children's vocabulary

Vocabulary acquisition is the major task of the kids' first 2 years of life!

The first few months are mainly dedicated to the development of comprehension. And this is logical since a child always understands a word before producing it. And to produce a word, a child will first need to hear it several times, to associate it with the right object or action, in several different contexts, at several different times.

The first word usually appears between 12 and 16 months (yay!). It will be followed by dozens of new words that will allow minis to have a good basic vocabulary. These first words are mainly oriented towards routine (sleep, meals), first names (of the family) and daily needs (e.g. eating, drinking, playing, being loved). 

This first word and the following ones will not be perfectly pronounced! Children do not have the ability to produce certain sounds at certain ages. For example, the sounds "L", "TH", "J" and "R" are among the last to be mastered (around 4-5 years old).

At 24 months, minis say between 50 and 300 words, which is enough to communicate their needs. They are now ready to combine words (e.g. "want milk", "mommy gone", "daddy coming", "big cat"). But to make these combinations, they need to diversify their vocabulary: learn to use verbs, adjectives, pronouns, etc.

The parent's role in all this? To be a good language model. So here are some tips: 

1) Don't over-simplify your vocabulary. We can adapt to our child's language level (avoid run-on sentences and very abstract concepts), but it's super relevant to use:
→ the words "palm tree" and " Christmas tree" rather than just using "tree".
→ the words "angry" and "sad" rather than "not well".
Basically, it's up to us to diversify our vocabulary so that the minis learn to diversify theirs.

2) Read books! They are a great resource to expose children to words that we don't often encounter in our daily lives: some animals, musical instruments, natural elements, adjectives, etc.

3) Children will learn what they are exposed to: if you always say the word "moo", the child will not learn the word "cow". This seems obvious, but it is easy to forget. So why not use this combination: " the cow goes moo".

4) Avoid making the child repeat: "Repeat after me, A-PPLE". Asking a child to imitate us will not accelerate learning. It is most useful to repeat yourself a lot so that the child hears the word correctly pronounced as many times as possible. To put it simply: you are the parrot, not your child!

5) Accept mispronounced words. Minis are physically unable to produce certain sounds at certain ages. There is no point in striving for perfect pronunciation since the last sounds are mastered around 4-5 years!

6) Rephrase rather than correct your child's words. For example: "Mommy bufly, look". By correcting the child "we say BU-TTER-FLY my love", we let him/her know that he/she has made a mistake. By rephrasing the words "oh yes, I see, it's a beautiful bu-tter-fly", we leave him/her with a feeling of confidence while giving him/her the right model to improve. Research has even shown that rephrasing is more effective: minis understand and apply grammar rules more quickly when rephrased than when corrected. 

7) It is important to sometimes put yourself at their level (especially with babies), face to face, so that they can see the movements of your mouth, your facial expressions, your gaze...

8) Slow down your pace: avoid talking too fast, asking 8 questions at the same time and not leaving any moments of silence. Children are still in the process of acquiring their language and therefore need more time than us to formulate their answers.

9) Follow their interests. This is a great way to maximize children's language stimulation. Instead of interrupting their play with a brand new topic of conversation, you can simply join them in their activity. This way, concentration is eased, exchange is appreciated and communication opportunities are multiplied.

10) Create communication opportunities. In other words, let minis come to you with their request: wait for them to ask for help, leave an object out of their reach, stop an activity and let them to ask for more, etc.

Bonus: listen to your instincts! If you're worried, never hesitate to seek professional help ☺

Vocabulary is the foundation of language development. You need words to build sentences and sentences to express yourself.

Here you will find a guide to follow your child's forst words (up to 24 months).

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Julia Boulanger

I studied childhood bilingualism at the Masters and Doctorate degree. Today, I help bilingual families and create unique tools for multilingual children. I am here to share science-backed and real-life information and tips.