The Power is in the Words – Tips to Building Vocabulary in the Target Language
How do you teach your child new words?
This can be a puzzling question for many parents involved in language learning. Teaching your child new words in your native language can be relatively easy since your child will likely hear it spoken in everyday conversations. But, teaching your child new words in another language that you may not speak very often or one you don’t know can be a bit challenging.
For example, I am teaching my son Chinese, yet I don’t speak the language. I struggle with introducing new words because I don’t always know how to pronounce them and it is very rarely he will hear the new words in our everyday interactions. I’ve had to be a bit creative and find ways to bring the new words to life, with the correct pronunciation, in the correct context, so the word is learned properly.
It is important to remember that vocabulary is the centre-piece of your child’s first, second, and maybe third language! But, building that vocabulary actually helps your child’s overall learning. Beyond that, some studies have shown that increasing a child’s vocabulary (in any language) can boost their IQ.
When it comes to vocabulary-building, this sometimes isn’t exactly an easy task. Back in the day, you might show your child flashcard after flashcard and make them memorise the word. But, with today’s technology and through stories you can bring the word to life and make it fun and interesting for your child.
If you’re looking to grow your child’s vocabulary in your native language or in the target language, here are some effective ways you can use.
Vocabulary doesn’t live in a vacuum. It’s an active part of the language and the backbone of speech (or writing). So, storytelling is a major piece of the vocab-learning puzzle. Instead of speaking or reading random words that aren’t particularly connected to anything, using stories lets your child put them into context. Transitioning from a story in English to one in your child’s second language boosts the ability to teach the vocabulary words at hand. Your child can hear how the words fit into the English language, and then compare it to their non-native one. Not only can they make comparisons, but they can get a bigger picture of how the words fit into the language as a whole.
Again, vocabulary doesn’t just exist on its own. Okay, so technically the words do actually exist out there in literacy land—on their own. But, what good are they if your child isn’t using them in combination with other words (i.e., to make sentences)?
Take that word list and turn it into a fluent conversation. If you don’t know your child’s second language (which you very well may not), find someone who does. This might be a family member, a tutor, your child’s teacher or even an au pair who’s working with your budding linguist.
Keep in mind, the more interested your child is in what you’re saying (and teaching!), the more he’ll listen and learn. This applies to learning English and learning a second language (or third) too. Whether you’re sharing stories, starting a conversation or using your own method, find a way to make the words meaningful to your child.
Let’s say your child is learning the Spanish words for different animals. Let’s also say that your child just so happens to adore the zoo. Create your own tall tale, featuring a cast of creature characters that all live in the zoo. As you tell the story, add in the new vocabulary words. As they hear the new words (which are also their favourite furry friends’ names) they’ll be more likely to listen and learn.
There isn’t “one” way to teach your child new words in their second language. Keep in mind that different children learn in different ways. That means the way my child learns might not be exactly the same as the way your child learns. You may need to switch up the specific strategies that you choose (depending on how your child reacts to them) or even mix and match them. Some children are visual learners (and may do better while reading the vocab words for themselves), while others are auditory (and need to hear the vocab). Even still others may be kinaesthetic learners and want to touch and feel the new word by using real objects.
Combining a few methods, such as having a conversation about the story you just read can maximise the effects. You can also try combining reading, writing and listening activities. This allows children that don’t fit in one ‘type’ of learner category to make the most of their vocabulary lessons.
Above all, make learning foreign language vocabulary fun! No one (especially your child) enjoys sitting at a desk, staring at flashcard over and over again. How can you amp up the fun factor? You don’t have to go big and throw a vocab party or anything major. Something simple such as using funny voices while reading a story or having your child illustrate what the words mean can take learning from being purely educational to being creatively entertaining.