Ahad, 1 September 2013

Vocabulary and Language Development: The Important Preschool Years

Young children learn to communicate through listening and speaking. In order to make the transition to communicating through reading and writing, they need a large meaning vocabulary and effective decoding skills.

Scarborough (2001) reviews very convincing evidence that children who enter kindergarten with weak language skills are likely to encounter difficulty in learning to read. Hart and Risley (1995) conducted a careful, intensive study of early language development and found huge differences that reflected parents’ socioeconomic status. Extraordinary variation was found in the amount of talk that took place between parents and children from family to family. At the extremes, the children from high socioeconomic status had 16 times more language stimulation than children from lower status families. These differences in language experiences directly influenced children’s language growth. Children from parents of professionals had a cumulative vocabulary of about 1,100 words, those from working class families had about 650 words, and those from welfare families had just over 400 words. These differences systematically widened between the onset of speech and three years of age when the vocabulary measures were taken.

More recently Farcus (2001) presented similar research data. He found that once children who were falling behind in language growth entered kindergarten, with its greater language stimulation, the language gap no longer widened. Nevertheless, although the gap didn’t widen, neither did it narrow.

Research reviews such as that by Barnett (2001) suggest that it is possiblefor children who are behind in early language development to overcome these limitations. However, reviews such as that by Beck et al. (2002) and Juel et al. (2003) clearly show that not enough is being done in our school programs to help children who enter school with weak language and vocabulary development to catch up. Juel et al. concluded that although these children were exposed to much oral language stimulation in school, it was too incidental and insufficiently direct and intense to have a major impact.

How we can improve our students’ vocabulary skills? visit here


Barnett, W. S. (2001). Preschool education for economically disadvantaged children: Effects on reading achievement and related outcomes. In S. Neuman and D. Dickenson (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research, 421–443. New York: Guilford Press.

Beck, I. L., McKeown, M. G., and Kucan, L. (2002). Bringing words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction. New York: Guilford.

Farcus, G. (2001). Family linguistic, cultural and social reproduction. ERIC ED 453 910.

Hart, B., and Risley, T.R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American
children. Baltimore, MD: Paul Brooks Publishing.

Juel, C. Biancarosa, G., Coker, D., and Deffes, R. (2003). Walking with Rosie: A cautionary tale of early reading instruction. Educational Leadership, April, 13–18.

Scarborough, H. (2001). Connecting early language to later reading (dis)abilities. In S. Neuman and D.Dickenson (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research, 97–110. New York: Guilford Press.

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