the children if they understands; at other times, the children asks and the father explains. Every now and again, I use a prayer or something, to create a seeming diversion from the monotony.

      Again, I began with story-telling and during the dialogue, I may create some kind of exercise, or give the kid or myself a longer say. Not much here. I have the mom coming home or interrupting from time to time and they may take a rest and start again next morning. This makes it fresh. Hope it helps.

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 4 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      So true Liz. My son is on an "improper language" kick. For sure part of his rebellious status at this time. He does poor double negatives with a sheepish grin just waiting for my response. I suppose learning when and where to push language buttons is a good stage early on.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 4 days ago from UK

      Thanks for the insight. I think too often these days we are in such a hurry that we miss the signs in language, which suggest the feelings behind the words used.

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 6 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Ruby it is always a pleasure to have you come by. Yesterday was "perspective" and "appearance". Well and plumage. From one angle, our perspective, the little black bird appeared to have bright green and red plumage. It was a male. From far away it appeared to be a crow.

      Our walk home from school is filled with such stuff.

      Your use of words is wonderful.

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 6 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      John I forgot about that song but it is now playing. What a wonderful example of "literary license". My youngest has a tablet at home and one at school. (some folks say our schools are losing money because of the new President well don't tell anyone about the 150 new tablets at our school) He can google although through some fancy censoring. My elder children fact check everything I say. I do not get to BS them. And boy do they hate it when Wiki is wrong ;-)

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 6 days ago from Queensland Australia

      What great advice you offer here, Eric. When you mentioned the phrase, "I ain't got no.."...I thought of the Rolling Stones song.."I can't get no..Satisfaction" ..now I can't get it out of my head. The whole idea of teaching your child correct vocabulary etc has also reminded me of a TV advertisement we used to have here....(I can't even remember what the product was). But basically a child was doing his homework and asked his dad "Dad, why was the Great Wall of China built?" The father was not very educated but always wanting to appear wise and all-knowing replies, "Oh, that was built by the Emporer Nasi Goreng to keep the rabbits out."

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 6 days ago from Southern Illinois

      I really enjoyed this. Learning new word is so much fun, and you teaching your son is the best a dad can do. He is so cute. God bless you both..

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 7 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Frank I liken it to poetry where rules apply though it comes from the heart. My main rule is to avoid that teachy preachy attitude. Thank you much for noting it.

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 7 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Manatita, I just jostled the boy with antidisestablishmentarianism. We will work on it more as it is just fun trying to discern. Poor kid! But he seems to like it.

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      Eric Dierker 7 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Larry I mean no offense here but TV is full of that. It would seem we are glorifying ignorance in language as a way to relate to people. I like the term "dummy down". Pretty soon all our leaders will have to forget all the ""Gs". We are into tenses right now and "drop the y and add ing" is getting a workout.

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      Eric Dierker 7 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Brian I am with you on that. What are all those symbols for pronunciation any way. prəˌnənsēˈāSH(ə)n/ really? I am supposed to get that? Well actually I do but don't tell anyone lest they think I am a word nerd, which I am. I would soon spend an hour playing etymology (which should be etymologia) than watching a basketball game.

      My poor son.

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 7 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Liz we had a rough one yesterday. Sometimes my son regresses. He was using words like "that thing" and "you know" and slipping in a few "uh". The root cause was something else which we figured out and moved on. Language is a window to our feelings.

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      Eric Dierker 7 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you Venkatachari M. I really do think that a new word a day is pretty much imperative. Not so much for my son but for me. As I get older I probably lose a word a day ;-)

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 7 days ago from Shelton

      A very good share Eric, and what I most admire about these hubs here.. is that they teach.. without being so teachy.. know what I mean?

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 7 days ago from london

      Nice advice on bringing up kids and the play of words. Fascinating!

    • Larry Fish profile image

      Larry W Fish 7 days ago from Raleigh

      Yes, children learn what they hear, good or bad. What gets into those little minds will stick with them. My biggest pet peeve is that the letter 'g' has seemed to appear from the English vocabulary. How many times have you heard someone say, eatin, talkin, writin, speakin, chewin, travelin, and the list goes on and on. It is wrong and sad to say I hear it every day. Good article as usual, Eric.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 8 days ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      All good advice.

      Much of my vocabulary came from reading, and I grew up guessing wrong how many words are pronounced. If I mispronounce a word in conversation, usually no one corrects me. I'm grateful that online dictionaries include sound files that demonstrate how a word is pronounced. Now I know gyro is "jeer-oh", not "guy-row" or "gee-row" and that gala is "gay-luh", not "gal-uh".

      Google on:

      vocabulary of feelings

      for greater variety and precision in expressing emotions.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 8 days ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very important and good message imparted by you through this article.

      I am also used to self talk often. Your advice to learn a new word daily and don't babytalk with children are good points to be followed.

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 8 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      What a wonderful addition to this hub. My wife is an ESL person also and contraction and tenses are still wrong quite often. My son knows not to correct her.

      You remind me of the language of love, which way too many people are lacking in. That lack of expression is sad to me. Thank you.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 8 days ago from UK

      Thankfully these days there are not as many people around who speak 'baby talk' to children. 'Use your words' is great advice.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 8 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, I'm writing this as I read because if I wait until the end, I'll probably miss something (LOL).

      Do I talk to myself? Of course, I do. (Sometimes I need to converse with a reliable source.)

      I'm not sure if young children can discern proper vs. improper speech patterns. Although, as I think about it, my mother had problems with when to use "doesn't" and when to use "don't". English was her 2nd language and I remember that, even at an early age, I knew that was wrong. (He don't vs. he doesn't, for example).

      Reasons and emphasis. Anytime someone resorts to swear words, their IQ (on my barometer) drops by 20 points. But there are also words that have crept into our vernacular that are perfectly acceptable but terribly overused. The 'nails-on-a-chalkboard' for me is the word literally. Think about what it really means. And then, hear how many times it is misused in our dialect as a means of emphasis. Misusing it doesn't create more drama, it just makes you appear stupid.

      One of my favorite books is the Roget's Thesaurus. A good writer should not repeat the same word over and over again--especially in the same paragraph. Doing so is lazy and sloppy and boring.

      Use your words - What a great section was this! My husband and I NEVER used 'baby talk' with our daughters. We have two daughters. Our second-born is talented, gifted, top of her class even in college. The older is developmentally delayed. Our 2nd born probably has a more extensive vocabulary than her older sister, but both of them conversationally function as adults.

      Language is important. Think about this--if we are careless about how we express ourselves, how much of "us" is lost?

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 8 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Mary in my home my wife is all about homework, strict as she can be. That builds a nice base. But I am all about further reading and discovery. It works out nicely. All the way to my doctorate I never gave a hoot about grades. My son just loves getting good ones. Good for him, but give me a teachable moment any day.

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      Eric Dierker 8 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I love that thought Clive. The official language of the EU and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is English. Funny about Chinese there are two major languages and about 30 regional. So What kind of Chinese do you learn - Mongolian?

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 9 days ago from Ontario, Canada

      The reminder is necessary especially for me who just ignore the younger ones when I don't understand their words. It is important to acknowledge our role as teachers. I complain sometimes about my husband who can't help himself but make every moment a teaching one.

    • clivewilliams profile image

      Clive Williams 9 days ago from Jamaica

      I want to teach my child Chinese. That way when the Chinese takes over the world and makes Chinese the default language it will be ok.

    • Ericdierker profile image
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      Eric Dierker 9 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I am so lucky that I just love words an writing. It rubs off I suppose. I had to think on this one as it just comes naturally to me.

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      Bill Holland 9 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Great suggestions, and I reckon you've got the parenting experience to pass them on to us. Parenting is more than feeding and providing shelter...the job of teaching goes on daily for any parent worth their salt.

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